Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Samurai and the SX4

About 25 years ago, Suzuki introduces the Samurai to the American market. Known internationally as the Jimny and produced since 1968, it was a small alternative to the larger Land Rover 90, Toyota FJ40, and Jeep Wrangler. Unfortunately it quickly earned a reputation in the US Market for being prone to tipping over. Consumer Reports gave it an unsafe rating, causing the company to scramble to fix the damage to its reputation. Suzuki widened the track of the Samurai and later replaced it with the Sidekick, its slightly more civilized successor.

In spite of this stigma the original Samurai, and to a lesser extent, the Sidekick, developed a reputation for being simple, rugged, virtually unstoppable vehicles. A fact that was highlighted in the Top Gear: Bolivia Special when an unmodified Samurai completed all of the challenges, including blazing a path through the rain forest and climbing the Andes mountains.

Over the years, I’ve driven a number of Samurais and Sidekicks and have always found them to be honest, capable vehicles that will go anywhere. The only downside to their charm is their antiquated suspensions which cause them to ride like an oxcart filled with rocks. A trip of any significant length on paved roads is like sitting atop a piece of plywood strapped to the top of a vibrating bed from a motel that charges by the hour. And going off-road is like having your back and legs pummeled by a welterweight boxer.

But I like the Samurai and the Sidekick. I wish Suzuki still made a cheap, simple four-wheel drive vehicle. Then I realized, they do.

It’s called the Suzuki SX4.