The 4x4 system is actuated by turning a dial with three settings: 2WD, 4H and 4Lo. You have to stop to switch into 4Lo, putting the transmission in the neutral position with the brake depressed. We had no problem switching into 4Lo — the transfer case clicked in and the indicator light illuminated — but once we were back on pavement we found it tricky to get back into 2WD. Even with the transmission in neutral, it took several tries to exit 4Lo.
We also noticed a slight rattle coming from the right front quarter, something like a loose bracket. We’ll chalk that up to overzealous offroad testing by the previous group of maniacs, but it’s something we noticed.
The Equator has an electronic hill descent assist and a hill start assist package. These electronic upgrades work to control slippage by applying brakes in small increments, from wheel to wheel very quickly, and can be a comfort in situations where long hills are very steep. With the driving we did, we never really needed either one, but if we did a lot of offroad driving in, say, Colorado, we might appreciate having them.
As with any proper 4x4, a full-size spare tire is included.
In everyday driving, the Equator rides and handles the way a midsize pickup should. It’s smoother than a full-size and easier to park, but without V-8 power. All the test units were 4x4s; we hopped into an RMZ-4 Crew Cab with the 4.0-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission for our drive on mostly two-lane country roads.
The interior is sparse and simple. It bucks the current trend of applying wood-grain, leather-lined, European-style luxury car interiors to pickup trucks. Instead, there’s a three-spoke wheel and a simple four-instrument front cluster that’s brightly lit with white numerals and red needles. Textured plastic materials are used throughout, with bright-metal coated plastic accents on the center stack, shifter panel and steering wheel. You can tell the bright pieces are plastic if you tap them, but to our eyes the interior doesn’t seem cheap, just easy to clean. The seats, for example, are made using layers of a rubberized fabric and the floor coverings appear mud- and water-resistant.
During our drive, we took note of the usual center cupholders with removable rubber liners, plus numerous storage pockets and slots, including two storage compartments in the glove box location. The hand-brake lever, just to the left of the cupholders, is something we like, as it can be an asset in offroad situations. The center storage box, while small, is well-organized and at just the right height for our elbow to rest on it.
On the move, the V-6 engine provides good, if not great, acceleration and passing power. The power plant is a Nissan four-valve DOHC with aluminum block and heads. It makes 261 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, and its peak torque, 281 pounds-feet, arrives at 4,000 rpm, so we found it requires some continuous throttle to wind up to its maximum performance level. Redline is 6,000 rpm.
With the five-speed automatic in fifth gear overdrive, 60 mph comes at just 1,800 rpm. At that cruising speed, the driving is relaxed, quiet and no doubt quite efficient. Punch the throttle and the transmission kicks down and the engine gets louder, but it still takes a moment for rpm to build enough to deliver real passing power in a truck that weighs about 4,460 pounds when empty. That might not be exciting, but it is consistent with the idea of a smaller pickup that’s built to get the job done without overkill or V-8 fuel consumption. The EPA numbers for the Equator suggest that the V-6 would deliver about 15 mpg around town and 20 mpg on the highway with the automatic transmission. The 152-hp four-cylinder version with the five-speed manual transmission is rated at 19/23 mpg city/highway.
On the mostly two-lane county roads we took, ride and handling characteristics were good for an empty pickup truck. Steering is based on an engine-speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion setup that lent itself to carving corners, and the suspension allowed the Equator to take a reasonably firm set through the corners and exit cleanly when pushed. Brakes consist of discs on all four corners, with twin pistons on the front set. They’re easy to modulate at the top of the pedal, with a consistent gain in stopping power as you apply them. They aren’t heavily assisted, so there is minimal pedal squish at the top, and though they might take more effort than some brakes at maximum stopping, they don’t grab as you approach stoplights. Antilock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution are standard. Our test unit was equipped with Bilstein shocks, which have a reputation for firm damping, but we didn’t find the highway ride quality of the unladen Equator objectionable. The front suspension is a torsion-bar independent setup, and the rear uses a leaf-spring pack.
We think the Equator will be well-received by Suzuki’s customer base, which will appreciate Suzuki’s unique understanding of their wants and needs. It’s a truck that’s optioned out expressly for their demographic, and it brings with it Suzuki’s own warranty, a clear selling point. The Smyrna production plant is one of the lowest-cost plants in the automotive world, so pricing is likely be competitive. Suzuki is still working out pricing details and hasn’t released exact prices yet. They did advise that, in most cases, pricing would be “within a few dollars” of Nissan Frontier prices. When we get the official numbers, you’ll read about it here.