Over the last few years, there have been a lot of changes and improvements to heavy-duty three-quarter- and one-ton trucks, as well as to half-tons. The quieter story is that compact trucks have gotten bigger and more capable, too, and many of them are now as big as half-tons used to be, with comparable towing and payload capacities. (This Equator, as equipped, does have a payload of more than 1000 pounds, the reason trucks were originally called "half-tons.")
Why did Suzuki get into the compact-truck market? It manufactures motorcycles, ATVs, and motors for boats, and had to watch as other automakers' trucks served as tow vehicles. It made sense for Suzuki to get a pickup, and partnering with Nissan proved cost-effective.
So when the Suzuki Equator arrived for Motor Trend's 2009 Truck of the Year event, we were curious about this compact pickup for a variety of reasons. How would it compare with the Tacoma, Ranger, Dakota, and Colorado? Would it serve the needs of people who want towing and hauling capability, but prefer a truck small enough to fit in the garage? And the question we all had: How is this truck different from the Nissan Frontier? After all, they're both built on the same lines in Nissan's plant in Smyrna, Tennessee; they look alike; and they have the same engines and transmissions. It was for all those reasons that, after TOTY ended, we requested a Suzuki Equator for a year-long test.
The Nissan is available with four trim levels, King or Crew Cabs, I-4 or V-6, manual or automatic transmissions, short or long bed, and rear or four-wheel drive. In the Equator, the option packaging is different, with fewer permutations. Both engines are available with the Extended Cab, but the manual transmission backs the four only. All Crew Cabs are V-6s, with a choice of short or long bed. Extended Cabs come as base, Premium, and Sport variants; Crew Cabs are equipped as base, Sport, and RMZ-4 Sport.
Another big difference is the warranties. Both trucks have a basic 3-year/36,000-mile warranty, but where the Frontier's powertrain warranty covers the vehicle for 5 years and 60,000 miles, Suzuki's takes care of the powertrain for 7 years and 100,000 miles. There aren't many physical differences in the trucks, but this feature adds value to the Suzuki.
We took delivery of an RMZ-4 Sport with the 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 and a five-speed automatic. It also came with skidplates, four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case, hill-hold and hill-descent control, traction control, 16-inch BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires, tire-pressure monitoring, spray-on bedliner, track cargo tie-down system, and Bilstein shocks.
The cabin has weather- and stain-resistant RMZ-4 seats, a sunroof, and a nine-speaker AM/FM/CD Rockford Fosgate system. Add-ons included RMZ-4 moto-style bed extender and floormats; Garmin portable nav system; side window visors; and a set of front splash guards.
It was no surprise that the Equator was used right away for the daily commute, but what was surprising was how quickly staffers opted for the Suzuki for outdoor adventures. One took the Equator on a Jeep trail that had proved too narrow for a previous half-ton long-termer, and noted itssmaller size plus its excellent off-road equipment made the Equator "a credible alternative to a Wrangler." Another tester used the RMZ-4 on a camping and rock-climbing trip to Joshua Tree and was equally impressed with its abilities in the great outdoors. Another staffer went off-road in Johnson Valley. And, as is often the case with our long-term trucks, this compact was used for moving duty, where it offered generous space in a small package. We regretted not getting a hitch, because that meant we couldn't see how it did while lugging a trailer.
Many liked the Equator's comfortable freeway ride and enthusiastic acceleration, but we had some quibbles. For starters, the truck's turning radius took a little getting used to, sometimes making U-turns three-pointers. In addition, some interior amenities left drivers dissatisfied. They felt the faux wood trim looked especially faux. But many felt the exterior styling cues that separate the Suzuki from its Nissan sibling make the Equator more attractive than the Frontier.
The Equator went in for service twice, the first time for its 7500-mile service at 8787 miles. While at the dealer, the truck received an oil change, inspection, and tire rotation. Total cost: $29.17. The second dealer visit was for its 15,000-mile service (also late, at 16,114 miles)-and more. The truck had been broken into, and both rear windows were smashed to bits. The dealer replaced the two windows and performed the same servicing as at 7500 miles, as well as replacing the air filters in engine and cabin. This service, excluding the cost of the new windows, was $312.83.
Yes, the Equator is a Frontier in a lot of ways, and our review of this truck can also serve as a positive review of the Frontier. But the Equator does have its own personality and is a little bit different from the Nissan.
As we'd guessed when we first signed up for a year behind the wheel of Suzuki's Equator, compact trucks have become much more capable. For most buyers, this means the smaller trucks can easily handle the amount of towing, cargo, and people-hauling capabilities they need. Aside from a few quibbles, the Equator proved up to the task.
| 2009 Suzuki Equator RMZ-4 Sport |
| Price || $32,638 |
| Engine || 4.0L/261-hp/281-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 |
| Miles || 20,227 |
| EPA city/hwy || 15/19 mpg |
| CO2 emissions || 1.17 lb/mile |
| Observed average mpg || 16.3 |
| Observed worst mpg || 8.2 |
| Observed best mpg || 25.7 |
| Average distance per fill-up || 187.0 |
| Average cost per gallon || $3.39 |
| Number of services || 2 |
| Overall cost || $342 |