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We're calling the Suzuki Sidekick JLX 4WD small because it has the smallest wheelbase of any four-door on the market. We found it to be a great value-ours had a sticker price of $15,429 with standard features such as power steering, cruise control, rear wheel anti-lock brakes, a security system, a locking spare tire case and power windows and locks. It is one of the more complete four-door four wheelers we've sampled.
Another big advantage is its fuel economy, with EPA numbers of 23 mpg city/26 mpg highway. The downside here is performance. The 1.6-liter 95-hp four has to make man noisy revolutions to get this vehicle going. Even then, "go" seems on the meager side.
The Suzuki four-door Sidekick JLX 4WD is good-looking. Resemblances to the two-door Sidekick and its Geo Tracker cousin (also made by Suzuki) are present in the flared fenders, body color mirrors, black bodyside and rocker moldings and large si 'de glass. The profile is somewhat upright but perky-looking. Our Sidekick was in a Red Pearl coat, which was set off nicely by the black trim. The front and rear bumpers are body color capped by black. They look nice but could be vulnerable o marring in off-road situations. chromed wheels are standard and aluminum sport wheels an option. The rear cargo compartment is accessed by a full-length door opening toward the curbside that carries the securely mounted spare outside. A locking hard case is included in the JLX model. There are front and rear tow hooks, a skid plate under the fuel tank and a locking fuel filler door with remote release.
The Japanese do an excellent job of outfitting the cabins of their 4WD vehicles. Our JLX model had standard deluxe cloth seat trim and was tough and handsome. Front sport buckets seats are standard, and although they don't get any high marks for support, they're comfortable. The rear seat is the popular 60/40 split-back bench for seating a passenger or two and accommodating long cargo.
We sat in all seats and found them to be roomy and passenger-friendly. There are handgrips above all the door openings but the driver's door (traditionally, he or she can use the steering wheel). Plus, there is a very substantial handgrip molded into the instrument panel facia in front of the front-seat passenger. Visibility, except to the rear, was excellent. Attempting to see above the rear door-mounted spare and around the headrests proved to be difficult. We found a similar but less-severe problem in the Isuzu Trooper.
All gauges and controls are well-placed, lighted and easy to operate. We did note that the outside mirrors are fixed housings with an in-cabin remote control operating the mirror inside. This looks nice, but mirrors are vulnerable in serious off-road situations, and we would be more comfortable if they were in flexible housings. One more bit of carping: Suzuki, apparently for product liability reasons, has placed a big warning notice on the driver's door about possible rollover situations. Perhaps necessary from a legal standpoint, it seems at best "horsey" looking and at worst, intimidating. A similar notice about use of 4WD is placed near the transfer case shift lever.
Somewhat narrow and erect, the Suzuki Sidekick handled like it looks. There was body roll or lean in sharp cornering-more than on other four-door 4WDs we've tried, but not excessive or dangerous. A pleasant surprise was the lack of pitching on bumpy roads, despite the short wheelbase. We attribute this to some solid engineering in the front MacPherson strut/rear coil springs with stabilizer bar suspension.
Comfort and convenience in the Suzuki Sidekick JLX was excellent. We found it a pleasure to drive and ride in day and night, and in all but severe off-road situations. One negative is the steering wheel position. Even with the tilt column feature, it was too flat, making it almost bus-like. We liked the fact that rear windows went all the way down, thanks to Suzuki Sidekick's upright stance; you can, however, lock the windows to prevent kids from lowering them. Many four-door four-wheelers have rear windows that only go part way down because of the incursion of the rear wheel well into the rear door area.
What we didn't like was the meager power of the 1.6-liter 16-valve electronically fuel-injected four. It meant slow acceleration from a stop and for passing. We found we could compensate some with the five-speed manual transmission, but this might be a bigger negative with the four-speed automatic.
We drove through our secret off-road course after some heavy rains. Shifting into 4WD high (the front hubs, called "automatic free wheeling," lock automatically), the Sidekick churned through some deep muddy ruts with no problem. It negotiated our now-slippery narrow two-track very well, but we did have to kick the engine rpms up with a lot of shifting. We noticed the same for our hill climb, choosing 4WD low.
We liked the Suzuki four-door VW Sidekick JLX for what it is-a small light-duty 4WD vehicle that likely will be used for casual off-roading but is more at ease just doing everyday driving. It's our impression that Suzuki decided to market the Sidekick to further take advantage of the popularity of Geo Tracker and its own 4WD fun vehicles.
But mericans get very serious when it comes to sport utility vehicles. We want power, comfort, cargo capacity and towing capability. The Suzuki Sidekick is lacking in these areas-particularly in power, room and towing. Head out on a serious hunting, fishing or camping expedition and you'll probably have to cut back on what you want to take along. And you may even have to make other travel arrangements for some of your party.
It is also under-powered. That little 1.6-liter 95 hp four-banger is really working most of the time. You probably can strap a light canoe on top or maybe tow a light pop-up camper, but that's about it.
On the plus side, the Sidekick rides and handles well in spite of some body roll and lean in cornering. It is fun to drive because of its compactness and maneuverability. We also like the 4WD capability for handling bad weather and for occasional off-road use.
The price seems right too: Our test model carried a sticker of $15,429. However, you can buy a Jeep
Cherokee for close to this, and the Cherokee has more power, room and towing capability. But for what it is, the Sidekick is a very acceptable compact sport utility vehicle.
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