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Category: Suzuki

Junkyard Gem: 1999 Suzuki Vitara JX 4WD four-door

Toyota and Honda enjoyed lucrative American sales success with the RAV4 and CR-V compact crossovers, which went on sale here for the 1996 and 1997 model years, respectively. Suzuki offered its first-generation Escudo/Vitara here (as the Sidekick, in addition to being sold by GM with Geo Tracker badging), but its 1980s design had become embarrassingly dated by the middle 1990s. Something had to be done; that turned out to be the second-generation Vitara, which appeared here as a 1999 model. Here’s a first-year example, found in a Colorado car graveyard recently.

The first Suzuki-made car model sold new in the United States was the first-generation Cultus, sold here by GM with Chevrolet Sprint badges beginning in 1985 (this after more than 20 years of Suzuki motorcycles arriving at our shores). The Suzuki Jimny showed up the following year (as the Suzuki Samurai), with more and more Suzuki-badged models showing up during the 1990s.

As an affiliate of the far-flung GM Empire, Suzuki products sold in the United States became more Daewoo-ized during the 2000s, but there were always some genuine Suzukis available all the way through the final Kizashis and Grand Vitaras.

The Vitara was available in the United States through the 2003 model year, while the more powerful and generally grander Grand Vitara was sold here all the way until American Suzuki Motors filed for bankruptcy and gave up on highway-legal four-wheelers after 2013. You can still buy new Suzuki motorcycles and ATVs to this day, of course.

This is a top-trim-level four-door JX+ with four-wheel-drive, so its MSRP was $17,999 (about $34,406 in 2024 dollars). That compares favorably with the similarly equipped 1999 Honda CR-V ($20,450, or $39,091 today) and 1999 Toyota RAV4 ($18,198 today).

The Grand Vitara for ’99 came with V6 power under the hood, while the regular Vitara made do with 1.6- and 2.0-liter straight-fours. This is the 2.0-liter, rated at 127 horsepower and 134 pound-feet.

A five-speed manual transmission was base equipment, but the original buyer of this car bought the automatic. Unlike the car-based CR-V and RAV4, the 1999-2003 Vitara had a truck-style frame and true four-wheel-drive instead of an idiot-proof all-wheel-drive system.

Collectible? Probably not, but still an interesting piece of Suzuki automotive history.

American Suzuki Motors didn’t seem willing to spend money to do TV commercials for the not-so-grand regular Vitara, so we’ll watch one for its JDM sibling instead.

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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: 2003 Chevrolet Tracker

When General Motors created the Geo brand to sell vehicles designed and — in some cases — built by Japanese partners, the first four models were introduced for the 1989 model year: the Metro (Suzuki Cultus), Prizm (Toyota Sprinter), Spectrum (Isuzu Gemini) and Tracker (Suzuki Sidekick). Geo got the axe in 1997, with the Metro, Prizm and Tracker becoming Chevrolets. Of those, the Tracker survived the longest, with U.S.-market sales continuing into 2004. Here’s an example of a very late Tracker, found in a North Carolina car graveyard recently.

The 1989-1997 first-generation Trackers were based on the Suzuki Sidekick, while the 1998-2004 Trackers had the Suzuki Vitaras (not to be confused with the much grander Grand Vitaras) as their siblings.

Production of these trucks for the South American market (as the Chevrolet Vitara) continued in Ecuador all the way through 2014. The Tracker name has also gone onto some versions of the Chevrolet Trax around the world.

This one is a base four-door hard top/rear-wheel-drive model, which had an MSRP of $17,330. That’s about $29,789 in 2024 dollars.

You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.

The engine is a Suzuki 2.0-liter straight-four rated at 127 horsepower and 134 pound-feet.

A five-speed manual was base equipment, but very few American vehicle shoppers wanted three pedals by the middle 2000s. This truck has the Aisin four-speed automatic.

We like it loud.

It appears that someone associated with this truck graduated from Julius L. Chambers High School last year.

In the United States, the Tracker was replaced by the Saturn Vue.

If Tracker can handle (unspecified Middle Eastern country), it can survive the jungle back home.

Siempre contigo.

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