EXPERT REVIEW

chicagotribune.com's view

The X-90, which bowed in the fall of 1995 as a 1996, attracted a lot of attention, though the words out of onlookers’ mouths weren’t “Wow” “Golly” or “Gee whiz” but “Are you a gnome?” and “Is that a car for a troll?”

The micro-mini two-seater that’s a mere 146 inches long was finished in “ultra blue metallic,” which looks purple in any light, making the SUV resemble a four-wheeled grape.

The X-90 has some nifty features for a tiny sport-ute, such as 4WD, dual air bags, available ABS and removable glass T-bar roof panels for open-air motoring.

ABS, however, is an $800 option that comes with cruise control as a companion feature. And unless you are a gnome or a troll, why would you remove the glass panels over your head and let others see who’s at the wheel of the Suzuki grape?

Room is at a premium, which means comfort is, too. And the 1.6-liter, 95-h.p., 4 is so fuel-efficient it runs for days on gas fumes, but it doesn’t run very fast or very quietly.

Base price is $14,599 without ABS.

There’s been speculation that ’97 may be the last for X-90 because sales in the first three months of this year totaled 888 units, down from a paltry 1,172 a year earlier.

In a phone interview, Gary Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing, said no decision has been made on keeping or dropping the X-90.

“We’re committed to selling 100,000vehicles (Sidekicks, X-90s and Swift cars) by 2000,” he said, “and we’re going to look model by model at how we can do it.”

Suzuki is a long way from 100,000. For 1996 it sold 37,000 vehicles in the U.S. The forecast is 40,000 for 1997 and 50,000 for 1998. That means sales will have to double in 1999, when the new Sidekick arrives, to reach 100,000 by 2000.

Anderson said the X-90’s problem has been that Suzuki has done very little to promote it.

“The Sidekick is the engine that runs this train, so we haven’t focused much on the X-90 and that hasn’t helped it,” he said.

Anderson admits Sidekick’s age hasn’t helped, either, especially when RAV4 and CR-V have taken the market by storm.

“A few years ago Sidekick was in a niche market, and now with the added players, it’s become a member of a market segment, but a segment in which we need a new product with a new look. The public flocks to new styles and new ideas, as we’ve seen with the RAV4 and CR-V. Of course, it’s helped RAV4 and CR-V that both Toyota and Honda have such large owner bodies,” he said.

Anderson insists that RAV4 and CR-V aren’t members of the Sidekick SUV fraternity.

“They’re not SUVs, they’re CUVs–car-utility vehicles,” he said. “We’re capable of going off road, they aren’t.

“But RAV4 and CR-V can help Sidekick,” Anderson admits. “They’re expanding the market and attracting attention to the segment; it’s just that we need new product to get more of that attention attracted to us.”

Anderson said Chevy should help S uzuki again because a redesigned Tracker comes out with the restyled Sidekick, and Chevy will put heavy promotion behind Tracker that can only draw attention to Sidekick.

Of the ’99 Sidekick, Anderson would only say: “It will be a little roomier, a five-passenger (four now) model with a much different look and a dramatically more powerful engine. We’ll have a V-6.” It’s the first time Sidekick (and Tracker) will offer other than 4-cylinder power.

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