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Suzuki Sidekick Sport JLX

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  1.8-liter DOHC inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  120hp @6500 rpm/114lb-ft @3500 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:  22 mpg city,  25 mpg highway,  20.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  97.6  in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  162.4 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  66.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  2954 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  18.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  21.0/45.0 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down)
TIRES:   215/65R16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, battery voltage, 
digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM 
stereo radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, dual air bags.

The Suzuki Sidekick Sport has to be one of the best-looking sport utility vehicles on the highway today. Based on the four-door Suzuki Sidekick (virtual twin to the Geo Tracker), but with extra lower body cladding added, the Sidekick Sport looks as if it can compete with almost anything.

In fact, the body cladding is reminiscent of Subaru's Outback models. And with a relatively small 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, the Sidekick Sport fits in a nice niche near the bottom of the sport utility market.

In a program I attended this summer, Suzuki asked the question, "What makes a sport utility vehicle?" then answered the question with the Sidekick Sport and X90. While the X90 may be off in its own little niche, the Sidekick Sport has a ready market.

First, for serious off-roaders, the Sidekick Sport was as capable of handling the motocross track used for the program as was any other vehicle we've driven to date. The course featured steep climbs in soft dirt, lots of mud, switchbacks, gulleys and humpbacks. With the ability to manually shift the transfer case from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive high or low, the Sidekick Sport had the capability of handling any road problems, and did handle them.

On the highway, the five-speed manual gearbox was able to extract maximum performance out of that engine. The console-mounted shifter was easy to reach and use. Too often, in small vehicles like this, there's an almost-useless armrest between the seats that makes reaching the shift lever possible only for double-jointed drivers.

On several occasions, we had to fold down the rear seats to increase the carrying capacity. For example, we easily fit two golf bags back there plus pull carts. Simply folding the back of the rear seat down makes for an uneven cargo area. For a flat floor space you have to move the seat cushions forward. Total carrying capacity with the seats folded is 45 cubic feet, and that's enough to carry almost anything except a refrigerator.

Suzuki pointed out to us at their presentation that the Sidekick Sport would be an excellent vehicle to tow behind an RV. We have friends who are full-time RVers and who tow a Chevrolet Blazer. While the Blazer does offer more carrying capacity (our friends use it as a "trailer" when they're on the road, the Sidekick would have only slightly less volume and would be far more economical when it's being used as a truck/car. In addition, Suzuki also pointed out that if you're going to tow a four-wheel-drive vehicle, tow one with a transfer case, so you can shift out of 4WD when you're towing. Vehicles with full-time 4WD wear out their transfer cases quickly when they're towed for long distances.

At a tad under $20,000, the Sidekick Sport is an economical, yet good-looking small SUV. It's competition is the Geo Tracker, Toyota RAV4 and the new Honda CRX. But the RAV4 and CRX are both car-based, while the base of the Sidekick is a truck. You pays your money and you takes your pick, I guess.

Except for a buzzy four-cylinder engine, the Sidekick Sport was a solid vehicle that would be an excellent tow vehicle. It isn't too shabby as a commuter, either.