Suzuki Esteem Wagon feels tight and packs valued features
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- To that ultra-short list of roomy station wagons available with downright cheap price tags, add the name of Suzuki's new Esteem Wagon.
With slinky and aggressive sheetmetal styling outside and a lot of comfort and convenience features installed within, the 5-person Suzuki wagon, riding on the sure-footed platform of the subcompact Esteem sedan, arrives at Suzuki showrooms this fall with prices pegged below $13,000 for the base GL edition.
Load up top model GLX+ with all kinds of trimmings including automatic transmission and the price still looks good at less than $16,000.
Look beyond these low price tags and everything else about the new wagon also looks good -- which begs the question: What's wrong with this deal?
Actually, nothing appears to be wrong because Suzuki has developed a nice little package for Esteem Wagon, then priced it below import competitors in a strategic move to attract attention and develop new customer relationships.
In effect, the Suzuki seems to provide more product for less dollars -- and that translates to quite a deal.
Esteem Wagon first caught one writer's eye last March in the Suzuki display at the New York International Auto Show, which showcases new products bound for the North American car market.
Glimmering in spotlights as it twirled on a turntable, the exterior design revealed a series of horizontal forms accented by beefy rocker panel cladding and a unique spoiler capping the roof at its trailing edge.
The front A pillar rakes rearward to set up a progressive slant to the windshield, while the C pillar at the back of rear doors juts forward in opposition, forming lines that vaguely conform to the shape of Esteem's sedan.
In back, the tailgate cascades from that roof spoiler, and when accessed the door swings high overhead so you may stand beneath it without stooping.
Inside, Suzuki's designers have managed to extract decent space for riders from the essentially cramped confines of a subcompact shell. And a lot of perks have been installed for a feel-good interior environment.
But how does it drive?
Well, three months after the New York debut of Suzuki's wagon some prototype editions showed up in suburbs of Chicago for a series of road tests conducted over freeways and back streets of tony residential communities like Highland Park and Lake Forest. These pilot testers, while not representing ultimate production quality, did contain all of the mechanical gear found on final models as well as the contents for three trims.
So strap a seatbelt in place and settle in because we're rolling up Sheridan Avenue toward Lake Forest, catching glimpses now and then of Lake Michigan and checking out the manners of the newest Suzuki on the road.
It rides smoothly, gliding over pavement rumples with hardly a vertical ripple, and from the driver's vantage feels firm and controllable.
A lot of serious mechanic systems come together inside this Esteem and set up some respectable driving traits.
To discover a pattern for these systems, you must first understand its lineage. In effect, Esteem's chassis and suspension components compare with parts of Suzuki's 3-door subcompact Swift hatchback. It served as point of origin for developing Suzuki's Esteem sedan, from which the station wagon derives.
For Esteem, Swift's wheelbase was extended by 4.5 inches, an increase in length that shows up in cabin space added and more back seat room for passenger legs.
This wheelbase stretch for Esteem affects more than cabin space, since it also results in a smoother and more stable ride quality that's notable when tackling inevitable road bumps like those experienced during the Chicago tests.
Essence of Esteem consists of its steel safety cage framework which encases the passenger compartment and includes front and rear crumple zones and extra braces to impart rigidity for side doors and both A and B pillars.
Safety elements built into Esteem include dual airbags, front seat head restraints, laminated safety glass for windshield and breakaway dual exterior side mirrors. In addition, perhaps the most important of all safety items -- anti-lock control for brakes -- becomes an option on the top model, Esteem GLX+.
The 4-wheel independent suspension features MacPherson strut design in front with rear stabilizer bar and crisp power-assisted rack and pinion steering.
Check out numbers in the powertrain and you could be fooled into thinking a station wagon charged by 4-pack engine that only nets 95 horsepower may leave you stalled at stop-light derbies, but that's not the case.
In fact, the 1.6-liter plant, equipped with overhead cam and electronic fuel injection, delivers a nice kick.
When paired with the standard 5-speed manual transmission, the wagon leaps off the line and acts aggressively when racking revs to higher rpms.
As an option, Suzuki's 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive behaves in an efficient and relatively quiet manner. At the least, it doesn't intrude, and I could not feel any significant loss of power over the manual.
Suzuki's powertrain also produces impressive fuel figures, rising as high as 37 mpg with manual shifter.
Where designers succeeded in creating the most pleasing features concerns the way Esteem's interior was outfitted -- so many thoughtful details inside amount to comfort and convenience for less money.
The layout applies twin bucket seats in front of a rear bench that fits up to three riders. Despite confines of subcompact space, riders don't feel sandwiched together because Esteem provides elbow room.
Shoulder space inside measures to 51.8 inches in front and even more (52.1 inches) in back.
Three trim levels -- GL, GLX and GLX+ -- build with increasing features. Standard to all is air conditioning and 4-speaker stereo audio system, reclining front bucket seats with center console and rear slit-folding seatback, remote fuel door and trunk releases, intermittent wipers and daytime running lights.
1998 SUZUKI ESTEEM WAGON
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1998 SUZUKI ESTEEM WAGON Specs
||Subcompact station wagon
| Model Options:
||Subcompact station wagon
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||SOHC 1.6-L I4
| Gas Mileage:
||M/5: 30/37 mpg
A/4: 27/33 mpg
||$ 12,500 to $ 17,000