The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 28, 2009

Suzuki Equator provides total off-road experience

By John Zaktansky

Suzuki has always found a way to cater to those who thirst for off-roading, speed and ruggedness in the outdoors. The company is well known in the U.S. for its line of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), motorcycles and boating merchandise, and many swear by Suzuki products in these areas.

It was only a matter of time until Suzuki entered the U.S. truck market with a rugged workman-like truck that continued its off-road exploits. Working with Nissan's Frontier model, Suzuki has introduced the Equator truck series.

I was eagerly waiting for the Equator review truck after reading a number of online reviews that sang the truck's praises. Most were consistent in stating that the Equator was a far superior product to the Frontier, especially in overall styling with an aggressively angled front end. The Equator also comes with a 100,000-miles/seven-year, fully transferable, zero-deductible powertrain limited warranty -- which Suzuki self-proclaims as "America's No. 1 Warranty." I was further impressed when seeing the truck for the first time not only with the styling, but with the optional RMZ-4 off-road package.

I was getting the truck at arguably the best time possible -- just before Thanksgiving. This allowed us to take the vehicle off the beaten path for our annual family Christmas tree hunting expedition. The Equator impressed with flawless handling of a rutted dirt mountain road. It honestly felt like I was driving a large, enclosed-cabined ATV. The bed on the crew cab model I was testing seemed fairly small, but comfortably fit two Christmas trees with some room to spare.

Timing of the truck's delivery also allowed me to take my son out on the opening day of rifled deer season in style. Other hunters took notice of the stylish off-roading machine, especially when I drove it through open fields, on dirt paths and across a rocky stream bed. The truck got a workout during my time with it, and the most impressive thing to me was that I only had to engage the four-wheel drive once.

The Equator wasn't just a vehicle that could go off-road when it was forced to -- the truck almost begged to be taken into the wilderness. It longed for an adventure.

The Equator's base engine is Nissan's 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder with 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, available with a five-speed manual or a five-speed, electronically controlled automatic. As an option, the Equator also offers the same rugged 4.0-liter DOHC V-6 found in the Frontier. The latter offers plenty of spunk for most off-roading needs.

The Equator isn't without some downfalls. The cab leaves plenty to be desired in terms of space. It is narrow overall, and the floor under the rear seats isn't made for adult comfort. My 4-year-old daughter was giddy over the fact that she could ride in the truck and her feet touched the floor. She felt all grown up. However, my 18-year-old son was understandably less impressed with the limited leg room. The truck also has a noisy interior and a busy ride due to a live rear axle. However, the solid live rear axle proves to be a benefit when it comes to off-roading and towing when combined with the leaf springs and ladder frame, which handles extra weight with ease. The truck also has an optional Hill-Descent Control (HDC) and Hill-Start Assist (HSA), making even the most trying of uphill climbs mere child's play.

Others who have driven the Equator were mixed on the pros and cons of the vehicle. Online review boards include consumer approval on the overall visability, purposeful and tough styling, innovative bed cargo system, the optional off-roading features and overall feel. Those same customers were less thrilled with the truck's heavy curb weight, bumpy ride from the live rear axle, narrow cabin, small back seating space and a thirsty engine (19 miles per gallon on the highway, 15 in the city).

It is obvious, overall, that the Equator isn't a truck for those who want something for show and for regular commutes on the blacktop. However, for those who have a reason to travel off the beaten path -- to, perhaps, haul their Suzuki ATV or tow their Suzuki boat to a favorite out-of-the-way venue -- the Suzuki Equator is worth a serious look.

n E-mail comments to jzaktansky@dailyitem.com