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SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide


by Tom/Bob Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 15,399
     Price As Tested                                    $ 15,789
     Engine Type                             1.6 Liter I4 w/MPI*
     Engine Size                                  97 cid/1590 cc
     Horsepower                                    98 @ 6000 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                                96 @ 3000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   97.6"/65.7"/165.2"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2231 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  13.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                      175/70R13
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/drum-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            27/34/31
     0-60 MPH                                       10.5 seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       17.7 seconds @ 74 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    104 mph

     * Multipoint fuel injection

(The Suzuki name has been around for many years in this country but until 1989, it was attached to a line of high-performance motorcycles and a tiny SUV. Suzuki is expecting a 20 percent year-to-year growth with its three-vehicle line, X-90, Esteem and Sidekick, but plans more for the 20th century. Tom Hagin accepts the newest Suzuki, the Esteem, as a great go-to-work car - his dad Bob finds it short on horsepower.)

BOB - Suzuki's new Esteem comes in three flavors, Tom. The GL model sports vinyl seats and hand-operated windows, the GLX model adds lots of fancy features, but the GLX/ABS version, which we tested, has a full load of features not usually found in econoboxes.

TOM - Suzuki has its work cut out for it, too, since the Esteem is in the most competitive automobile class possible - the subcompact category. It does pretty well against its rivals, however, especially since it comes standard with lots of goodies.

BOB - That's right, Tom. All Esteem models, starting with the $11,399 GL, have air conditioning as standard equipment, and while that's not big news in Nome, Alaska, here in California, A/C makes traffic almost bearable. They also all come fully carpeted, with a fold-down rear seat and inside releases for the trunk and fuel door. But if you want high-class sounds in the cheap model, you're on your own.

TOM - That's true, Dad. The base model Esteem has no stereo but it is a dealer-installed option. But by going to the GLX model, buyers get a cassette stereo with four speakers, upscale carpeting, a split folding rear seat and power windows, door locks and mirrors. And at $12,699, it's still a good bargain.

BOB - Unfortunately Tom, as the trim levels rise, the power stays the same. Its 1.6 liter inline four develops 98 horses and 94 lb-ft of torque. And while that's more than the subcompacts of a few years ago, it's still comes up short. I'd rather see a larger displacement engine or a more high-tech cylinder head and intake system offered as an option on the top line model - that would really make it fly.

TOM - Dad, if subcompact buyers wanted a "pocket-rocket," they'd be looking at vehicles other than economy cars. Even equipped with the optional four-speed automatic transmission, it moved to a hustle adequately. The engine got "buzzy" at higher revs, around 75 MPH, but it held its own with the other cars on the crowded freeway. I'd take the model with the five-speed gearbox - it's more sporty.

BOB - Maybe you're right, Tom. Buyers of this type of car aren't out to win races, they just want to get to work the cheapest way possible. But it's human nature to want as much "stuff" as possible. I'll bet Suzuki will sell far more GLX models than base "stripper" version.

TOM - I agree, Dad. The front seats are very comfortable and supportive, and two in back would be reasonable, but three across in back would be a pinch. On a long trip, it would be torture. Maybe it would be OK for three kids but they'd have to be good friends.

BOB - It's interesting that the GLX/ABS model was labeled for its major safety feature - anti-lock brakes. But the others in the Esteem line have dual airbags and side-impact protection that meets 1997 federal standards. Also, you don't need a special clip to lock a child seat into place. Those are the safety features that really sell.

TOM - Esteem's fully independent suspension with coil springs and struts all the way around give it a smooth ride, but when the road became twisted, it leaned heavily. A set of aftermarket rubber would cure that problem. Even though it's made for the inexpensive commute, the Esteem is versatile, too. Its trunk is deep but the opening is small and narrow. It opens to bumper level, which makes it easier to load groceries. The EPA spec sheet lists it as having 12 cubic feet of space, but you can fit lots of small stuff around the spare tire. And if you want to put longer things inside, like skis, the seat can be flipped forward - just in case the you get the urge to go skiing.

BOB - Tom, the last time I got the "urge to go skiing," I was about your age - and I mean it when I say that it was the last time.