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Category: Crossover

Junkyard Gem: 2008 Suzuki SX4 Crossover

If you want to find some interesting automotive history in your local Ewe Pullet, finding any U.S.-market Suzuki model and peering into its background will tell you a lot about the global car industry from the middle 1980s through just over a decade ago. The Suzuki tale gets a bit convoluted during the second half of the 2010s here; in recent months, I’ve documented discarded examples of the 2008 XL-7 (derived from the Saturn Vue), the 2008 Reno (based on the final Lacetti designed by pre-GM Daewoo) and the 2009 Equator (a thinly disguised Nissan Frontier). Today’s Junkyard Gem is a second-model-year SX4 Crossover, found in a Colorado Springs car graveyard recently.

Suzuki began selling motorcycles in the United States in 1963 (no, the Suzuki Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company was never affiliated with the Suzuki Motor Company, Suzuki being a very common Japanese family name), but we didn’t get highway-legal Suzuki-built four-wheeled vehicles here until the Chevrolet Sprint showed up as a 1985 model, followed the next year by the Suzuki Samurai. Then the 1990s gave us Geo-badged Suzukis (the Metro and Tracker) as well as their Suzuki-badged siblings (the Swift and Sidekick), plus Esteems, X-90s, Vitaras and Grand Vitaras.

The plotline of American Suzuki story goes through some strange twists and turns during the 2000s, mostly due to Suzuki’s role in the far-flung General Motors Empire and GM’s purchase of Daewoo’s car-building operations. Some Daewoos were sold here with Suzuki badges (the Verona, Reno and Forenza), while only the Vitara, Grand Vitara, XL-7 and Aerio remained as pure Suzuki products by 2006.

The SX4 was the Aerio’s successor and debuted here as a 2007 model. It was available in “tall hatchback” crossover and— a year later— sedan form, both styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro and based on a platform developed in partnership with Fiat. The SX4 name stands for Sport X-over for 4 Seasons, which isn’t quite as tortured an acronym as, say, the ones other Japanese carmakers assigned to hardware such as the Powerful & Economic Lightweight Accurate Silent Mighty Advanced or the Lightweight Advanced Super Response Engine. The American Motors Corporation had already used the SX/4 name on a sporty crossover hatchback for the 1981-1983 model years, but perhaps AMC’s use of a slash character made it seem sufficiently different for Suzuki to use.

Upon its launch, the SX4 Crossover was the cheapest AWD-equipped new car available in the United States, with an MSRP starting at $14,999 for the 2007 model (that’s about $23,234 in 2024 dollars).

Our reviewer thought it was garbage, to put it mildly, stating “if you just gotta have a new all-wheel-drive car and cost is your second biggest concern, go get an SX4.” The “security system” (a red LED blinking on the dashboard) and lack of cargo space displeased him mightily, as did the manual gearshift (which felt like “moving a steel rod around in a bucket of pea gravel”).

This car has the base five-speed manual, in fact, which saved the original purchaser $1,100 on the cost of an automatic ($1,704 after inflation).

The engine is a 2.0-liter straight-four rated at 143 horsepower and 136 pound-feet.

It was an affordable car that could deal with snow and mud while looking somewhat truck-ish, and it hauled people around for 16 years.

Suzuki brought out the pretty decent Kizashi for 2010, but it was too late. The company gave up on selling cars and trucks here for 2013, after which the only new highway-legal Suzukis available here had two wheels apiece. Suzuki still does well selling cars elsewhere, though, with the Hustler reigning at or near the top of the JDM best-seller list for quite a few years.

Just because there’s a gas crisis doesn’t have to mean there’s a fun crisis.

The SX4’s European cousin was called the Fiat Sedici.

Gets good traction even on a violin.


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Junkyard Gem: 1996 Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 first hit Japanese streets in the spring of 1994, but its debut in the United States had to wait until early 1996. Since that time, the RAV4 has been climbing the best-seller charts, and has spent most of the last decade as the most popular new vehicle (that isn’t a Detroit pickup) here. That’s well over 7 million units sold to American car buyers over 28 years, and today’s Junkyard Gem is one of the very first RAV4s to hit our shores.

Back in 2020, I found one of the first-ever Toyota Camrys sold in the United States (build date of February 1983, a couple of months before the initial batch of Camrys arrived here), so I’m proud to have found another Toyota milestone during my explorations of car graveyard history. I’ve also documented one of the first Mitsubishi-badged pickups sold here plus one of the first few hundred Honda Civic del Sols ever built, all in Colorado boneyards.

By the second half of the 1990s, the spectacular sales success of such machines as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer had made it clear that the future of the American road would be all about trucks, and any manufacturer who failed to provide commuter SUVs that looked tough yet rode comfortably would be doomed here. Toyota was raking in tall stacks of yen with the 4Runner, but a small unibody SUV would lure even more American buyers with a nicer ride and car-like fuel economy.

The original RAV4 was developed on a chassis that borrowed from the Corolla and the Carina (which was only sold here for a couple of years in the early 1970s; the Celica was the closest Carina relative in the United States during the middle 1990s). It was available with two or four doors and with front-wheel-drive or all wheel-drive.

Following the Japanese car industry’s tradition of applying tortured acronyms to vehicle designations (e.g., Nissan PLASMA, Subaru BRAT), RAV4 stood for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel-drive. This one has front-wheel-drive and its four doors made it more about driving to work than to recreation, but you get the idea.

It was built in Aichi Prefecture in May 1996 as a “49-state” car, not legal for new sale in California.

The engine is a 2.0-liter DOHC 3S-FE straight-four, rated at 120 horsepower. We’ve seen the 3S-FE in quite a few Camrys in this series.

The base transmission for the first two generations of U.S.-market RAV4 was a five-speed manual, and that’s what’s here. When the third-generation RAV4 appeared as a 2006 model, an automatic transmission was mandatory equipment and remains so to this day (three-pedal RAV4s are still sold elsewhere on the planet). The two-door RAV4 also disappeared after 2005.

The curb weight of the 1996 RAV4 four-door was 2,778 pounds, nearly a half-ton lighter than its 2024 descendant.

This one made it a bit past 175,000 miles during its career, which is acceptable but not anywhere close to impressive by 1990s Toyota standards. During my junkyard explorations, I’ve found a 1996 Avalon with nearly a million miles, a 1996 Camry wagon with close to 600,000 miles and a 1995 Previa with well over 400,000 miles, for example.

One of the RAV4’s claims to fame is that an electric version was one of the first production EVs sold in the United States during the modern era. The RAV4 EV was launched as a 1997 model (the same year as the GM EV1, in fact) and was sold here through 2003. Unlike what happened with the EV1, Toyota didn’t confiscate and destroy all the RAV4 EVs when their leases were up and I’ve managed to find an example in a California junkyard.

Don’t drive what your neighbor drives! The problem is that now your neighbor likely does drive a RAV4.

Toyota never has been very good at pitching the whole fun thing, but their vehicles are screwed together very well.

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