"Why not?" responds an unapologetic Gene Brown, Suzuki's vice president of marketing.
"We have tens of thousands hauling our cycles and ATVs in trucks every day," Brown says—pickups that read Toyota, Honda, Chevy, Ford or Dodge.
So now Suzuki has its own pickup with the catchy name of Equator. It offers two- or four-wheel-drive, extended or crew cab and 2.5-liter, 152-horsepower 4-cylinder or 4-liter, 261-h.p. V-6.
We tested the 4x4 crew cab with V-6 and Sport trim, a basic all-season, all-reason pickup. Want something fancier? The top-of-the-line RMZ4 has the bells and whistles required of an ultimate off-roader.
Brown says Equator is neither a "grocery getter" nor a muscle machine "hopped up on steroids" (read V-8), but a nimble pickup "without any excess fat."
No fat, but not much surprise and delight, either; it's no Dodge Ram with pop cans stored in the bed walls. And no gas/electric.
Suzuki, it should be noted, is testing SX4 FCV crossover and Cross Cage motorcycle concepts that use hydrogen to create electricity to power the vehicles.
Equator's novelty is split rear seats that fold against the back wall to expose tool or gear trays underneath. But with seats in place, leg and knee room are tight.
A plus is that the bed comes with a washable spray-on liner and adjustable rails to keep that cycle or ATV in place.
The V-6 Equator can sprint from the light and climb interstate inclines without pausing to take a breath. It also can tow a boat—up to 6,500 pounds. Switching from 2WD to 4WD couldn't be easier. Turn the dial to 4WD high for heavy snow or 4WD low for serious off-roading. But the 4WD/V-6 combo makes for a 14 m.p.g. city/19 m.p.g. highway rating—before adding passengers and toys.
And the $28,000-plus RMZ4 is the only Equator with Hill Descent control to keep from going down hills too fast when off road, Hill Hold control to climb a steep incline without rolling and stability control to keep the vehicle from sliding or skidding during lateral on-road maneuvers.
Even without stability control, which compensates for the unusual weight distribution in a pickup–especially when the bed is loaded—ride is pleasant on clear roads and handling is decent. Body lean is controlled in corners despite sitting high for off-road clearance.
The crew cab comes with four conventional doors for easy entry/exit. Equator stands high enough that side steps ($285) are a wise investment, though you'll have to ditch them for off-roading.
The truck tested starts at $27,320 and includes power windows/locks/mirrors, AM/FM/CD player and anti-lock brakes. Though derived from the Nissan Frontier, Equator offers two features Frontier doesn't: side-curtain air bags (standard) and a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty (five years/60,000 miles at Nissan).
2009 Grand Vitara
Snow buried it in the driveway, but the Suzuki Grand Vitara shook off the thick white blanket and securely pulled onto the road.
Whether snowy or clear, Grand Vitara was in command.
For 2009, Grand Vitara offers a 4-cylinder, a 2.4-liter, 166-h.p. version rated at 19/26 in the base model; a 3.2-liter, 230-h.p. V-6 rated at 17/22 with 2WD, 17/23 with 4WD has replaced the 2.7-liter, 185-h.p. V-6.
We tested the 4WD version with the noticeably more spirited V-6.
Above average energy and exceptional control in snow.
But on dry, uneven roads, the suspension tends to jiggle. And, if traveling in steerage, leave your knees at home.
Also prepare for the headrest torture – they dig into your back if left down – and wheel well encroachment into the narrow doorways.
The cargo hold will handle groceries or luggage for a week, but the pull shade to hide contents is flimsy. And the door with spare tire attached swings open rather than lifting up, which makes it hard to use if someone parks too close behind.
Base price: $26,799 with stability control standard.
Grand Vitara competes against the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Jeep Wrangler, Goliaths that are tough to slay.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at transportation@tribune. com.