2009 Suzuki Equator
What They Did Right: Suzuki chose the reputable, solid, and proven Nissan Frontier on which to base the Equator and was wise to offer a diverse lineup that includes two engines, two bed lengths, two cab configurations, plus rear- and four-wheel drive.
Room For Improvement: Differentiation, anyone? The Frontier is arguably a handsome truck, but Suzuki could have done more than simply modifying the grille and slapping on some fresh badges. GM's four Lambda SUVs are essentially one and the same, but at least they're all distinctive.
Bet You Didn't Know: For the U.S. market, Suzuki sold its first motorcycle, the 250TC, in 1963; its first ATV, the QuadRunner LT125, in 1983, and its first car, the Samurai, in 1985.
When is a Suzuki not a Suzuki? When it's a Nissan, of course. Say hello to the Equator, Suzuki's new compact truck, which is essentially a rebadged Nissan Frontier, a pickup that bowed in the 2005 model year.
In an effort to lure motorcycle and all-terrain-vehicle owners into automotive showrooms, Suzuki deemed it a bright idea to add a truck to its lineup-not a bad thought, really, considering Suzuki's bike and ATV customers need to haul their toys to the asphalt and dirt playgrounds. And seeing that truck sales aren't exactly hot these days, Nissan had the capacity and means to supply Suzuki with plenty of Frontiers, er, Equators. But given that the Frontier failed to capture our Truck of the Year trophy in 2005, could it rewrite history in 2009 wearing a Suzuki badge? Not exactly.
To a man, our judges appreciated the Equator's towing prowess (up to 6300 pounds with the V-6), off-road abilities ("The RMZ is second in fun on the off-road, after the H3T." "On the dirt-loop run in the two-wheeler, this truck struck me as a better performer than I had expected."), nicely trimmed, functional interiors ("Clean, simple interior features 'tech' textures like appliances use. It's not trying to be posh or plush at all, as that's not the target buyer."), and brisk acceleration with the V-6 ("The 4.0-liter is a clear standout here. Responsive and ready to spin tires on the dirt. Ramped up to 100 mph on the first long dirt straightaway."). Still, they were not fond of the four-cylinder's lack of guts ("Had my foot on the floor for several miles just trying to catch the convoy against a headwind in the 2.5-liter."), the V-6's high-rpm thrash ("The V-6 makes impressive horsepower and torque, but it loses refinement as the tach needles swings upward."), and lack of manual mode with the automatic ("I wish the five-speed auto had a manual mode, especially for off-road excursions.").