A Japanese icon turns 100: we name the 10 greatest Suzukis ever made
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And now, it's time to pay tribute to one of the true unsung heroes of the motoring landscape; Suzuki.
This month, the plucky Japanese marque celebrates its 100th anniversary. In the world of bikes, Suzuki are often ranked as a true great. In cars, however, the brand have always been engrained in the wants and needs of everyday people. Here's 10 of its best.
10. Suzuki Kizashi
Here's an excellent case of a fantastic car that was widely applauded by critics, well priced, and ... well, a terrible seller.
The handsome, neatly engineered Kizashi is a good example of how even succeeding on your ambitious doesn't ensure everyone else is going to be on board. It landed just as the SUV curve was entering its dominant phase and sedans were on the outer, and it also became an unwilling poster-child for the end of Suzuki's four-wheeled presence in America.
Still, the Kizashi highlighted how quick Suzuki is when it comes to learning. The Kizashi was instantly competitive in its mid-size segment for styling, ride quality, space, handling, and much more. Just not sales.
9. Suzuki Suzulight SF
Suzuki's car-making journey becane with this thing back in 1955. Based largely on the Lloyd 400 by Borgward and designed by founder Michio Suzuki, it featured a front-engine, rear-wheel drive format paired with a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine.
In a lot of ways the SF was rather ordinary for the period. But, it had its little nuggets of ingenuity.
For instance, it came with double wishbone coil-spring suspension on all four corners and a rack and pinion steering system. Both of these things were massively ahead of their time.
The SF was eventually spun off into a variety of different bodyshapes, including an SL van and an SP ute. It played a starring role, too, in Japan's 'People's Car Program' — which aimed to get more local people mobilised with cars of their own.
8. Suzuki Wagon R
It's tall, it's square; it's the amazing Wagon R. Suzuki's oddly proportioned rectangle of beauty is hardly poster-on-the-wall fodder, but when it was launched in 1993 it helped push what people thought a 'kei car' could be capable of.
Kei cars, as you may be familiar with, are a Japanese sub-segment that sees cars adopt a maximum engine capacity of 660cc and a raft of maximum dimensions in order to minimise the amount of traffic and clutter on Japanese roads. And while those kei regulations had been around for quite some time, it was cars like the Wagon R that kicked off the movement for building cars to the extremes of those regulations. It also sold like absolute hot cakes.
It might be small, but the Wagon R's unique design meant it could carry entire families in comfort — performing the job of a standard hatchback or even the odd minivan, but with the fraction of the footprint. Very clever.
7. Suzuki SC100 / Whizzkid
Any car that earns itself a happy nickname in regions outside of its homeland deserves a second or third look. One of those cars is the Fiat 'Bambina', and the other is the Suzuki 'Whizzkid'.
The Whizzkid, or SC100, started off life badged as a rear-engined 'Cervo'. It didn't sell microwaved mince pies at 2am to drunks, but it did help Suzuki make two big quantum leaps. The first was out of the firm's largely 'kei car' based background into larger machines, and the second was in the way it helped popularise Suzuki outside of Japan. The UK in particular loved the SC100, to the point where they named it the Whizzkid.
If the SC100 looks somewhat familiar, it's because the same styling signature can be seen all over the lovable little Ignis.
6. Suzuki Fronte
The Fronte was Suzuki's big ticket replacement for the Suzulight series. In the spirit of Suzukis of the era, it too adopted a faintly weird, thoroughly awesome rear-engined format. This was couples with a wicked pair of rear fender vents, a Ford Anglia–esqe reverse angle rear window, and an adorable face.
It was a runaway sales hit, and this fed into what must have been one of the most surreal marketing ploys of the period. It saw Formula 1 driver Stirling Moss and renowned TT rider Mitsuo Itoh hoon the bejeezus out of a pair of Frontes along the 750km long Autostrada del Sole from Milan to Napoli. They completed the run with an average speed of 122km/h. Incredible for a car that looks a little like a n inflated metal goldfish.
