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Expert Reviews 1 of 6
By Richard Truett
December 21, 1995
Tiny sport-utility vehicles with low prices, like the all-new Suzuki X-90, are expected to be The Next Big Thing in the automotive world. They'll be aimed toward young drivers on a tight budget who lead active lifestyles. Suzuki's X-90 is the
first of the new wave of these vehicles. Toyota is up next in January with the RAV4, which will be followed by a new version of Chrysler's Jeep Wrangler. Land Rover and Honda also are tooling up to enter the fray. Those other automakers likely won't
have a hard time building higher-quality vehicles than the X-90, but they might have a tough time matching the X-90's saucy, fun-to-drive demeanor. Our test vehicle wasn't screwed together as well as a Jeep or a Toyota, but it was a real head-turner,
a blast to drive and fun to be seen in. If Suzuki can straighten out a few minor problems, the X-90 just might be a winner. PERFORMANCE The X-90 is outfitted with a peppy 1.6-liter, 16-valve overhead cam four-cylinder engine. Our test vehicle came
with the optional four-speed automatic transmission, an item that added $950 to the sticker. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard on the X-90, but if you do a lot of city driving and commuting, the automatic might be the better choice. The
automatic offers two shift modes, power and normal, and gives the vehicle more of a civilized feel. The power mode allows the engine to wind up a bit higher before shifting. Acceleration is quick. Although the four-cylinder buzzes considerably as it
revs up, it does deliver good all-round performance. The automatic won't win any awards for smoothness, but it gets the job done. Overall, the X-90 has something of a rugged feel. The engine and transmission work hard. When you drive the X-90 off the
road, say over soft sand or on dirt roads, you appreciate the growly nature of the drivetrain because you can feel it working. Our test vehicle featured four-wheel drive. Shifting from two-wheel drive tofour-wheel drive was as simple as moving the stubby
lever just below the regular shifter. When in four-wheel drive, the X-90 doesn't lose much performance. The X-90 is easy on the wallet at the gas pump. Drive normally and the fuel mileage should average about 25 mpg in combined city-highway driving.
HANDLING Because the X-90 has such a short wheelbase (it's just 86.6 inches, three inches shorter than a Mazda Miata),it doesn't handle and steer like a regular car. At first, I didn't care for the X-90's choppy ride. Then it began to grow on
me. Now I think Suzuki got the X-90's ride and handling just right. Ilearned that the X-90 can take a pounding while driving over rough terrain. The suspension system - MacPherson struts and coil springs up front and coil spring and wishbones in the
rear - is nothing special. Yet, when you drive over a bump, the suspension system doesn't punish you with violent bounces. Several sport-utility vehic
les I've tested are like bucking broncos when driving over large bumps. You have to hang on for dear life and struggle to control the vehicle. All X-90s come standard with four-wheel anti-lock brakes, discs up front and drums in the rear. These are
the strongest brakes I have yet sampled on a Suzuki. They grab quickly and strongly, and they stop the vehicle in a straight line and without the front nose-diving. The X-90's anti-lock system is also tuned well. It engages only when the pedal is pressed
very hard. Steering is another strong point. All X-90s come standard with power-assisted steering. The X-90 is a very maneuverable vehicle. It turns a circle in just 32 feet. That's means you can go down a row of angled parking spaces the wrong way,
and with a little finesse, ease right into a space. FIT AND FINISH I have not written many kind words about the Suzukis I have tested over the years. It's hard to say nice things about vehicles that come apar
t in your hands. The firstday I had the X-90, two of the plastic buttons on the air conditioner fell off, and I thought it was going to be business as usual. But that was all that went wrong. It turns out that the X-90 - aside from a few minor
squeaks and rattles - offers decent quality. And I like the X-90's design. This little charmer turned heads - mostly young ones - constantly. It attracted people at gas stations and supermarkets who wanted to know what it was and how much it cost.
The X-90 has fun written all over it. All X-90s come standard with removable glass T-tops that are easily stored in the trunk. Taking them out transforms the X-90 the same way as lowering the top on a Mazda Miata gives that car a young, fun,
easy-going personality. With the T-tops out, you get your hair rustled quite a bit, but you don't feel an inordinate amount of wind inside the vehicle. The tops, by the way, can be taken out and placed in the trunk in less than two minutes. Each has a
lever to unlatch it. The X-90 is a two-seater, and its two bucket seats are very comfortable. You notice how supportive they are when you drive over bumps. Because the X-90 bounces quite a bit when the going gets rough, you can feel the ample padding
in the seats. Nice job, Suzuki. There is some marginal room behind the seats for small items, such as books and umbrellas, but any larger items will have to be placed in the trunk. The X-90 offers a delightful amount of interior room for a small
vehicle. Complaints: Although the AM/FM radio is powerful and sounds nice, it's nearly impossible to set the stations. Adjusting the volume also is bothersome. The buttons are far too small and much too hard to reach. In fact, this is the most
user-unfriendly radio I have ever seen in any car in recent memory. Also, the X-90's electric windows are agonizingly slow, going up or down. However, if you take a look at what you get for your money, theX-90's long list of standard equipment
more than cancels out any shortcomings. Our test X-90 came with: Dual airbags. Daytime running lights. Power windows and remote controlled door locks. Air conditioning. Cruise control. Alarm system. Alloy wheels. Rear spoiler. Anti-lock brakes.
You will have a tough time finding any other vehicle for $16,000 and change that offers that much equipment. If Suzuki adds an easier-to-use radio and redesigns the center section of the dash so that the controls for the air conditioner more
user-friendly, there won't be much to criticize about the X-90. Truett's tip: The quirky-looking X-90 is a spunky, fun-to-drive mini-sport-utility that offers a very long list of standard equipment for the money.