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SEE ALSO:Suzuki Buyer's Guide

The two-door, soft-top Suzuki Sidekick JX with four-wheel drive has the distinction of being the second least expensive sport/utility vehicle for sale in this country. The low price 4WD SUV honors go to its smaller cousin, the Samurai. The two-door Sidekick is produced in North America at the Canadian Automotive Manufacturing Inc. (CAMI) plant in Ontario in a joint venture operation with General Motors. In addition to automotive products Suzuki also manufactures motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, outboard motors and general purpose engines, as well as electric wheelchairs.

Four-wheel drive sport/utility vehicles are popular items in America. The image they project is one of virility, toughness, and go- anywhere, do-anything ability, even though few ever see actual off- road use. Another facet to the fascination with SUV's, particularly in the soft-top Sidekick size, is that they can be thought of as a replacement for the now practically extinct inexpensive foreign wind-in- the-face sports cars of a few decades ago.

It's pretty safe to say that when considering the total U.S. automotive marketplace, Suzuki cannot be considered a major factor. But in this era of niche and demographic marketing there is a definite niche for the Sidekick, and its cousin, the Samurai. They fall in that particular slot where fun and pleasure take precedence over performance and practicality.

APPEARANCE: The most descriptive word for the styling of the Sidekick is: functional. It is boxy, utilitarian and basic. No add-on gizmos here, just honest back roads and backwoods functionality in a short package. Its body lines are softened by a large slightly slanted windshield, plastic coated bumpers, coke-bottle type fender flares, large side mirrors, a soft vinyl top with clear plastic rear and side windows, and "phone-dial" steel wheels. The spare tire with its new periscope-style high stoplight is mounted on the swing-open rear tailgate, and the full- frame front doors open wide.

COMFORT: As spartan as the Sidekick appears. it is fitted with supportive and comfortable manually adjustable front seats. The small bench in back folds down and forward when inside storage. space is needed. Getting into the back seat area is easy as both front seats automatically slide forward when the seat back is tilted. When the top is up access to the back via the swing-open rear tailgate requires zipping open the entire clear plastic rear window. Standard equipment includes power side mirrors, tilt steering column, cup holders and a security alarm system. With the soft-top up the air conditioning kept the inside cool in 90 degree weather. The AM/FM/cassette system is fairly selective, but the volume must be turned way up when cruising at highway speeds.

ROADABILITY: Given the bare bones nature of the four-wheel drive JX, comfort is in the eye of the beholder. With its high center of gravity, short wheelbase, large wheels, narrow track, and separate chassis frame the Sidekick rides somewhat firm and bouncy. Power assisted steering makes for easier maneuvering, but because of its overall high and short design care must be taken on sharp corners. When in two-wheel drive the JX has anti-lock braking on the rear drum brakes, and three-point belts are on all seats. With the top either up or down all-around vision is excellent.. Engine and road noise are subdued at low speeds, but as road speed increases, so do the noises.

PERFORMANCE: The 2-door Sidekick is now powered by a 1.6 liter four-cylinder, 16-valve, single overhead cam engine with an electronic throttle-body fuel injection system that generates 80 horsepower. It may not sound like a lot of power, it is adequate enough to maintain the legal speed limit on highways in two-wheel drive. Its three-speed automatic delivers power to either the rear two, or all four wheels at the push of a lever. The free-wheeling front hubs are much appreciated by four-wheelers who no longer have to get out and lock them by hand. It is surprising how well 80 hp can perform when using the right gear and drive range for given road surface and terrain conditions.

CONCLUSION: Recreational vehicles occupy a growing interest among singles and young families. For those on a limited budget, or who want a convertible 4x4 as a second vehicle, Suzuki's 2-door Sidekick offers basic almost all-purpose driving at a relatively low price.With top up or down it's practical and fun at the beach, in the mountains, or anyplace in between. It can trailer1000 pounds.

PRICE AS TESTED: $ 14,871 with sound and air conditioning.

BASE PRICE: $ 13,449 including 4WD, automatic transmission and rear wheel anti-lock brakes.


           Base Price              $  13,449
           Price As Tested         $  14,874
           Engine Type             I-4, sohc - 16v, tbi
           Engine Size             1.6 liter/97 cid
           Horsepower              80 @ 5400
           Torque (ft/lbs)         94 @ 3000
           Wheelbase/Length        87"/143"
           Transmission            three-speed automatic 
           Curb Weight             2480
           Pounds per Horsepower   31
           Fuel Capacity           11
           Fuel Requirement        Unleaded regular (87 oct)
           Tires                   Goodyear P205/75R15 M+S   
           Brakes                  rear wheel anti-lock standard (2 WD only) disc/drum
           Drive Train             front engine/rear drive - on demand 4WD
           EPA Economy - miles per gallon,
             city/highway/observed      23/24/22.7
           0 to 60 mph                  14.5 sec 
           1/4 mi (E.T.)                19.9 sec 
           Coefficient of Drag  (Cd)    .48 (top up)