SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide
Suzuki has been selling its automobiles in the United States for 10 years, and to celebrate its first decade, it has introduced the Esteem, the largest car it has ever sold here. Its first offering back in 1985 was the subcompact sport-utility Samurai. This was followed by the compact sport-utility Sidekick and subcompact Swift sedan. While it has never been a major factor in the American market, Suzuki has acquired a loyal group of buyers and remains a manufacturer of entry-level and low-priced vehicles for both on- and off- road uses. It also supplies two models to Chevrolet's Geo product program. In addition to small cars and sport-utilities, Suzuki also has a strong following in the motorcycle market, being a long-time maker of two-wheeled machinery in every niche from basic transportation to Grand Prix racing.
The new Suzuki Esteem may be a subcompact four-door sedan, but in the top-level GLX version it is fully equipped equal to or better than many larger sedans and can leave the showroom for well under the average price of a new car these days. Our testing covered driving over 400 miles of city, interstate and mountain highways plus a bit of unpaved back roads, and here's what we found:
APPEARANCE: With its rounded, slightly wedge-shaped styling, the Suzuki Esteem reflects contemporary auto design. The four door cabin is larger than the hood and rear deck, and it has a lot of curved, tinted glass. The monochrome paint scheme is set off by black B-pillars and door handles, plus bright trim around the side windows. The steel wheels are fitted with plastic alloy-looking covers mounted with P175/70R13 all-season tires. Altogether the Esteem looks both good and friendly.
COMFORT: The Esteem is very neatly equipped in standard trim and can be fitted with almost all of the accessories found in larger, more expensive cars. Power steering, tinted glass, intermittent wipers, and a rear window defogger are all standard equipment. The GLX adds cloth upholstery, bigger tires, a tach, and power mirrors and door locks, and more. Our Esteem GLX had the "Option Package", including cruise control, air conditioning, and antilock brakes. The manually-adjustable front bucket seats are quite comfortable, and the rear bench is split and folds down 60/40 to handle longer cargo. Four adults can travel in comfort, but the fifth position in the back center is better suited to a small child. The front cup-holder is a manual masterpiece, and it passed the stress test performed by our 9-year old grandson/nephew. Remote latch releases make it easy to access the trunk, fuel door and engine compartment. The trunk is low-opening, flat and quite roomy. The climate control and AM/FM/cassette sound systems work well. All instruments are clearly visible, and most controls are well-placed.
SAFETY: Although it's a subcompact, the Esteem has not overlooked passenger and driver safety. It is equipped with side impact protection, dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes and child safety locks.
ROADABILITY: The Suzuki Esteem delivers a very decent ride around town or on the highway. It is maneuverable, with a soft but well-damped 4-wheel independent suspension and all-season radial tires. It is small and easy to park in town, and surprisingly suited to highway travel. There is little wind noise or crosswind sensitivity. Mechanical noise is about average for the subcompact sedan class. The air conditioner has no effect on engine power.
PERFORMANCE: The Esteem is powered by an all-aluminum, 16-valve, single overhead cam, fuel injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 98 hard-working horsepower. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, but our example had the optional 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission. It shifted fairly smoothly and quietly. Although the Esteem was able to climb normal highway grades in overdrive, locking the overdrive out with a push of the button on the floor-mounted shift lever worked best on steep grades or twisty roads. Keeping up with city and commute traffic presents no problem.
CONCLUSIONS: The Suzuki Esteem is a nice package at a reasonable price. It is very well equipped and shows how far subcompact family cars have come from their humble beginnings.
1996 SUZUKI ESTEEM GLX FOUR-DOOR SEDAN
Base Price $ 15,399 Price As Tested $ 15,789 Engine Type I-4, sohc - 16v, mpfi Engine Size 1.6 liter/97 cid Horsepower 98 @ 6000 Torque (lb/ft) 96 @ 3000 Wheelbase/Length 98"/165" Transmission four speed electronic automatic w/od Curb Weight 2240 lbs. Pounds per Horsepower 22.8 Fuel Capacity 13.5 gal. Fuel Requirement Unleaded regular (87 oct) Tires Bridgestone SF 408 P175/70R13 m+s Brakes disc/drum, ABS optional Drive Train front engine/front drive PERFORMANCE EPA Economy - miles per gallon city/highway/observed 27/34/32.1 0 to 60 mph 11.8 sec 1/4 mi (E.T.) 18.9 sec Coefficient of Drag (Cd) 0.35