While the Fronte nameplate doesn't live on today, Suzuki still produces its spiritual successor — the Alto.
5. Suzuki Cappucino
Kei cars, while focussed on economy and affordability, weren't above the notion of the odd extravagent sports car from time to time. And Japan's 'bubble era' of motoring through the '80s and '90s also impacted the world of kei.
The result were three tiny, dinky, excellent little sports cars — the Honda Beat, Autozamn AZ-1, and Suzuki Cappuccino. The Beat might've had zebra-print upholstery and the AZ-1 might've had gullwing doors, but the Cappuccino is the quickest, and widely considered to be the best one of the bunch.
We had a go in one ourselves a few years ago, in the form of an 800km traverse of some of the north island's most incredible roads. And the little Cappu was exceptional. Three-cylinder spinning, rear wheels cocking, and smiles from ear to ear. To this day it's still one of the best cars I've ever driven.
4. Suzuki L40V
One of the most common misconceptions of modern motoring is that the electric car is a recent invention. No, not so. Suzuki was doing it in 1970.
In the same year that the brand debuted the first Jimny, it also debuted a van called the L40V. It was tiny (no, duh) and looked like its front was its back and its back was its front. But more to the point, it was also the firm's first electric car.
Based on the Suzuki Carry of the period (which itself was a bit of a workhorse icon), the electric L40V was a limited run experiement that saw most of its use at the 1970 Osaka World Expo as a showcase of what Suzuki was capable of making. In what surely would be a strike in a game of 'things that are highly unlikely' bingo, the L40V was also designed by legendary scribbbler Giorgetto Giugiaro.
3. Suzuki Jimny
Suzuki owes its hardy off-road reputation almost entirely to the Jimny.
Launching in 1970, the Jimny is Suzuki's longest standing nameplate. And while it's tempting to wax lyrical about the iconic second-generation Jimny or the quirky rounded-edges third-generation Jimny, it's the current Jimny that really deserves this praise most.
It's a little unsafe, and its drivetrain is a little wheezy, but the current Jimny is also one of the few cars to cross two very different philosophies. On one hand, it's still hugely faithful to its roots thanks to remarkable off-road ability combined with unashamed simplicity. Yet on the other hand, it's also 'cracked the code' when it comes to creating an excited audience of buyers. The Jimny was a sales smash globally the instant it landed, with waiting lists galore all over the world for the tiny terror.
2. Suzuki Vitara
What was the world's first crossover? The SUV that popularized the idea of taller vehicles replacing the station wagon and minivan as family cars of choice? Well, the real answer is the Toyota RAV4. It was the first to be built on a 'car' platform, and it became wildly successful. But, it's also worth paying acknowledgement to the first generation Suzuki Vitara.
Across the world, it was badged as 11 different things; from a Suzuki Escudo to a GMC Tracker to a Mazda Proceed Levante. But in almost every one of those markets, it was a sales hit. And, not just because it was handy off-road, either. The Vitarascudoceedsunrunner gained a huge following because many saw it as an approchable soft-roader. Like the Jimny of today, the early Vitara hit the market just right between family car and adventure wagon.
The amount of these things still on the road today simply underlines just how hardy and rugged they were. An unsung hero in SUV lore, for sure.
1. Suzuki Swift
It's Suzuki's best selling car these days, and that's for good reason.
Things weren't always rosy, to be fair. The first cars to be badged as a Swift in the 1980s and 1990s weren't exactly iconic (apart from, perhaps, the Swift GTi). And the first true Suzuki Swift at the turn of the millennium (also known here as a Holden Cruze) was a bit of an oddity.
But, from 2004's second generation Swift onwards it has arguably been a supermini market leader. Cute styling, chuckle-worthy chuckable driving dynamics, and a focus on sturdy build quality are just some of the reasons why the Swift is on track to become a bit of a small car legend. Of particular note is the wonderful Swift Sport. For over 15 years, it's sat as arguably the cheapest way to buy an enthusiast car new — gradually improving more and more with every iteration.
They might be a ubiquitous, common denominator car today. But, the Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Golf were once like that, too.