EXPERT REVIEW

The Morning Call and Mcall.com's view

On first acquaintance, the Suzuki X-90 is downright cute. The Toontown Tonka trunk shape is positively endearing in its rounded cuteness. So how serious is it as a four-wheel-drive truck? Better to stick to its looks.

With an overall length shorter than a Mazda Miata, the X-90 measures in at a scant 146 inches. Height is about 86 inches while width is only 56 inches. That means this vehicle is taller than its width. It has a part-time four-wheel-drive system and a 31 degree approach and departure angle. So it’s an SUV, right? But wait. It only has two seats, t-tops and an 8.6-cubic foot trunk. It’s a sports car, right? No it’s actually a truck, albeit one fitted for Roger Rabbit. Let’s face it: styling sells here. But it’s hard to imagine anyone over 30 liking this truck.

And yet, it’s hard to hate something that is so easy to park. Squeezing through gaps in traffic is a lot of fun, not only due to its unusually small size, but also due to its unusual styling. The only way to get stared at more is to drive around with Elle MacPherson riding shotgun.

And yet, the small size brings to mind safety. After all, this is one of the smaller vehicles plying America’s highways. Suzuki does its best here. Dual airbags are standard, as are side impact beams and daytime running lights. Anti-lock brakes are available as an option.

Power comes from a 1.6-litre single-overhead cam aluminum 16-valve four-cylinder engine. It produces 95 horsepower and 98 foot-pounds of torque. It’s adequate for the job, as long as you’re not in a hurry. Besides, you’ll want to slow down for corners anyway.

There are two drive trains. The base two-wheel-drive models are rear-wheel drive. Spring for the four-wheel drive models, which feature automatic front locking hubs, two-speed transfer case and cruise control.

The suspension is MacPherson strut up front and a solid rear axle. It provides a very truckish ride, with some mild side to side rocking. Few bumps will be sheltered from the driver, although most engine vibration is masked (that is until you shift the transfer case). Engine noise is ever present, but much reduced from earlier Suzuki’s.

If the last Suzuki you rode in was a Samaurai, you’ll be pleased to know you can now hear the radio at highway speeds. That’s an accomplishment with the presence of wind, road and tire noise.

The speedometer only goes to 85 mph, and only a brave soul would want to go faster. But this vehicle showed amazing poise on the highway, even if it is not the best choice for long-range cruising. The seats are mounted low and feel flat. The material they’re covered in is either attractive or garish, depending on your age.

Standard on all models are power windows and door locks, power steering, tinted glass, tachometer, intermittent wipers and dual cupholders. Stepping up to a four-wheel drive model adds a security alarm, alloy wheels and an Alpine AM/ FM cassette de ck.

The X-90 lacks the creature comforts that play an increasingly larger role in the truck market, and yet it’s original design and Lilliputian size are strangely endearing. Also, it costs nearly 16 big ones fully equipped, at which price some would look at other vehicles.

But it wouldn’t be as much fun as this truck, a cartoonish, pregnant roller skate that is noisy, rides hard and is instantly lovable because it isn’t the same as every other truck on the road. And when you’re through using it? Park it next to the rest of your matchboxes.

Suzuki X-90 4×4 Standard: 1.6 liter SOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder, five-speed manual transmission, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, automatic front hubs, t-tops, daytime running lights, rear spoiler, aluminum alloy wheels, P195/65R15 tires, dual airbags, dual outside manual mirrors, intermittent wipers, electric rear window defogger, tinted glass, locking fuel filler door, AM/FM Cassette stereo, securitys stem, power windows, power door locks, cloth bucket seats , center console with dual cupholders, full carpeting. Options: Air-conditioning, cruise control, automatic transmission with power/normal switch, anti-lock brakes. Base price: $ As tested: $ EPA rating: 23 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. Test mileage: 23 mpg.

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