The rebadging and sale of an existing model under a new brand name is nothing new, especially when it comes to pickups. Mitsubishi borrowed from Dodge, Isuzu swapped with GM, and Mazda did the same from Ford. See a trend there? For whatever reason, the smaller Japanese makers have previously made some sort of attempt at blending American brute and Japanese style. Which makes Suzuki’s Equator version of the Nissan Frontier somewhat curious.
This is compounded by the fact that none of the previous American-turned-Japanese examples were even close to being as successful in sales as their original counterparts, let alone those from Nissan and Toyota. Suzuki must believe that they have missed out on new customers by not having a truck option. But how realistic is it to think that a potential buyer or loyal Suzuki owner has been on a dealership lot and turned to the sales person and said, “I like the sub-compact, but what do you have in a truck?” The real question is whether Frontier-lovers will cross the street for the Equator.
Perhaps by putting a new face on the Nissan’s Frontier, Suzuki is testing the waters as to whether people are receptive to their own original truck offering. It may work. Afterall, Suzuki has been relatively profitable in the last year with an appeal to a frugal segment that may appreciate a slightly cheaper alternative to trucks from Toyota or Nissan.
Performance attributes for the Equator are identical to the Frontier, a solid contender in the midsize truck segment. Two styles are offered: a basic extended cab version and a four-door crew cab. Extended cabs are available in base, Comfort, Premium and Sport trims, and all come with a 6-foot bed. Crew cabs are available in base, Sport, and RMZ-4 trims and all have a 5-foot bed except the Sport trim, which can be had with a 6-footer. All trims are rear-wheel drive except the Sport which can also come as 4WD. RMZ-4s are 4WD only. The rather bare bones extended cab model is equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, while the Sport and Premium versions both have five-speed automatics. On the crew cab only a five-speed automatic is used. Two engines are available: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, and a 4.0-liter V6 that puts out 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. 4WD and Crew Cabs come only with the larger engine. With the appropriate options the Suzuki Equator can tow up to 6,500 pounds. Although the fuel efficient, four-cylinder model is an inexpensive, light-duty work truck, those that plan on doing any serious “trucking” should opt for the V6.
Reviewers favorably report that the precise steering is only exceeded by the ride quality which is surprisingly smooth for a pickup truck. The off-road crowd will be drawn to the RMZ-4 model which has upgraded suspension components and ground clearance over base models.
One justification from Suzuki in opting for an Equator over the Nissan is its seven-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty that is two years, and 40,000 miles longer than Nissans. Also a benefit to Suzuki ownership is standard front side and curtain airbags that are unavailable on the Frontier. Speaking of safety, antilock brakes, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on all trims, with traction control standard on Sport models, and stability control only available on the top RMZ-4 trim.
Fuel economy ranges from 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined for the rear-drive, four-cylinder extended cab models down to 15/19/16 for a 4WD V6 crew cab.
Differences in exterior styling between the Equator and Frontier are noticable, though which one is better looking is highly debatable. The Frontier features a more angular, squared look up front, while the Equator has almost a Toyota Tundra-like roundness to the headlights and grille. Regardless, dimensions and uility of either truck is not impacted by these dissimilarities. Those with frequent hauling needs will be drawn to the Sport trim, which includes a sprayed-in bedliner and movable tie-down system.
Those considering the Suzuki will be met with the same set of negatives in the interior as with the Frontier. Mostly complaints center around the confines of the back seat with the crew-cab which is tight. Like every Suzuki, the Equator never approaches anything that could be considered luxurious and options like leather are not available. The extended cab utilizes small, reverse-opening doors to allow rear-passenger access to the fold-up jump seats that are mostly just for show, or in desperate times. Despite its entry-level heritage, Equator’s cabin is attractively designed, with intuitive controls and comfortable front seats. Our dislike of hard plastics is tempered by the knowledge that all compact trucks are similarly equipped.
The crew cab provides a nice list of features, including a cleated “C-track” tie-down system, with various storage compartments and a spray-on bedliner for the Sport version. Options include a navigation system, Bluetooth, a satellite-radio-ready audio system and a sunroof. Tighter crew-cab backseat than competitors’, some desirable features only available on top trim level, regular-cab body style not available.The price-leader base Equator is a stripper, fitted with 15-inch steel wheels and bucket seats with a console but little else, as neither air-conditioning nor a sound system is standard. The Comfort trim adds the A/C and a four-speaker stereo with a CD player. The Premium adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a sliding rear window, a tilt steering wheel, keyless entry, full power accessories and upgraded cloth upholstery. Opting for the Sport gets you 17-inch alloy wheels, a sprayed-in bedliner and movable tie-down cleats in the bed.
The RMZ-4 adds chrome exterior trim, heavy-duty axles, an electric locking rear differential, Bilstein shocks, skid plates, 16-inch alloy wheels with off-road-oriented tires, foglamps, unique upholstery, height and lumbar adjustments for the driver seat and metallic cabin accents. Optional features include a sunroof, hill descent and hold control and an upgraded audio system with a CD changer, an auxiliary audio jack, satellite radio prep, Bluetooth connectivity and a subwoofer. An aftermarket-style navigation system is optional on all crew cabs but not available on the extended-cab.
Though we all know how deceptive pricing can be, theoretically, the Equator’s base price of $17,520 is a huge 20 buck difference from the Frontier. The top-end RMZ starts at just under $30,000. In most respects there isn’t a whole lot of reason to opt for the Suzuki except that given the difference in warranty and safety features (two things owners hope they never need to use) it would appear that even if it were slightly more expensive the Equator would be the better value. Those searching for an economical truck will have to debate whether they can live with an “S” on the grille.