by John Heilig
SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS ENGINE: 1.6-liter inline four HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 95 hp @5600 rpm/98 lb-ft @4000 rpm TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual FUEL ECONOMY: 25 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 23.8 mpg test WHEELBASE: 86.6 in. OVERALL LENGTH: 146.1 in. OVERALL HEIGHT: 60.5 in. OVERALL WIDTH: 66.7 in. CURB WEIGHT: 2,500 lbs FUEL CAPACITY: 11.1 gal. LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 8.4 cu. ft. TIRES: P195/65R15 INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, battery voltage, digital clock. EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, anti- lock braking, dual air bags. STICKER PRICE: $16,300
Do you remember back when you were still going on blind dates? You'd have a friend who would try to fix you up with someone and the classic line was, "She (or he) has a great personality." That, of course, was the kiss of death, because you knew you'd be dating the ugliest person on the face of the earth that night.
In automotive terms, think of the Suzuki X90 as having a great personality. In fact, this car is so ugly, that it's more in the pug class of dogs rather than Airedales. But, like its human counterparts, it has a great personality. The X90 looks like a two-door Sidekick with the back end lopped off and a hard top added. It drives like the two-door Sidekick as well, but you have a more weather-friendly vehicle.
I must confess, that when I first saw the X90 I didn't fall in love with it. In fact, I successfully avoided scheduling it for an extended test for a long time. But then Suzuki offered a program called "What An SUV Oughta Be." I attended, and one of the two vehicle choices in the fleet was an X90. The other was a Sidekick Sport, and we'll get to that in a couple of weeks.
My partner and I climbed into the X90 with some trepidation. He didn't like the way it looked, either, and the seat fabric looked as if it had been styled by the person who designs seats for airplanes. Very gaudy blue and red stripes.
But we did our thing and drove the X90 and were both pleasantly surprised. Our tester the first time had an automatic transmission that had to work a bit to maintain highway speed. After all, the X90 only has a 95 horsepower four-cylinder engine, so it's designed more for economy that high performance. My tester for the long-term test had a five-speed manual gearbox that was fun to use. The gear ratios were correct for the car and we could get decent acceleration with it. There was even some acceleration in high, although the engine wasn't revving as much as it should for the best performance. One Suzuki person who chaperoned our driving said the smaller four-cylinder engines have to be kept above 3,500 rpm for maximum efficiency.
Our seats were comfortable. We had more than enough legroom and headroom to satisfy the pickiest of drivers. And the trunk was pretty decent for a small car, a little over 8 cubic feet.
Driving the X90 on the highway wasn't nearly the chore I expected. The little car handled well on all roads, and while the engine was noisy, it had zip.
Off road, though, was where the X90 showed its true colors. Suzuki took us to a motocross track with "leaping" hills and tough ascents and descents. We had tight corners, mud, rocks and soft dirt. With either the automatic or manual transmission X90, the car was able to handle anything the track threw at us. The first hill was the serious one; a rise that convinced us we were going to topple over backwards. We didn't. On all my runs through the course I drove conservatively. At first I ran in 4WD Low (there's a manual transfer case shifter on the floor), but later I discovered that the X90 could traverse the course in 4WD High as well.
Later, I had the chance to drive with a Suzuki executive who thrashed the little car around the course. He showed me what it really could do. Of course, he earned a scolding from one of the course workers for going too fast, but it was an excellent demonstration of what the car could do.
Suzuki says the X90 would be a perfect vehicle to tow behind an RV. It's small, so the towing isn't a challenge, yet it's big enough inside to carry two in comfort. It could use a slightly larger cab, though, with room behind the front seats for some inside storage. I see the X90 as a nearly ideal "fun" off-road vehicle, as opposed to something more serious like a Blazer or Explorer. You can have fun with it and it will go anywhere. It's sort of like a mountain goat. They aren't pretty, either, but they can handle the tough stuff.