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1995 Suzuki Sidekick

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.0

Reviewed by 13 users

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Reviews written: 22
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The Sidekick: Versatile and fun, but slow and bumpy...


by toast822:      Jan 9, 2002 - Updated Jul 15, 2002


Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Manual 4WD gearbox, 5-Speed, reliable, high ground clearance, roomy, decent fuel consumption.
Cons: No airbags, ABS, cup holders or differential lock; underpowered, pings with regular gas, rough ride.
The Bottom Line: A versatile, reliable and fun-to-drive vehicle. Suitable for medium level off-roading, but is too light for serious stuff. It is top heavy, underpowered and boxy.


Why the ’95 Suzuki Sidekick?

It became obvious that one car in our household was simply no longer going to be adequate, so we began looking for a second car. I had always wanted something I could take off-road or onto the beach, and had looked at the Suzuki Sidekick, the Honda CRV and the Kia Sportage mini SUVs, but could not find one used with the options I wanted (5-speed manual, but with electric windows and keyless entry). Eventually, I found the exact Sidekick I had been looking for, and I even liked the color (maroon). The vehicle had low mileage (about 46,000) and all the records, and it was $6500.

The good: Fun, fun, fun

The ’95 Suzuki Sidekick JLX comes very well equipped:

- A 1.6 L 16-Valve DOHC 4 cylinder engine rated at 95 HP
- A 5-Speed manual transmission (a 3-Speed automatic is also available)
- Air-Conditioning
- An Alarm (which is hard wired into the car)
- Keyless entry
- Electric windows
- Cruise control
- A manual 4WD gearbox, with 4H and 4L settings.
- The rear seats fold down 60/40 to double the cargo area.
- A full sized spare tire mounted on the back door.
- Mine also came with a decent Pioneer aftermarket CD player, which has never skipped.

Basically, it has the same standard equipment as my mom’s Mercedes M-class!, except for the automatic transmission.

Off-Road

I have only had the opportunity to take my Sidekick off-road once, but it handled itself like a champ. Granted, the “off-road” experience was more like a dirt path in the woods, but there were some parts where a normal car would most likely have gotten stuck, such as deep ruts or one huge root. It has a relatively high ground clearance for this class of vehicle, so that off-roading should be no problem unless you are in the middle of a jungle or something.

The 4WD drive system is very easy to activate. The 4WD gear handle is a smaller handle next to the gearshift lever. It has 2WD, 4WD High, Neutral and 4WD Low. The 4WD High is used for general off-roading and snow. The 4WD Low is used for extreme conditions and is intended for low speeds. In order to shift to 4WD low, the vehicle must be stationary.

What the Sidekick lacks is a differential lock, which is useful for getting out of deep snow, soft sand or mud. A differential lock will distribute all engine power to both wheels on the locked axle, preventing one wheel from spinning while the other is not moving at all. The 4WD Low can be used in these rare conditions, but it will not prevent the “one wheel spinning” phenomenon. Hopefully, since all 4 wheels will have power, this phenomenon can be prevented altogether.

Unfortunately, any 4WD system will be of little help in icy conditions. Do not be lulled and “teched” into a false sense of security just because the Sidekick has 4WD.

Fuel consumption

In the literature I have procured online, the estimate for fuel consumption is 26 MPG highway driving, and 23 MPG city driving. My results are a bit better, on average:

If you drive around 70 mph on the highway using the cruise control, you can expect to get just about 30 miles per gallon (MPG). Anything faster, and you can expect the consumption to go up very quickly (i.e., 75 mph = 25 MPG, 80 mph = 23 MPG etc). The Sidekick really was not designed to be driven faster than 80 mph, because it tends to become very unstable and hard to control.

Also, at higher speeds the engine revs quite high. Driving 75 mph will make the engine turn at about 3800 rpm (compared to my Saturn SL-2, which turns at barley 3000 rpm’s at the same speed). This is because the 1995 (and older) Suzuki Sidekick JLX’s 4 cylinder 16-valve 95 HP engine is underpowered for continuous highway driving, nor was it designed for it. The next model year (‘96 and newer) equipped the Suzuki Sidekick JLX with a 1.8L 4-valve rated at 120 HP.

