2002 Suzuki Esteem
2002 Suzuki Esteem, click image to enlarge

By Jeremy Cato

Okay, folks, we’re not talking about the sexiest of used cars here when we recommend the Suzuki Esteem station wagon. But if you’re looking for a very tidy, very well put together station wagon, one that delivers excellent fuel economy, a satisfactory driving experience and won’t likely break, this is a car worth tracking down.

The Esteem wagon arrived in the fall of 1997 as a 1998 model. The Esteem sedan was launched in 1996, so until the 2001 model year the whole Esteem lineup consisted of a sedan and wagon in various trim levels. Today, only the Esteem wagon is still sold as a new and highly affordable model ($16,195-$19,795). The sedan went away for lack of buyer interest.

The Esteem wagon, of course, rides on the same underpinnings as the sedan sibling, although there is an extra 150 mm (six inches) in overall length — length that translates into very usable cargo space at the rear. Note rear seatbacks that split and fold almost flat.

Another thing to recommend the wagon over the sedan is a higher roofline above the heads of the rear passengers. That means better rear headroom. And for such a small wagon, there’s no shortage of hip and shoulder room in back, either. Even used Esteems should have seats with decent overall support, and because they’ve always been surfaced in an attractive cloth, they should be durable, too.

Power? Suzuki launched the Esteem wagon with only one engine choice, a 95-horsepower 1.6-litre four-banger with just adequate power for city chores. A 122-horsepower, 1.8-litre four-cylinder came along very later and it would be my engine of choice. For transmissions, a five-speed manual has always been standard, while a four-speed automatic has been optional. The auto-shifter delivers clean, hardly noticeable shifts.

Both engines deliver very good fuel economy, although the smaller one’s is exceptional: for the manual, 7.7 Litres/100 km in the city, 5.7 L/100 km. highway; the four-speed autoshifter gets 8.5/6.2 L/100 km, or 33/45 mpg. Fill it up and off you go for days and days.

In driving, this wagon has pretty decent steering, except for the over-boosted power-assist. The Esteem is quiet for a car of its class and the suspension does a reasonably nice job of soaking up bumps. For an econobox, there’s not too much lean in cornering, either. The brakes, too, have always been more than adequate. An anti-lock system (ABS) has been offered on more expensive models.

Build quality has proven to be well above average — as good as you’re going to get in inexpensive family transport. That is, all the pieces fit tight, which means no rattles or squeaks when going over railroad tracks. Better still, either of the engines will likely keep going and going and going…Long enough to wear out the Energizer Bunny.

Standard fare with even the most basic Esteem wagon has included adjustable front shoulder belts, carpeted cargo space, AM/FM stereo cassette with four speakers, cloth seating surfaces and trim, wheel covers; dual remote control mirrors, front/rear mudflaps, tinted glass and rear window wiper/washer. More likely you’ll find better equipped used model with air conditioning, power windows and door locks and an automatic transmission.

Point is, for a very affordable price, you should be able to find a nicely loaded Esteem wagon. Expect it to provide yeoman service for years to come. Why? As evidence I offer just one recall and a complete dearth of technical bulletins.

The Esteem wagon, as I said, may not be sexy, but it’s definitely a reliable runabout for the everyday commuter shuffle.

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