Sporting a restyled nose, the subcompact Suzuki Esteem Wagon is now available with an optional 122 horsepower 1.8 litre four cylinder DOHC engine. As before, the Esteem Wagon combines the versatility of a roomy cargo area with a fun-to-drive character and excellent fuel economy.
New 1.8 litre four cylinder engine gives wagon performance boost
While the Suzuki Swift and Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara (formerly Sidekick) are familiar to Canadian car-buyers, the Esteem is a relatively unknown automobile. This may have something to do with the fact that the Canadian-built Swift and Vitara are also sold as the Chevrolet Metro/Pontiac Firefly and the Chevrolet Tracker, while the Japanese-built Esteem is sold only at Suzuki dealers.
Larger than the Swift, but smaller than say, a Honda Civic, the Esteem sedan has a fuel-efficient 1.6 litre four cylinder SOHC engine; a fully independent suspension that provides nimble, fun-to-drive handling; and a comfortable modern interior that seats four, maybe five passengers. Esteem Wagons have a standard 1.6 litre engine and a new, optional 1.8 litre four cylinder DOHC engine with 28% more horsepower.
Both were given a rounder, restyled nose and larger, brighter headlamps in 1999.
Suggested retail prices for 1999 Esteem sedans range from $13,995 to $17,995 while Esteem Wagons range from $14,695 to $19,695.
Competitors for the Esteem include the Ford Escort Wagon SE ($16,395, to be discontinued in 2000), Saturn SW1 and SW2 Wagons ($15,493-$18,765); Hyundai Elantra Wagon ($15,595-$18,845), Daewoo Nubira Wagon ($16,995-$18,995), and the new 2000 Ford Focus Wagon (price yet to be determined). All of these wagons, except the Escort, are larger than the Esteem, but are usually priced higher when optional equipment is added.
Esteem Wagons are available in two trim levels: GL and GLX. My fully-loaded test vehicle, a GLX with the larger 1.8 litre engine was priced close to $20,000, but well-equipped GL wagons usually run between $16,000 and $18,000.
The Esteem Wagon’s strong points are a roomy cargo area, a choice of two fuel efficient engines, nimble handling, and ease of driving in the city. Its weak points are comparatively minor: no tilt steering wheel, no factory CD player available, no remote keyless entry available, and a door key that won’t unlock all the doors from the outside. Perhaps the Esteem’s most serious drawbacks are the lack of a five-year powertrain warranty, and the relatively small number of dealers across Canada for servicing.
The big appeal of the Esteem Wagon, is naturally, its roomy cargo area. This is a great car for dog owners, small business people, couriers, or anyone who needs a relatively inexpensive automobile with extra cargo room.
Opening the rear hatch door requires little effort, and the cargo door has a standard rear wiper, washer and defogger. These features are an absolute must on a wagon, because vertical rear windows get covered in dust due to the swirling air behind the vehicle at speed.
The Esteem’s cargo opening is quite wide – 1118 mm (3 ft 8 inches), however, this narrows to 914 mm (3 feet) between the rear suspension strut towers just aft of the rear seats. With the 70/30 split folding rear seatbacks folded down, the length of the cargo floor is almost six feet (1778 mm/5 ft. 10 inches). A pull-out cargo cover keeps the contents of the trunk private.
Hidden underneath the cargo floor is a handy storage tray, and two separate covered storage boxes. Things like tools, cameras or valuables could be kept here, out of sight.
Interior design, fit and finish, and ergonomics are much better than earlier Suzuki automobiles. An attractive, rounded dashboard includes a radio/cassette player with visible well-marked controls. Below that is an empty storage bin which I presume may be for a dealer installed CD player. Below that is a heater/air conditioner with large pushbuttons and sliding heating and fan levers. The instrument panel is directly ahead of the driver with a prominent speedometer and a tachometer with a 6700 rpm redline.
Between the comfortable front bucket seats is a small armrest/storage bin which contains a cupholder – its in a rather awkward position for grabbing your cup though. A floor-mounted shift lever for the 4-speed automatic transmission includes an on/off overdrive button on the shift lever. Behind that is a traditional pull-type handbrake lever.
The wagon has a taller roof than the sedan, and there’s plenty of headroom and adequate legroom for front and rear passengers – but three adults in the back seat is cramped. Also rear passengers have small, fixed head restraints – height-adjustable rear head restraints are not available.
The Esteem Wagon’s standard 95 horsepower 1.6 litre SOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine provides adequate horsepower for this small wagon, but the optional 122 horsepower 1.8 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine provides even sportier performance, due in part to the Esteem’s light (1125 kg/2480 lb.) weight.
From a standing start, it virtually jumps off the line – low first gear transmission gearing helps here. Merging onto the freeway and moving past slow semi-trailers is also no problem for the Esteem 1.8, but high-speed overtaking taxes its abilities with a full load of passengers and cargo. At highway cruising speeds, the engine is acceptably quiet with an engine speed of 2600 at a steady 100 km/h.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all models and a four-speed automatic transmission is optional. The automatic transmission in my GLX test car shifted smoothly most of the time, but there was a noticeable ‘bump’ under hard acceleration.
Fuel consumption is excellent. With the manual transmission, the Esteem 1.8 wagon achieves 8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg) in the city and 6.0 l/100 km (47 mpg) on the highway. With the optional 4-speed automatic transmission it increases to 9.0 l/100 km (31 mpg) in the city and 6.3 l/100 km (45 mpg) on the highway – still very economical though.
The Esteem is one of the few small cars with a fully independent MacPherson strut suspension, and this is evident in the Esteem’s nimble handling, excellent damping characteristics, and predictable cornering behaviour. Standard power-assisted steering is quick and light, and the standard front disc/rear drum brakes are more-than-sufficient for this lightweight wagon.
For around-town driving, the Esteem’s short turning circle (9.8 m/32.2 ft.), narrow width and short length, and excellent outward visibility, make it an easy car to change lanes, fit into small parking spots, and zip in and out of traffic.
Base Esteem GL Wagons with a 1.6 litre engine and manual transmission start at $14,695. Standard equipment includes 185/60R-14 inch all-season tires, dual front airbags, power steering, AM/FM/cassette with four speakers, 70/30 split folding rear seatbacks, cargo cover, variable intermittent front wipers, rear wiper, washer and defogger, roof rails, tachometer, centre armrest/storage bin, dual cup holders, and rear door child safety locks. An optional 4-speed automatic transmission is $1000 extra.
For $18,495, GLX Esteems add a standard automatic transmission, alloy wheels, rear roof-mounted spoiler, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, remote cargo door release, and front seatback pockets. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are $800 extra on GLX models, and the optional 1.8 litre engine is just $400 more on GLX models – well worth the money.
All models come with a better-than-average 3 yr/80,000 km bumper-to-bumper warranty, but a five-year powertrain warranty is not available.
In terms of value-for-money, I would recommend the base Esteem GL Wagon with optional automatic transmission and air conditioning – it should come in under $17,000. If you’ve got the extra cash, go for the GLX with the 1.8 litre engine, automatic transmission, ABS, and two-tone paint. It still comes in under $20,000, plus a freight charge of $895.