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1996 Suzuki Sidekick REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/5/2017

What’s New: Lots of changes to this mini SUV: the 16-valve, 95-horsepower engine is available across the board (except in the Sport), and dual airbags are housed in a revised instrument panel. New fabrics, colors and styling revisions update the Sidekick. All new for 1996 is a Sport variant, equipped with lots of exclusive standard equipment, a 120-horsepower twin-cam motor, a wider track, two-tone paint and a chrome grille.

Review: Even folks who find it easy to fault small sport-utes run the risk of falling for a Sidekick--especially the convertible model. Neither a true truck nor a car, this mini SUV has created a niche that other manufacturers are rushing to capitalize on. The Geo Tracker that's sold by Chevrolet dealers is basically identical, and the Kia Sportage is a new competitor. Soon, Toyota will have its own tiny sports-utility vehicle for sale. Suzuki aims the Sidekick squarely at teens and 20-somethings, but older adventurers are likely to find it irresistible, too.

The Sidekick is available in two body styles and two series totaling three trim levels. Basic Sidekicks come with a frisky 16-valve, 95-horsepower engine in JS or JX trim. The JS is a two-wheel drive runabout; the JX a four-wheel drive mountain goat. Convertible and four-door Hardtop models are available. New for 1996 is a Sport model, which is offered only with the four-door body style in JX and JLX trim.. Hallmarks of the Sport include a larger, more powerful twin-cam engine good for 120 horsepower, and a track that has been increased by two inches for increased stability and response. Sixteen-inch tires and wheels, a shiny grille, and a two-tone paint scheme set the Sport model even further apart from garden-variety Sidekicks.

All Sidekick models get a revised instrument panel that contains dual airbags and dual cupholders. Daytime running lights also debut in 1996. Four-wheel antilock brakes are optional on Sidekick; standard on Sidekick Sport. Exclusive to the Sport is a 100-watt Alpine stereo system, cruise control (on the JLX only), security alarm system, power windows and locks, split-fold rear seat, remote fuel door release, cloth door trim, power remote mirrors, rear window wiper/washer and overhead map lights. The Sport also gets unique paint colors from which to select.

Basic Sidekicks get a new grille and bumpers, new exterior colors, and new seat fabrics. Frankly, the base Sidekick is the better looking vehicle. The Sport's two-tone paint and chrome-ringed grille make the Sidekick look like a little freckle-faced kid wearing an Armani suit. The monochromatic look of the base model, combined with the Sport's engine and track width, would be a hot setup -- too bad Suzuki doesn't see it that way.

The manual gearbox on the base Sidekick we drove shifted easily, helped by good clutch action. Optional automatic transmissions have a normal and power mode. Though fairly quiet ordinarily, hard-throttle start-ups produced some engine roar. Steering is a lot lighter than expected. Highly stable on the highway, the Sidekick slips easily in and out of traffic and into off-road or rural situations. Despite a short wheelbase, there's no sensation of danger. Gas mileage is good, too.

Not everyone will feel comfortable in the driver's seat, which lacks thigh support, but gauges are large and clear. Visibility in the convertible is superior to the front and side, but the rear view is obstructed by the spare tire and center high-mounted stop lamp. The soft-top's back seat is small and hard--more like a platform. Storage space is scant, beyond a sizable glovebox

Snappy performance and a friendly personality make the open-top Sidekick a joy to drive, while more conservative shoppers might feel more comfortable with a four-door. Either way, the Sidekick is lots of fun so long as interior space for passengers and cargo is not a big priority.

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