2009 Suzuki Equator

Forging a new frontier. We drive Suzuki's new pickup.

[cars name="Suzuki"] has an avid following of customers plus one major problem: loyal constituents thrilled with Suzuki outboard, ATV, and motorcycle products don’t give a hoot about Suzuki cars and crossovers. To provide a walk from the stuff customers love to the products that the world’s twelfth-largest automaker hopes they’ll consider, some bridge building was in order.

That bridge is the Suzuki Equator. Sharp-eyed browsers will note a suspicious resemblance to the ; that’s because the Equator and the Frontier are fraternal twins. They share the same chassis, powertrain, and Tennessee manufacturing facilities. But the liaison goes deeper than simple badge engineering. The Equator has its own front-end design (hood, grille, bumpers, front fenders), six airbags as standard equipment, a longer warranty, and a different (likely cheaper, but not yet finalized) price structure.

Suzuki’s timing is perfect. Compact pickups have left the building and the full-sized bruisers are practically unsalable because of the expensive gasoline they guzzle. So those who really want or need a truck are herding towards the mid-size category. Like the Frontier, the Equator lives at the XX end of the midsize range with major components shared with Nissan big kahuna Titan. But with no V-8 under the hood, respectable gas mileage is possible. All Equators carry a 20-mpg or better EPA highway mileage rating and the most accomplished fuel sipper in the lineup clocks in at 19 mpg in city driving.

Two body styles are offered: a longish two-door called Extended Cab and a slightly squished four-door called Crew Cab. The smaller Equator rides on a 125.9-inch wheelbase and comes standard with a 6-foot bed. The Crew version rides on a 139.8-inch wheelbase with the long bed or the shorter wheelbase with a 5-foot bed. The powertrain choices include a 152-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder base engine and a 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6, both with five-speed transmissions. While the four-cylinder can be mated to a manual or automatic gearbox, all V-6s are automatic equipped. The optional 4WD system is a dual-range, shift-on-the-fly design. While two trim levels are available, leather upholstery is not in the Equator game plan. A spray-in bedliner is standard and a handy cargo-tie-down system is optional. Tow ratings start at 3500 pounds with the four-cylinder engine and peak at 6500 pounds with a two-wheel-drive V-6. Both 16- and 17-inch wheel and tire combos are offered.

Bombing around Texas hill country north of San Antonio, we found the new Equator to be a worthy addition to the pickup category. The fully boxed frame, hefty curb weight, and long wheelbase all help beat bumps into submission. The ride is well controlled and never choppy, even with a boat in tow. While the steering is precise and slack free, it’s not blessed with much road feel. The brake pedal feels mushy, with topping power more proportional to the distance the pedal is pushed than the pressure. Braking distances were acceptable and there was no particular fade tendency.

The Equator’s V-6 engine is smooth but hardly capable of providing the urge that V-8 pickup owners enjoy. The electronically controlled transmission is slow to kick down for passing and hill climbing. With a 4000-pound boat trailer in tow, we had no difficulty keeping up with traffic but passing moves had to be carefully timed.

Equator’s interior is roomy but not lavishly outfitted. With base trim, the instrument panel is the usual sea of molded matte-black plastic. Front buckets are comfortable and supportive for long stints in the saddle and the rubberized fabric upholstery should be both durable and easy to maintain. The Crew Cab’s rear seat is wide enough to carry three adults though knee room is tight. Like the Frontier, the back compartment can be configured three ways: normal seating, cushion up to clear floor space, or backrest and cushion down to provide an elevated storage area. Rear seats are conveniently split and a fold-flat front passenger seat is available as an option. That’s just the ticket for hauling construction materials or bulky sports gear safely inside a locked cab.

Suzuki won’t announce prices until the Equator hits the deck in December but it’s a safe bet that the rock-bottom starting figure will be below $18,000. Loading in a V-6, four-wheel drive, and lots of goodies will have you knocking on $30,000. Stuff worth considering includes the Sport package’s Rockford-Fosgate AM/FM sound system with a 6-disc CD changer, XM Satellite reception, Bluetooth capability, an auxiliary input jack, and 8 speakers. A removable Garmin navigation system with a pop-up touch screen is also available. The rugged RMZ-4 package adds Bilstein dampers, a locking rear differential, a brake-apply front-axle limited slip, and 17-inch BFGoodrich tires for off-road addicts.

In spite of its aspirational name, the Suzuki Equator isn’t likely to scribe a deep dent in the truck business. Volume plans are modest and there is no intention of competing directly against partner Nissan. But for those who need a decent truck to tow their Suzuki-powered boat or a means of hauling their 4-wheeler or dirt bike into the woods, Equator is just the ticket.

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