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1998 Suzuki Esteem REVIEW logo 4/5/2017

Con: Price is higher than it should be on an entry-level econobox.

Pro: Reliable, economical transportation.

What’s New: A wagon adds diversity to the Esteem lineup.

Review: Sometime during the 1995 model year, the Suzuki Esteem made its American debut. We say sometime because it has been on the market for three years now and we still rarely see them on the roads. After investigating the Esteem, we've figured out why there are so few of them being sold. Although it's a cute little sedan, it suffers from too little power and too much MSRP, competing in a field of cars that offer superior value for the dollar. We don't dislike the Esteem. It's an attractive, well-equipped little car. The problem is that the window sticker makes us think Dodge Neon, while the car itself makes us think Kia Sephia. Get the drift?

All Esteems are powered by a 98-horsepower, 1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder engine connected to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. A four-wheel independent suspension damps irregularities in the pavement. As of 1996, daytime running lights are standard. For 1998, the Esteem Wagon joins the lineup, giving the Esteem some much-needed functionality, with 61 cubic feet of cargo room.

Three trim levels are available: base GL and uplevel GLX and GLX+. Air conditioning is standard on the GL, as well as power steering, rear window defogger, remote fuel door and trunk releases, dual mirrors and a fold-down rear seat. GLX models add better upholstery, power windows, locks and mirrors, as well as a recently upgraded cassette stereo, split-folding rear seat, tachometer and larger tires. An ABS option package is available for the GLX, and it includes cruise control.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well, the Esteem isn't very big inside or out. It offers about as much value as a Toyota Tercel DX sedan, which is to say, not much. The Japanese yen is simply too strong for Suzuki, or Toyota for that matter, to price their subcompact cars at a reasonable level. Domestic and South Korean nameplates offer far better value in this segment, especially when you consider the rather skimpy warranty Suzuki provides for the Esteem.

Like we said, we don't dislike this car. At another time, in another era, we'd wholeheartedly recommend it. In the nineties, however, we feel that there are other small sedans that offer far better value.


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