The Car Connection Suzuki Sidekick Overview
The Suzuki Sidekick was a small sport-utility vehicle sold in the U.S. and Canada from 1989 through 1998, positioned one segment larger than the Suzuki Samurai open-top mini-SUV (which stayed on sale through 1994). The Sidekick was replaced in 1999 by the new Suzuki Vitara--effectively a second-generation Sidekick with a new name. The Sidekick was also sold as the Geo Tracker in the U.S. from 1999 through 1997, and the Chevrolet Tracker in 1998. In Canada, it could be bought as a Chevrolet Tracker or GMC Tracker, and even as a Pontiac Sunrunner.
The Sidekick launched in May 1988 in two-door hardtop or two-door convertible body styles. While those first models would be considered small today, they were nevertheless built on a small truck platform, with a body mounted on a separate frame that carried the mechanical parts. This made them sturdy, but heavy, and gave them a rougher ride and less refined on-road handling than later car-based crossover utility vehicles.
The base Sidekick JA model for 1989 featured a 64-horsepower, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine, while the more upscale JX and JLX trim levels used an 80-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder. A five-speed manual gearbox was standard on the JA and FX soft-top versions, while a three-speed automatic was fitted to the JX and JLX hardtops. Base models had rear-wheel drive, while four-wheel drive was offered with the more powerful engine.
In 1991, Suzuki added a four-door Sidekick hardtop on a longer wheelbase, along with rear anti-lock brakes. In 1992, the soft-top body style departed, and the 80-hp engine became standard to replace the former 1.3-liter four. The more powerful engine became a 1.6-liter four with a 16-valve head, to increase its power to 95 hp, which was fitted with a more modern four-speed automatic transmission. For 1993, both the exterior and interior received a mild mid-cycle update, including changes to the grille texture and revised trim.
A new Sidekick Sport model was added for 1996, featuring a more powerful 120-hp 1.8-liter engine. It was fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, two-tone exterior paint, and dual airbags. When the Sidekick was replaced by the Vitara in 1989, the more upscale Sidekick Sport model was replaced with the larger Grand Vitara.
Although Suzuki was widely known as a Japanese brand, the majority of Sidekicks sold in North America were actually built at a plant in Ontario, Canada, shared by Suzuki and General Motors. The four-door Sidekick effectively pioneered what became the small crossover market, soon to fill with utility vehicles on car platforms, including the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. With their car-like ride and handling, not to mention better fuel economy, they soon overtook Suzuki's truck-based Sidekick and later Vitara.