Sayonara, Suzuki: Looking Back at Suzuki's Trucks and SUVs
From Samurai to Equator, the Best, Worst, and Weirdest of the Brand
Known among many customers for its motorcycles, Suzuki has a history of nearly three decades of cars, trucks, and SUVs in the U.S. Until yesterday. On November 5, 2012, American Suzuki Motors declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the closing of its automotive sales operations in the U.S. to focus more intently on the Indian market, where the brand sells more than 700,000 vehicles a year.
But since the company's U.S. operations opening in 1985, there have been some noteworthy Suzuki SUV models offered in the U.S. We'll also take a look at some of the company's "forbidden fruit" vehicles not sold in the U.S.
Suzuki's first vehicle sold in the U.S. market under its own brand name was the compact Samurai SUV. The Samurai found instant fans in the off-road community for its light weight, off-road agility, mechanical simplicity, and true two-speed low-range transfer case. Priced at under $7000, the Samurai was easily within reach of average consumers. Its 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine produced a modest 63 hp when it was introduced, which increased to 66 with the addition of throttle-body fuel injection in 1991. The Samurai became well known to U.S. consumers through an unfavorable review in Consumer Reports, which claimed the tall, narrow vehicle was susceptible to rollovers. Consumers Union and Suzuki settled out of court eight years after the report was initially published, but the damage to the Samurai's reputation was already done.
The Sidekick was the Samurai's slightly larger, more powerful, cousin, which ultimately replaced it in the U.S. market in 1995. Like the Samurai, the Sidekick was a simple, straightforward off-roader offered in soft- or hard-top configuration with four-cylinder power. A four-door model was added to the lineup for the 1991 model year. The Sidekick was also sold through Chevrolet dealerships as the Geo/Chevrolet Tracker through 2004.
Either cool or weird, depending on your perspective, the X-90 was a two-seat coupe body on the Sidekick's platform. Offered for just two full model years, the X-90 was powered by a 95-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, and had a T-top roof. The X-90 also gained notoriety for being one of the first Red Bull energy drink promotional vehicles, with large cans mounted on the back of the trunk.
Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara
The Vitara and Grand Vitara was essentially the second-generation of the Sidekick, and like the first generation Sidekick/Tracker, was offered in two- and four-door versions. The top engine in the two-door model was a 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 130 hp, while the four-door versions received an available 2.5-liter V-6 producing 155 hp. The third-generation Grand Vitara offered still more powerful engines, with the most powerful being a 3.2-liter V-6 producing 221 hp. Although the third-generation Grand Vitara shared some components with GM's Theta-chassis SUVs, it had a completely different longitudinal, rear-drive powertrain layout, as compared to the Theta's transverse, front-drive layout.
The Suzuki XL7 started life as an extended-length Grand Vitara, earning it the distinction of being the lowest-priced three-row SUV in North America. It was powered by a 2.7-liter, 185-hp V-6. The second-generation XL7 fully transitioned to the GM Theta platform for the 2007 model year, including that platform's transverse/front-drive layout, and powered by a 252-hp version of GM's "high-feature" 3.6-liter V-6. It was built in the same factory in Ingersoll, Ontario, that made the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent. The XL7 held the distinction of being the only three-row Theta platform vehicle.
Suzuki SX4 Crossover
For customers who wanted an all-wheel-drive model at a low price, Suzuki offered the SX4 Crossover for the 2008 model year, which included a generous list of equipment for a low price. A Garmin navigation system was added as standard equipment in 2009, giving the SX4 the distinction of being the lowest-priced vehicle in the U.S. to offer navigation as standard equipment.
The Equator debuted for the 2009 model year, and although a little-changed version of the Nissan Frontier, still managed to win Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road's 4x4 of the Year award for 2009, beating out the new Ram 1500, Ford F-150, and HUMMER H3. Since its introduction, the Equator has sold little more than a few hundred units a month. Despite offering a better warranty than the Frontier, it has never approached the same sales numbers as the Nissan, due to Suzuki's much smaller dealer network, and lack of advertising and marketing for the truck.
Although the Samurai was dropped from Suzuki's U.S. lineup after the 1995 model year, its successor continues to be sold around the world, and is popular in Europe, South America, and Asia. The topline JLX model features power steering, power windows, and power-adjustable exterior mirrors, items unheard-of on the first-generation Samurais. Naturally, European models also offer an optional turbodiesel engine.
You may remember the Carry from our 2012 SEMA Show coverage last week. Never officially sold in the U.S., the Carry holds the distinction of being the only vehicle sold as both a Ford and a Chevrolet, as the Ford Pronto and Chevrolet Super Carry, respectively. The miniscule utility vehicle, offered in pickup and van configurations, has been sold under a number of different badges worldwide, including as a Bedford, Holden, Maruti, Mazda, and Mitsubishi. The pickups are amusingly referred to as "half-loafs" in South Africa, where they're popular as impromptu taxis.