First Drive: 2009 Suzuki Equator
Suzuki has long manufactured high-performance motorcycles and has been a player in marine engines, ATVs, dirt bikes and other recreational equipment. It has sold more than 100,000 vehicles per year for the past two years, and has considerable equity worldwide in offroad SUVs with the Samurai and its variants. But it hadn’t yet entered the pickup truck market.
"There are over 2 million Suzuki owners in North America who, by virtue of their involvement in outdoor recreational activities, require a pickup truck," American Suzuki spokesman Dave Boldt said.
That being the case, it makes sense that the automaker would want to offer its more adventurous customers a Suzuki pickup.
Rather than develop a new pickup from scratch, Suzuki teamed with Nissan to develop a truck that would suit its customers’ needs. They came up with the Equator, which will be built in Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn., plant starting Oct. 1. The Equator will be available for sale at 400 Suzuki dealerships around the first of December.
The truck has all the underpinnings of Nissan’s Frontier, but with select option packages and several key differences that make it better-suited for a different user. The differences start with a front clip that is distinctly Suzuki, with a trapezoidal grille and a high-tech light cluster. Like Nissan, Suzuki will offer four- and six-cylinder engines, long beds and standard beds, two- and four-wheel-drive, and extended and crew cabs.
The top-of-the-line Equator will be the long-bed crew cab RMZ-4 equipped with a full range of accessories and options best suited to bike, ATV and/or motorboat owners. It’s squarely aimed at outdoor recreationalists.
For example, leather seats will not be available through Suzuki — “that’s not our type of customer,” Boldt said. Instead, low-maintenance rubberized materials are used throughout the cabin. Side airbags with a rollover sensor will be standard on the Equator, benefiting Suzuki’s more-likely-to-go-off-road customer. Suzuki also offers a unique touch-screen GPS navigation system, called Suzuki TRIP, that can be removed from the vehicle and taken on a boat or to a campsite. All Equators come with Suzuki’s longer 100,000-mile, seven-year transferable warranty.
We recently had the opportunity to drive Suzuki’s new pickup in and around San Antonio, both on-road and off.
First stop was Canyon Lake Marina, about 35 miles north of San Antonio, where two Equators with bass boats attached were provided for boat-ramp testing. The water was low at Canyon Lake, and the concrete boat ramps were long and steep. The bass boats, a Ranger and Triton, weighed about 3,800 and 4,200 pounds, respectively. The Equator had no trouble pulling them out — traction was not an issue in four-wheel-drive mode — and weight was certainly not an issue.
Suzuki says the Equator can tow loads up to 6,500 pounds when properly equipped. The maximum tow rating will vary by model, but we learned that something closer to 5,000 pounds would be the cutoff for a standard Class 3 receiver hitch. If you were to tow something closer to the 6,500-pound limit, you’d need a weight-distributing hitch. The Equator isn’t intended to be a heavy-hauler, after all; it’s meant to be the kind of truck you’d use to pull a trailer with a lighter boat, a couple of ATVs or a pair of Jet Skis. For that use, and with the V-6, it has the power, wheelbase and heft to do the job safely and efficiently.