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Car reviews - Suzuki - X-90 - Targa 2-dr sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Unique, high-seating position
Room for improvement
Not really suitable on-road or off-road, just plain weird

Suzuki logo11 Jul 2003

By MALCOLM LIVERMORE

THE Suzuki X90's time may yet come. The X90 was launched in April, 1996, as a sporty two-seater coupe/off-road hybrid.

Few buyers from either camp were convinced and after just two- and-a-half years and 481 sales, the X90 vanished.

Second-hand, the X90's prospects may be far brighter as it should appeal to younger buyers wanting an off-beat off-roader or resort-based rental agencies needing a stylish car with good ground clearance.

Unlike some sport-utility rivals such as the Daihatsu Terios and Toyota RAV4, the X90 has considerable off-road capability because underneath lies the running gear of the just-superseded Vitara.

This is surprising considering the X90's nightclub looks. The transfer case and a set of ultra-low gear ratios needed for off-road work means the X90 is less stilettos and more Dr. Martens.

So the X90 really is many cars in one. It can be seen as a sort of jacked-up Honda CRX with its T-bar roof and sedan styling. Yet it is as tall and as long as a RAV4.

Inside, the X90 is almost the same as the later series Vitara. There is enough room to keep both occupants happy except for the lack of storage space, compounding the rather small boot size.

Furthermore, the roof's glass panels - which can be handily removed in a matter of seconds - store in the boot.

Standard equipment is quite generous and includes dual airbags, power steering, power windows and cloth seats.

The X90's engine is Suzuki's venerable 71kW, single overhead camshaft, 16-valve, 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

For a vehicle which is big on sports car style, the performance is disappointing.

The 1.6-litre engine is torquey enough but a little loud and raucous if extended through the rev range.

The X90 feels similar to the three-door Vitara, even if it does carry a small weight penalty, which Suzuki addresses with a different final drive ratio from the Vitara to effectively lower the X90's gear ratios.

The gearchange is more off-roader than city car with a long throw and less than smooth changes.

The recirculating ball power steering - straight from the Vitara - is too light and uncommunicative, even for a four-wheel drive.

The suspension is another direct Vitara lift with MacPherson struts at the front and a trailing link set-up with a centre- mounted wishbone and coil springs at the rear.

The X90's handling is not in the same league as the car-like RAV4, Subaru Forester or Honda CR-V, although it does beat more utilitarian off-roaders like the Daihatsu Feroza and Asia Rocsta. It corners accurately and predictably with good roadholding.

Ride quality suffers in the face of newer competition. Occupants will feel bumps, humps and ridges all too readily, betraying the X90's off-roader heritage. The relatively short wheelbase does not help matters.

The X90 is based on the tried and true Vitara so the basic mechanical layout is durable and reliable.

Nevertheless, check for blue smoke from the exhaust as the relatively small 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine has to haul around 1100kg.

Look underneath for evidence of dramatic off-road abuse since the little Suzuki is really only suitable for light 4WD work.

Non-mechanical parts are expensive and hard to get as so few X90s were sold in Australia, although the greasy bits will be no problem.

The Suzuki X90 fills a niche no-one asked or consequently cared for but as an off-beat, all-weather sporty coupe, it makes remarkable sense second-hand as it has proven Vitara reliability underneath.

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