City driving yields an average of 24 MPG.

Thankfully the Sidekick does not have always on 4WD, because when driving in 4WD, fuel consumption is reduced another 15 – 20 %.

Compared to larger SUV’s these fuel consumption results are quite respectable.

- Heat and A/C

The Suzuki Sidekick JLX comes with air-conditioning, which is nice in the Washington, DC sweltering summers. The air-conditioning system works very well to quickly cool down the interior of the vehicle even in the sunniest and most humid of days.

Conversely, in the winter, the heater heats up after driving for only a few minutes, which is nice when it is cold outside. In fact, when the Sidekick has fully warmed up, the highest heat setting is borderline uncomfortable.

The Alarm/Keyless entry

In doing searches on the 1995 Suzuki Sidekick JLX I have read several complaints that the stock alarm system on this vehicle is sub par and unreliable. Since I have no previous experience with auto alarms, I cannot give an accurate judgment on this.

However, it seems to work fine. It is not overly sensitive, and does its job. Arming the alarm locks all the doors and disarming it unlocks all the doors.

I do know that it is hard wired into the vehicle, so it is very difficult to remove if it does fail or malfunction.

I did have to change the battery in the key ring alarm-disarming-button-thingy, which cost about $1.50.

But, since I HATE car alarms, the alarm in my Sidekick is off most of the time. It can be easily turned off, making the key-ring-button-thingy a keyless entry device. This is a great feature, and I use it all the time.

Maintenance

Since buying the Sidekick in June 2001, I have driven about 9,000 miles, and other than oil changes, I have only brought it in to the shop for a routine 50,000 mile maintenance, because the “Check Engine” light came on.

The Suzuki dealer did a full engine diagnostic, replaced spark plugs and points, and flushed the brake system, and did a few other minor repairs for about $350. Not exactly cheap, but necessary, I guess.

Other than that (knock on wood) nothing has gone wrong. It will need some new tires soon, and probably a front-end alignment. Also, the clutch needs some adjustment. For a 6-year-old vehicle, this is quite respectable. I have all the maintenance records, and my Sidekick has never needed a major repair.

The bad (or, as Yoda said: “Control, control, you must learn control”)

- Ride and handling

The Suzuki Sidekick JLX is a fun to drive vehicle. It does take a while to get used to its driving characteristics, because the Sidekick is not a car, it is a small truck. It has a narrow body (64 inches), a short wheelbase (97.6 inches) and is very tall, making the ride somewhat bumpy and rough. It also tends to feel top heavy, which is an inherent problem for all small SUV’s, and even lager ones, such as the Ford Explorer.

Then again, if you are in the market for this class of vehicle, you will just have to get used to the idea of having a bumpy ride.

In windy conditions the Suzuki Sidekick JLX becomes very difficult to control. The vehicle is very light and, because of the boxy design, has a very large area to catch the wind and it tends to sway especially in windy highway conditions.

Acceleration

Since the 1995 Suzuki Sidekick JLX is equipped with a 95 HP 16-valve motor, it tends to be a bit behind in the acceleration department. This applies to any speed, be it a standstill or trying to get past a truck on the interstate. The Sidekick’s sluggishness requires that you adjust your driving habits accordingly. Frankly, I hardly notice that the “get up and go has got up and went”, but my wife, who is used to the peppy Saturn SL-2, avoids driving the Sidekick, simply because she does not like the fact that it is slow. The 1996 JLXmodel has a much improved 1.8 L 16-valve 4 cylinder rated at 120 HP. The Grand Vitara/XJ-7 has a V-6 engine, but I am not sure of its performance stats.

Use Super Grade fuel: The Sidekick will love you for it!

When I first purchased the Suzuki Sidekick JLX, I use 89 octane gasoline, and I began to notice that it pings. Now I feel obliged to use super grade gasoline, and hunt all over the DC area to find the cheapest station. Fortunately, it is only 3 miles from my house! Generally, the higher the octane, the higher the fuel consumption will be, but I still get good mileage using super.

What the ’95 Suzuki Sidekick JLX does not come with:

- Airbags
- ABS
- Cup holders

The air bags and ABS were added in subsequent years of production (up to the ‘98s), but, to my knowledge, cup holders have yet to be installed (though, I have not looked inside the Suzuki Grand Vitara/XJ-7, the successor of the Suzuki Sidekick JLX).

