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Suzuki Sidekick Sport JLX Review (1997)


New Car/Review

by Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide

Many years ago, a medical study divided people into two types. "Type A" described people who were aggressive and energetic, always on the go. "Type B" covered those a relaxed, stop-and-smell-the-roses attitude. What does this have to do with cars? Suzuki makes vehicles for both types.

Type A Suzukis have two wheels and names like GSX-R. They are seriously fast sports motorcycles for people with a need for speed. Type B Suzukis are represented by the company's line of affordable small sport-utility vehicles. At the top of that line is the 4-door Sidekick Sport, offered in three trim levels. All are well-equipped, and the top-of-the-line JLX has 4-wheel drive, antilock brakes, most popular comfort and convenience options, and trick-looking alloy wheels at a list price of just over $20,000.

Earlier versions of the 4-door Sidekick were Spartan in comfort and not noted for power. In their favor, a low price, rugged construction, a roomy interior, and 4-wheel drive helped make them popular. Today's Sidekick Sport is as well-appointed and comfortable as any compact family sedan and has far more horsepower under the hood than earlier models. It is large enough to be useful and small enough to be economical.

I found the 1997 Suzuki Sidekick Sport JLX to be a most practical little vehicle during my time with it. It was big enough for all errands, small enough to park easily, and not very thirsty at the gas pump. With only minor contortions, I could even reach out the passenger-side window to put letters into the mailbox - try that in one of the big sport-utilities!

APPEARANCE: The Suzuki Sidekick is a boxy little vehicle with a friendly character. Uniquely-shaped front windows that are cut away at the front give it distinctive looks, and allow better visibility and lower mirror placement. The chrome-trimmed trapezoidal front grille has dark horizontal bars and displays the Suzuki "S" logo. Fender flares add interest to the sides. The windshield is nearly flat and only slightly raked back, and the tall passenger cabin has plenty of glass for good visibility. A "Suzuki" decal at the top of the rear window lets the world know what you're driving. Contrasting-colored bumper fascias, wheel arches, and lower side cladding serve to distinguish Sport models from other 4-door Sidekicks. Also included in the package are chromed "Sport" emblems on the front doors and very stylish 5-spoked alloy wheels with low-profile tires.

COMFORT: Not a hint of leather or wood is to be found inside of a Sidekick Sport, only honest synthetics. It's cozy, comfortable, and finished to a high standard. A low floor height makes access easy. The Sidekick is narrow, but any lack of shoulder room is made up for in headroom - no need to remove your hat inside. The reclining front seats are manually adjustable, and the rear seat folds with a 60/40 split for cargo duty. The instrument panel is a bit crowded because of its narrowness, but all controls are easy to reach. The heater works very quickly, and the air conditioning - a standard feature on all Sidekick Sport models - works well. Tiny buttons make the standard Alpine AM/FM/cassette sound system tricky to operate, but it has good sound quality and FM reception. Power windows, mirrors, and door locks, a security alarm system, cruise control, and a rear-window defogger are found on every Sidekick Sport for no extra cost. The JLX adds upscale interior trim and a rear wiper.

SAFETY: The 1997 Suzuki Sidekick Sport JLX has antilock brakes, daytime running lights, and dual airbags.

ROADABILITY: Refinement has worked wonders for the Sidekick Sport's ride and handling. It's still firm, but the harshness of early models is long gone. There is some crosswind sensitivity and wind noise, but neither is excessive. Mechanical noise levels are low. This little machine has gotten quite civilized over the years. The Sidekick Sport JLX has dual-range 4-wheel drive, a feature lacking on some of the newer small sport-utilities. It's a little short on ground clearance for heavy-duty off-roading, but should work just fine on snowy winter roads or Forest Service trails.

PERFORMANCE: This is a Type B vehicle, so look elsewhere for neck-snapping acceleration and race-car cornering. Slow down and smell the flowers. The 120-horsepower 1.8-liter engine standard in the 1997 Sport models was introduced last year and has 25% more power than old 1.6-liter engine. It gives the Sidekick Sport plenty of power for everyday use, and using the air conditioning no longer affects performance. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission shifts smoothly and is a good match for the engine. Fuel economy is far better than the average for sport-utility vehicles.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1997 Suzuki Sidekick Sport is an unintimidating small sport-utility vehicle that is a good all-weather alternative to a small sedan or wagon.

1997 Suzuki Sidekick Sport JLX 

Base Price               $ 20,199
Price As Tested          $ 20, 619
Engine Type              dual overhead cam, 16-valve, 
                         aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size              1.8 liters / 112 cu. in.
Horsepower               120 @ 6500
Torque (lb-ft)           114 @ 3500
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled
Wheelbase / Length       97.6 in. / 162.4 in.
Curb Weight              2989 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    25
Fuel Capacity            18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular
Tires                    P215/65 R16 Bridgestone Dueler H/T
Ground clearance, in.         7.7
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                          solid axle with coil springs
Drivetrain               front engine, on-demand 4-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      21/24/22
0 to 60 mph                        est. 12.5 sec
Towing capacity, lbs.              1,500 lbs.