2009 Suzuki Equator RMZ-4

A BIG Step Forward at Suzuki

2009 Suzuki Equator RMZ-4

FAST FACTS

1. The Equator shares its chassis and drivetrain with the Nissan Frontier.

2. Designed to be a real truck, the Equator uses a true ladder-on-frame design.

3. Base engine is a 152hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an available 261hp 4.0-liter V6 is optional or standard or higher-end models.

4. The Equator is built in Smyrna, Tennessee.

While fuel-efficient small cars and mid-size crossovers make up the bulk of Suzuki’s lineup, 2009 marks a big new addition to the family.

The all-new, mid-size, four-door Equator is the first pickup truck to grace Suzuki showrooms. It’s a new direction for the Japanese company probably best known for selling marine engines, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles (definitely motorcycles) in the United States. The fact is, Suzuki has sold cars here since 1985. One reason why Suzuki is on board with a pickup truck is that enthusiasts who already have a Suzuki motorcycle or ATV in the garage now have a way to transport their toys longer distances in true Suzuki fashion. You’re boat need transporting? Not a problem, as a V-6 Equator can tow up to 6,500 pounds thanks to its fully boxed frame design.

About four years ago, another Japanese auto builder, Honda, introduced its Ridgeline pickup truck, a vehicle Suzuki targets as one of its key competitors. Honda also sells its share of motorcycles and Ridgeline was also brought online to appeal to Honda loyalists.  The Equator, however, is designed for more rugged use with a traditional ladder-on-frame heavy-duty design and includes such options as hill decent control and hill hold control.

FOUR-CYLINDER OR POWERFUL V-6

The Equator offers two engine selections, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that delivers 152 horsepower and a class leading 4.0-liter V-6 that generates 261 horses. Two cab styles are available: extended cab and full-size crew cab (with four standard-sized side doors). No regular cab with single row seating is available as the market for those have dwindled during the past decade thanks to Crew Cab popularity. Rear wheel or part-time four-wheel drive is available.

As with many pickups, several mix and match varieties are available. Extended cabs come in three trim levels with exclusive rear drive:  Base, Premium and Sport. Base comes with a five-speed manual transmission, while Premium and Sport have a five-speed automatic transmission. The four-cylinder engine is standard in Base and Premium while Sport has the V-6. The larger Crew Cabs come standard with the V-6 and a five-speed automatic transmission in one of three trims: Base, Sport, and off-road RMZ-4. Two-wheel rear drive is standard in Base and Sport. An electronically controlled two-speed transfer case (on the dash) operates shift on-the-fly, part-time four-wheel drive and is available in Sport and standard in RMZ-4 and also features four-wheel low. Suzuki expects a 50/50 mix between Extended and Crew Cabs. Extended cabs come with five-foot short beds standard. Crew cabs come with five-foot or six-foot bed options.

STARTING AT JUST OVER $17,000

Pricing starts at $17,220 for an Extended Cab with two-wheel drive and five-speed manual. Suzuki supplied a top-of-the-line RMZ-4 Sport with V-6 engine and four-wheel drive for our test. Starting price for this well-loaded edition was $29,325 including destination charge. Optional on our off-road RMZ-4 is a $2,050 sport package with moon roof, hill decent control and hill hold control. The bottom line ended up at $31,375.

Four cylinder engines with an automatic transmission register 17 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway. The six-cylinder coupled with an automatic transmission averages 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.

MADE IN THE U.S.A.

While Suzuki itself doesn’t have any manufacturing plants in the United States, the 2009 Equator is assembled in Smyrna, Tennessee outside Nashville. Equator is a joint venture with Nissan North America, which opened the assembly line in 1983 (Nissan’s U.S headquarters is located in the Nashville area, too). Equator shares a platform with the Nissan Frontier mid-size pickup also built in Smyrna. While the hood, mesh honeycomb grille, front fenders and rear tailgate are Equator exclusives, underpinnings, or “greasy parts,” are Frontier driven.

SIMPLE AND FUNCTIONAL INTERIOR

Air conditioning is standard except in the base four-cylinder where it’s optional. Cruise control, power windows and remote keyless entry are optional on Base trims, but standard elsewhere. The moon roof is optional only in the RMZ-4.

Inside, the rear 60/40 split seats fold back and up, locking in an upright position to reveal a convenient removable storage box. Once items are stowed, the seat cushion folds down over the storage area. The front passenger bucket seat backs folds flat onto the seat cushion for increased versatility.

The instrument panel features two flat, large circular gauges flanked by two smaller ones. A digital icon on the gauges indicates when the vehicle is in two-wheel or four-wheel drive. The top center of the dash has a scooped area ideal for stowing tollway transponders. Below is the stereo that is flanked by vertical vents. Underneath are two dials controlling fan speed and temperature. In between are buttons monitoring fan direction and front and back window defroster. The dual-level glove box has doors that flip up and down. Storage is also found in between the front bucket seats under a flip-top cover. Also in the area are large beverage holders capable of holding Big Gulps, a hand-operated parking brake and the transmission shifter. Beverages may also be stored in side door map pockets. Suzuki conveniently incorporates many small and not-so-small storage areas through the truck.

The driver’s door has power window levers controlling all four doors positioned at a 45-degree angle. Power locks are in this same area. Power side-view mirrors are monitored by a push template on the far left dash.

SAFETY FEATURES, PLUS A TRANSFERABLE WARRANTY

Safety features are many and include anti-lock brakes, traction control, an energy-absorbing steering column, dual front air bags, curtain air bags and front bucket side air bags. Hill hold control and hill decent control are available in the top-line six-cylinder RMZ-4 when ordering a Sport package.

The main appeal of the Equator over its Nissan Frontier cousin is that the Suzuki comes with a seven-year/100,000 mile (which ever comes first) fully transferable, zero deductible powertrain warranty, one of the better warranties in the business. This also bodes well for Equator’s resale value.

THE VERDICT

Nissan has been assembling pickup trucks at its Tennessee plant since the early 1980s.  It’s a platform that’s well tested and targeted to the U.S. market. If you like the Nissan Frontier, you may like the 2009 Suzuki Equator a little better, not only because of the warranty but also because it’s a conversation starter. More than once during my test drive, a person stopped me saying, “I didn’t know Suzuki made a pickup.”
They do now.

POSITVE

Although new to Suzuki, the platform is well proven and tested
Powertrain warranty is longer than what’s offered on the sibling Nissan Frontier
True body-on-frame truck platform sets it apart from Honda Ridgeline pickup

NEGATIVE

No regular cab available
May be in short supply at Suzuki dealers
A Nissan truck in Suzuki clothing

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