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SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide

1998 Suzuki Esteem GL Wagon

by John Heilig

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            1.6-liter 16-valve inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 95hp @ 6,000 rpm/99 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:      30 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, 31.4 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         97.6 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    171.1 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    55.9 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     66.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       2,381 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     13.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  24.0/61.0 cu. ft. (rear seats up/down)
TIRES:             P185/60R14
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $12,929

Suzuki has an interesting line of automobiles that it builds for itself and for Chevrolet. There is the Sidekick line of small sport utilities that Chevrolet brands as the Tracker. And there is the mini Sprint that Geo calls the Metro. Many of these vehicles are built in a Chevrolet-Suzuki joint venture facility in Canada known as CAMI.

Also coming out of Suzuki's lineup is a nice Japanese-built compact sedan and wagon called Esteem. The Esteem wagon is our tester this week.

We were first exposed to the Esteem at the New York Auto Show where we discussed current and new product with Suzuki's vice president of marketing, Gary Anderson, who drives a mean sport ute. Anderson was enthusiastic about the Esteem and the wagon and promised even more excitement in the future, such as a four-wheel drive platform for the slick wagon that will put it head-to-head with Subaru.

Like the rest of the Suzuki line, the Esteem wagon is a very good automobile as long as you don't expect too much of it. Performance is adequate with the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. We were able to maintain speeds with all the ambient traffic. Acceleration was not great, but once you compensate for the fact that you have a small underpowered car and learn to plan ahead, it isn't a problem.

The engine is buzzy, but most four-cylinder engines are. To be honest, I probably drove it relatively hard. The engine compartment could use more sound insulation and if I was going to buy an Esteem, one of my first investments would be additional sound insulation.

However, coupled to the five-speed manual gearbox you can extract maximum performance from the engine. There were a few hills that it didn't want to take in fifth, but these were usually back-road hills. On the interstates, if we ran into a hill, event hose heading into the Pocono Mountains, there was no need to downshift. If you don't demand outstanding performance from a vehicle, than the Esteem will fit the bill.

My biggest problem with the Esteem was the radio. It was the most confusing one I have ever dealt with. You cannot tune to a station, you have to use seek or scan. And while the tone was decent, using it was a pain.

Seating is very comfortable, on a part with most other compact or subcompact cars. Up front there are individual buckets with decent side support. The side bolsters are gradually built up from the back so there is more of a curve than in a Recaro-style seat. The rear bench is wide enough for three passengers, although the center passenger might be cramped.

And as in most station wagons, the rear seat folds down to add to the carrying capacity. With the seat up there are 24 cubic feet of cargo space. That increases to over 60 cubic feet of space with the seat down. We used the wagon as a carrier, particularly when we had to help our daughter return from a trade show, so it served its purpose well.

Station wagons served as the first "yuppie car." They were supplanted by mini-vans and sport utility vehicles. However, station wagons today are not the world's best selling vehicles because they have been supplanted by more trendy vehicles. Ford sells a few, Subaru sells a few and now Suzuki is getting into the show with the Esteem wagon.

There's no lack of esteem with this wagon. If you can live with the buzzy engine it's a nice vehicle.

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