The 7 best Suzukis ever made
The magnificent seven from Japan's third biggest car maker
Shahzad Sheikh – AKA Brown Car Guy – is an automotive journalist with three decades of experience on various titles including the Middle East edition of CAR Magazine and Used Car Buyer.
Before you snigger and retort that, in terms of cars, there are only seven Suzuki models in total, that's patently not true. There are at least 40 cars, past and present, produced by what is the 11th biggest global car production company. Headquartered in Shizuoka, Japan, Suzuki actually makes cars in 23 countries and sells them in nearly 200.
To be fair though, 40 really isn't a lot. And yet in 2019 it was the third biggest selling car brand in Japan, just slightly behind Honda, with Toyota in first place. Yep that means that Suzuki outsells Nissan, Mazda and Mitsubishi in its home market. Suzuki's philosophy seems to be 'do more with less'. The few cars they make, they sell stack-loads of. And yet Suzuki’s profile stays under the radar apart from occasional break-out hits, like the current Jimny and some of the others we feature below in our top 7 Suzuki samurai.
7. 1980s Suzuki Carry
This tiny eight-seater mini bus/van/pickup truck is something of a legendary workhorse. By 1979 it had reached its seventh generation, which ran till 1985, and it’s currently on its 11th iteration. It’s served as family vehicle (a few families have surely been started in it too!) as well as hotel transport, load-lugger, taxi and ambulance in several third-world countries. One of the original MPVs, this particularly generation was so popular and highly regarded, it’s still being built and sold today, virtually unchanged, as the Suzuki Bolan in Pakistan and badged as a Maruti Omni in India. It was still being built in Indonesia till 2009 and in Taiwan as the Ford Pronto till 2007.
6. 1988 Suzuki Vitara
The latest Vitara is hugely underrated and a highly competent, technically the best of the breed so far without doubt. But this hat tip has to go to the original Vitara as being one of the progenitors of the entire compact SUV genre that so dominates car sales today. It remains the best looking of the Vitaras with flared wheelarches well suited to its rugged and handsome squared-off features. Very capable off-road, it was a genuine all-rounder. It was also built by GM with Chevy, GMC, Pontiac and Geo badges and sold as a Mazda Proceed Levante – take that Maserati! And… er… Kia. Solid and durable, you’ll still see these running around farms and deserts around the world even today.
5. Suzuki Alto (all generations)
Small, cheap and simple, sold under various badges and guises throughout eight generations (Mehran to FX and Maruti to Mazda), this has truly been a hero to the masses – particularly in the third world where it has meant mobility and transport for millions. There have also been fun performance variants like the Alto Works models of the 1990s and Turbo RS for the current generation.
4. 1981 Suzuki SJ/Jimny (second generation)
Before there was the current Jimny that we all rave about, there was the original Jimny, which was tiny but no less significant. It actually all started with the 1970 edition powered by a 25hp two-cylinder engine. But it's the second gen 1981-98 version that is most recognised as that 'little Japanese Jeep', and also for the ultra-cool name 'Samurai'. That was when the SJ413 version first went on sale in the US for just over $6,000 with a 63hp four-cylinder motor. The SJ spawned countless versions, was still in production till the mid-2000s in Thailand and Indonesia, and they make them even today in India badged as the Maruti Gypsy. For a while it held the record for the highest altitude achieved by a car: 6,688m (21,942ft) up Ojos del Salado in Chile. Ain't no mountain high enough...
3. Suzuki Cappuccino
Better than any cup of coffee for waking you up in the morning, the tiny tearaway was a Kei car roadster fitting within the strict size limits for the smallest class of Japanese car and featuring only a 660cc three-cylinder engine, but turbocharged to produced 63hp at 6,500rpm. Front engined and rear-wheel drive, you were sure to have a hoot on the way to the office. And when you got there, you could just pick it up and put it in your pocket.
2. 1988 Suzuki Swift GTI
In the '80s every manufacturer was putting out 'GTI' versions, so Suzuki in 1986 tarted up its first generation Swift with a 95hp 1.3-litre engine – one of the first Suzukis to get electronic fuel injection. It had upgraded suspension, brakes, a bodykit and of course front fog lights. But Suzuki really got serious with the second-gen 1988 GTI. A better-breathing and reworked performance-tuned engine gave 100hp, it featured larger sway bars and got all-wheel disc brakes, plus for Japan all-wheel drive was also offered. Super sleek in white with blacked out windows and white wheel covers, it was a riot.
1. 2018 Suzuki Jimny
A bona fide sell-out success, the latest toddler-off-roader Jimny wins hearts at first glance with its too-cool for cute styling. Its looks define simplistic boxy appeal (where once Volvo used to) and it earns its stripes with rugged all-terrain ability and charming city drivability. It's not the greatest car for motorway jaunts, B-road shenanigans, or attempting to carry any passengers or luggage, but who cares? Plus you can buy a body kit to make it look like a mini G-Wagen, and that's just adorable.
Bonus extra - Suzuki Liana
Okay, how could we, of all people, miss out the Liana which featured in the original Star in a Reasonably-Price Car on Top Gear in the early 2000s? In three years it did over 1600 laps of the Top Gear test track with some very famous bottoms secured in its specially installed racing seats (along with a roll cage). It's something of a star itself.