The cup holder dilemma: Is it the greatest design achievement in recent history or just a distraction for busy Americans?

The cup holder issue is a minor annoyance, compared to safety related equipment, such as ABS or airbags, but I have spilled coffee on myself just one too many times. And the lack of airbags/ABS is a safety issue that speaks for itself.

But no cup holders??

I am originally from Germany, where in-car cup holders are unheard of. But, since I’ve lived in the US most of my life, I have become very accustomed to the practicality of them. If you have a car designed in Germany, you will find it either lacks cup holders entirely, or they are very poorly designed. For example, my friend’s 2000 VW Bug does have cup holders, but they only accommodate a Starbuck’s tall cup; my mom’s 1999 Mercedes M-Class also has them, but anything other than the $100 Mercedes cup will fall over into your lap if placed to the cup holders. My old 1988 VW Jetta did not have cup holders, nor does my dad’s 1991 BMW. In Germany, the motto could be: If you vant to drink ze coffee, you pull into ze rest shtop to zit down to have ze coffee.

This is my first Japanese vehicle, but I can only assume they have the same stance on the cup holder issue as the Germans, and drink their tea at home. I like cup holders, and believe every car should have at least two. To add insult to injury, the Suzuki Sidekick JLX does not even have a good place to put an aftermarket cup holder. Not to mention, most of these cup holders I have seen are either flimsy, or have serious design problems, like being mounted on an air vent or the door.

I have discovered that a Starbucks grande cup can be wedged between the parking brake handle and the driver’s seat. However, this is not the safest or driest way to have your morning coffee, particularly if you intend to do city commutes in the Sidekick. And, I have spilled my coffee there on (the sluggish) acceleration.

Other minor annoyances

If you intend to attach a roof rack to the Suzuki Sidekick JLX it may cause leakage problems, because the mounting hardware interferes with the door seals. Thule recommends you only attach the rack when you need it. Also, the Thule roof rack is $180 for just the feet and the bars. You have to get the other (bike, ski, etc.) attachments separately.

When looking into getting a new set of tires, I discovered that there is really only one option in the tire model department; at least that’s what the Good Year guy told me. It has to do with the size of the tire rims, and Good Year only makes one of 8 different off-road/truck/SUV tires in that particular size. I have not yet checked other tire makers. Also, replacing off-road tires is expensive: Mounting new tires will set me back $700 next year.

The tire jack is confusing to use, because there is no clear point to attach it on the frame of the vehicle. I recently decided to rotate the tires myself, and I am still not sure I used the right spot. It seemed to work, though. Also, the lifting jack is under the front passenger seat, and if not situated exactly as intended, it tends rattle.

The hood release is in the glove compartment. No big deal, just weird.

Conclusion

Despite it’s obvious shortcomings, the Suzuki Sidekick JLX is a very fun to drive vehicle. What it lacks in pep it makes up for in versatility and reliability. I have driven it from Washington, DC to Philadelphia, PA (a 3 – 3 ½ hour drive) many times, and it is adequate for long distances, and even gets decent highway mileage. The seats are actually quite comfortable, and have decent lumbar support. The Sidekick also sits pretty high off the ground, giving you a commanding view of traffic.

Fortunately, I have never been in any situations that would require a radical veering or braking, but I imagine this vehicle would be a handful. As mentioned earlier, it is somewhat top heavy (but nothing like it’s predecessor, the Samurai, which would roll over at less than 25 mph!), and could easily get out of control.

But, if you are in the market for a small SUV, these are all traits one would almost expect. The JLX is a luxury version of the Sidekick and it is the only one I would recommend buying. The non-luxury motor only has 80 HP, which is far too little! Not to mention, the other amenities in the JLX discussed above.

If I had to do it all over again, I would buy the 1996 or new version of the JLX just for the extra 25 HP. Or better yet, go with the Vitara/XJ-7 if you want a Suzuki SUV and can afford it.

Happy driving… on or off the road.

Amount Paid (US$): 7500
Model Year: 1995
Model and Options: JLX
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 
Reliability:  
Handling And Control:  
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