1998 Suzuki Sidekick
1998 Suzuki Sidekick. Click image to enlarge

By Jeremy Cato

Durability has proven to be the Suzuki Sidekick’s calling card. Not
particularly sexy, mind you, and perhaps even a bit crude. But if you’re
looking for an older and very basic sport-utility vehicle, one wearing an
affordable price, the Sidekick is definitely worth a look-see.

Just be aware of the Sidekicks main drawbacks:

  1. It’s tall and narrow, so be careful driving through turns. The narrowness
    shows up in a lack of shoulder room inside, too.

  2. The strong ladder-frame structure is good for off-roading but not so
    comfortable in everyday driving. In fact, the ride is particularly choppy
    and jiggly on rough pavement.

  3. There’s not an abundance of cabin insulation, so wind and road noise come
    through loud and clear on the highway.

  4. The larger four-door Sidekicks (as opposed to the two-door model) have an
    airy cabin with excellent headroom and better ride quality. However, there’s
    little leg space in the rear when the front seats are pushed all the way
    back — and those fold-down rear seats are firm.

Yes, the Sidekick is pretty basic four-by-four transportation. Which may be
a good thing for certain buyers. But then the Sidekick never pretended to be
anything else, not from the moment it first arrived in two-door form in
1989. The lineup expanded to with the addition of a four-door version in the
mid-1990s.

In any case, Sidekick powertrains are a source of endless and enthusiastic
owner testimonials, despite the fact the Sidekick was never sold with
anything larger than a 1.8-litre four-cylinder (120 horsepower). The first
Sidekicks came with an 80-hp four-banger, which got a power boost to 95 in
1992.

All may be small, high-revving powerplants, but they just keep on going, and
going, going, and going… Suzuki’s long history of building successful
motorcycles paid off in spades here.

Even though the four-door Sidekick has more length between the front and
rear axles, it and its two-door cousin ride on pretty short wheelbases. They
were also always sold with pretty big, fat tires regardless of which
version–base or more upscale. Those fat tires, firm suspension tuning and a
solid rear axle conspire to create a pretty solid ride in all versions.

But that’s as it should be. We are, after all, talking about a genuine
four-by-four, with a high centre of gravity. Naturally, at the upper end of
the speedometer these trucks feel a little unstable; and as I said, they
feel a bit tippy around corners, too. My firm advice is to stay well within
the posted speed limits.

Four-door versions of the Sidekick have much more interior room than you
might expect and are just fine for everyday family chores. Two-door
convertibles are fun, but only after you’ve exhausted your patience lowering
the complicated soft-top.

Raising it is just as grating. For 1995, the engineers tried to simplify the
design, but were only marginally successful. Another point to remember for
used buyers is that the droptop’s rear window is plastic and does not have a
defroster.

Suzuki sold both two- and four-wheel-drive versions of the Sidekick for
years. Be alert to transfer case damage in four-by-fours caused by driving
in four-wheel on dry pavement. This is an important consideration because
most original buyers went for a four-by-four (with high and low range), even
though manually locking hubs were the norm until the very end of the model
run. I’ll say this: in four-wheel drive, the Sidekick is amazingly capable
at picking its way through muck and over boulders and logs.

Aside from durability, what recommends the Sidekick is price. Well-equipped
four-door four-by-fours can be found for less than $10,000. That’s cheap by
today’s standards. And as you can see by the Buyer’s Alerts and Recalls,
these older sport-utes have proven to be nearly trouble-free operators.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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