Suzuki's XL-7 is the largest of this group of compact off-roaders, boasting the longest wheelbase and overall length and the greatest interior volume. It's also the only one here that has a third-row-seating option. However, pushing that interior package to fit the third row adversely affects first- and second-row passenger accommodations. Second-row legroom in the seemingly smaller Jeep is nearly six inches greater than in the XL-7. The Suzuki cashes in on cargo-carrying ability and is almost as large as some minivans.

At 72.0 cubic feet of cargo volume with all seats stowed, the Suzuki is 3.0 and 5.6 cubic feet larger than the Jeep and Kia, respectively. The Suzuki rides lower than the others, which is a good thing for its center of gravity and ease of access. This quality/liability hampers off-road clearance, though. The front and rear overhangs, ground clearance, and break-over angle aren't as well suited as the others to off-roading. The long body-on-frame XL-7 has the lowest ground clearance of the trio at 7.6 inches, which causes it to high-center or scrape its runningboards on berms and ruts.

What hurts the Suzuki most is that it tries too hard to be the ultimate, seven-passenger compact 'ute, but does so with trucklike architecture that would be better suited to take on the Jeeps of the world--doing neither job particularly well. Its full ladder-style frame is rugged and crashworthy, but the chassis-shuddering ride qualities associated with it are not as refined as a unibody might be. Liquid-filled engine mounts do their best to isolate engine vibrations, but you just can't ignore that busy little V-6.

In the end, the Suzuki makes the best of what it has, but it's neither cute 'ute nor rock-crawler. Most people would be better served either with a minivan, a more dedicated off-roader, or a car-based utility vehicle like the Honda CR-V, which is quicker, gets better fuel mileage, and is less expensive.