The 3.6-liter V6 puts out 252 hp at 6,400 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. That's up from 185 hp and 184 lb-ft for the 2.7-liter '06. The 24-valve DOHC mates to a five-speed automatic transmission that features a manual-shifting mode and reportedly lets drivers go from zero to 60 in less than 8 sec.

The 36% power boost, however, doesn't compromise fuel ratings. Designers delivered economies equal to or better than its predecessor. The AWD tester I drove has an EPA rating of 17/23 mpg, while the front-wheel-drive variant gets 18/24 mpg.

To get a more comfortable, carlike ride, Suzuki did away with the body-on-frame chassis and went the "crossover" way — unibody frame, mated to fully independent McPherson struts in front and multilinks in the rear.

The Limited-trim, seven-passenger SUV also featured load-leveling shocks on the rear to improve handling under full load and keep ride height consistent. Rollover sensing is standard. It monitors the angle and roll rate on flat roads and brakes the outside wheels, reducing lateral forces.

This year's model also sports a new aerodynamic skin, one nearly 10 in. longer and 2 in. wider. The stretched platform has 95 ft3 of cargo space and comfortable first (41.2 in.) and second (38.8 in.) row legroom. The optional third row has only 30.8 in. And although the XL7 has a tad more ground clearance and can tow payloads of 3,500 lb, it's not as well suited for off-road adventures as last year's model.

The change in the exterior is dramatic. Designers replaced the boxy profile with a much sleeker silhouette — approach and departure angles dropped nearly 11 and 3.5°, respectively. The headlights and front end are my favorite upgrades. The new three-bar grille and two-tone bumper system look sharp. And in back, I like the dual 3.5-in.-diameter, stainless-steel exhaust. The exhaust has one center and two side mufflers, along with two catalytic converters and down pipes. The combination is said to give best-in-class NVH in quietness and tonal quality.

Inside, the cabin is spacious. The top-of-the-line XL7 is equipped with a plethora of standard creature comforts. Some of them come as options (or aren't available) in competitive crossovers including the Honda Pilot and the Limited versions of the Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Sante Fe. They include a leather-appointed interior with wood-grain trim, heated front seats, driver-info center with trip computer, rear AC controls, seven-speaker audio system with MP3 connection, DVD rear entertainment system with wireless headphones, and side curtain air bags all around. The base XL7 is just under $23K with the Limited trim topping out just south of $28K.