By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 3/9/2011
Given that American Suzuki launched its automotive arm - in 1985 - on the strength of its offroad-specific Samurai, the addition of a pickup to its automotive mix should have caught no one by surprise. That American Suzuki took a Nissan Frontier and added but a smattering of cosmetic tweaks (such as an all-new front clip) caught more than a few by surprise. Its stated purpose was to supply Suzuki's motorcycle and ATV constituents with a truck sharing the same brand and spirit of adventure. That said, the m/c and ATV crowd would seem to be spending their money on gas and tires; the Equator, with virtually no marketing budget since its fall 2008 launch, has achieved little in the way of sales volume. Lack of sales shouldn't, however, take away from the goodness of the truck. As a donor vehicle, the Frontier is one of the best mid-size offerings. And the Suzuki changes - in combination with what Suzuki calls America's #1 Warranty - have done nothing to diminish its attractiveness.
Suzuki's Equator stands out in a crowd for all of the right reasons. The Nissan Frontier, on which it is based, has long been regarded as an overachiever in the segment. The Suzuki is - to most eyes - the more attractive iteration. Get it if you like looking at your vehicle before positioning yourself behind the wheel.
Despite the inherent reliability of the platform, Suzuki has but 25 percent of Nissan's dealer count. To that end, if you are saddled with a problem needing immediate attention - and you remain under warranty - you might very well incur an out-of-pocket expense in the absence of an accessible Suzuki dealer.
Now in its third full model year, the Equator's most notable point is its continued production. In 2010 stability control was made standard on V6 models, while a semi-integrated Garmin navigation unit was added as an option. For 2011, according to Suzuki, the Equator is "designed to deliver real capability to consumers focused on both the journey and the destination." We think they've made the "journey" a mandatory option.
We have about one-hundred words, but we could do it in three: it's a truck. With that as a given, the Equator and its Frontier twin are highly regarded for an extremely stiff - albeit heavy - chassis structure. In point of fact, this platform isn't engineered for the mid-size truck segment; rather, it's downsized from the Titan full-size chassis. To that end, it's amazingly capable as a truck, but also rather heavy in its size segment. The suspension, steering and braking, however, do what's expected of them, with no surprises and little to disappoint. The folks at "4-Wheel & Offroad" magazine recognized it as their 4X4 of the Year at the Equator's launch, an accolade rarely given to something that is - at its core - a rebadging of an existing vehicle. We like the attributes of the RMZ-4 off-road more than we like the characteristics of the base RWD models on-road.
In a brazen - albeit predictable - attempt to borrow some mojo from its motorcycle brethren, Suzuki takes "RMZ" from the motocross side of the business, adds the numeral "4" and - in the process - turns the Equator into one of the most capable off-roaders available from the showroom. The skid plates, off-road specific rubber, Bilstein shocks and locking rear differential take it to the dirt and allow you to drive out. We like it all, and only wish this trim level were available as an Extended Cab variant.
Adjustable Tie-down System
Taken intact from Nissan, the adjustable tie-down system employs five special "C" cross-section rails mounted in the bed. Removable utility cleats slide into the channels, providing a wide range of attachment points for securing cargo. It's great for securing virtually anything, although state laws will (typically) prevent you from securing a live passenger via a tie-down system.
It's a truck (or sport truck) with a base price of roughly $18K, and its interior fully conveys that. A simple dash, buttons and knobs operable (for the most part) with a gloved hand, and adequate room in both the Extended and Crew Cabs make for an interior that neither delights nor offends. Were leather seating offered we'd take it, but given the comparatively low take rate on the pickup itself an interior upgrade hasn't been offered by American Suzuki.
Most observers - and the handful of customers - have liked those changes wrought by Suzuki's design team; in short, they didn't screw it up. And in the front they seemingly improved on the original, which is no mean feat. That said, there's nothing significantly new here - only the basic, honest representation you want from a work or play truck. In its aggressively 4X4, RMZ-4 guise, this is the perfect exclamation point to your off-road pursuits.
Both 2011 Suzuki Equator Extended Cab and Crew Cab models feature flip-up rear seats, a fold-flat front passenger seat and removable storage boxes located beneath the rear seats. Beyond that, the base Extended Cab is appropriately spartan. Opt for the Premium, Sport or RMZ-4 packages and power mirrors, door locks, and windows are built into the base price, as is air conditioning and a 4-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system. The Crew Cab is better equipped in its standard spec, but the base MSRP is several thousand dollars higher. Standard safety equipment in both cabs is more comprehensive, with ABS braking, tire pressure monitoring system and both front seat side-impact airbags and curtain airbags for front and rear outboard passengers.
Most options are tied to the trim levels: Premium, Sport and RMZ-4. Opt for the RMZ-4 with Sport upgrades and you'll enjoy the benefits of Vehicle Dynamic Control, Hill Descent Control and Hill Hold Control. Inside, the Sport package on the RMZ-4 adds 380 watts of Rockford-Fosgate audio, eight high-performance speakers plus subwoofer, an auxiliary input jack and Bluetooth capacity. And while there's little or no aftermarket support specific to the Equator, there is a plentiful number of aftermarket options for the Frontier.
Suzuki offers two engines on the 2011 Equator, but only one real choice. The base 2.5 liter has little to endear it beyond simplicity and longevity. Highway economy gives you a 2-mpg bump over the V6 (both with auto transmissions), but at $4/gallon over 15,000 annual miles, that 10 percent improvement represents all of $300 in savings over the course of a year. The 4.0 liter V6 gives you smooth, responsive power and the ability to tow some 6,500 pounds. We wouldn't, to be sure, tow that tonnage with a mid-size truck, but it makes towing something (boat, trailer, etc.) weighing 3,000 pounds just that much easier.
2.5-liter in-line 4
152 horsepower @ 5200 rpm
171 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/23 (manual), 17/22 (automatic)
261 horsepower @ 5600 rpm
281 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 15/20 (2WD), 14/19 (4WD)
For those with a truck budget of under $20K, you're in luck! With a base price of just over $18,000, adding A/C and AM/FM/CD ($1,404) brings you in a few hundred dollars shy of $20,000. (You'll save even more, of course, with the almost mandatory incentives typically offered in the mid-size segment.) The typical price point for a moderately equipped 2011 Suzuki Equator Extended Cab Sport with V6 and AWD would be just under $27K, and an all-options-on-deck RMZ-4 Crew Cab would hover around $30K. An important point for value shoppers: Ultimate value is not here in the mid-size segment. OEMs are tripping over themselves to gain market share in full-size trucks, and in recent years don't seem to care whether you buy a mid-size truck (or not). In short, you'll pay a premium - in relative terms - for this smaller, more maneuverable footprint. Before writing the check, reference kbb.com's Fair Purchase Price.