Not Lame Not-Yet-Classic: Find Peace with the Suzuki X-90

Lamest Classics isn’t a positive series. It’s snarky, it’s crude, and it can be kind of mean. Which is to say that I am also all those things sometimes. But only sometimes.

The country and the world are in a bad place right now. It isn’t the best time for that kind of negativity. Rather than beat up on a vehicle that could be something somebody truly loves, today I’m setting the schadenfreude aside and looking at one of my favorite not-lame classics. A vehicle I actually considered for this series before I slapped myself and said, “You idiot. These are awesome.”

Well, and they’re not quite classics either, in the eyes of the law. The Suzuki X-90 wasn’t available in the United States until 1996, but it started selling in Japan in ‘95. So you could legally import a right-hand-drive model per the federal 25-year import rule, but you can’t yet slap classic plates on one sold in the U.S.

A Sidekick’s Sidekick

This weird little 2-seater, like most weird-looking cars, wasn’t completely unique. It shares most of its mechanical components with the Suzuki Sidekick. Which means, like its 4×4 Suzuki friends, the X-90 could certainly be capable off-road.

The extremely short wheelbase of the X-90 could be a disadvantage though. The wheelbase on these is 3 inches shorter than a Mazda Miata of that era, and the little ute’s overall length was 10 inches shorter. It was tall but tiny.

But it did have independent front suspension, a live axle in the back, and could be had with a stickshift or automatic transmission. Not all is lost if you can only find a 2WD model, though: Those were only available with stickshifts, which means you’re all set for making a drift car.

Barely Related to Tajima’s Monster

It wasn’t exactly speedy though. You’ll want a bit more power before you can get it properly drifting (and, you know, lower the suspension, because they’re a little tippy).

No, the original 1.6-liter Suzuki engine made just 95 horsepower. That’s about a tenth of the Escudo Pikes Peak car that I came to love in Gran Turismo, not realizing until decades later that Escudo was the Japanese-market name for the Sidekick.

Rare and Somewhat Valuable

There were just over 7,000 of these imported to the U.S. between 1996 and ‘98, though very few were sold in that last year. They weren’t exactly hot commodities — not surprising, for a 2-seater — which means they’re somewhat hard to come by today.

However, these must be fairly durable. For how few there were imported, I’m shocked to find so many for sale. You might remember when I mentioned attrition rates in discussing the lame VW Passat. I had to scour the earth to find just one of those for sale in the entire country.

There were half as many X-90s sold as Passats, and I can easily find nine of them for sale within a few hundred miles of me. A few of them are even past a quarter-million miles.

And they’re not cheap, either, unlike the unremarkable Toyota Tercel.

Suzuki fans are loyal, so they hold their value: Small supply, well-matched demand. Though these cars weren’t huge sellers, there are enough fans of them to keep prices between $3,000 and $6,000.

But they’re legit classics: Unusual, rare, and at least a little desirable. The almost-solo-jazz upholstery is guaranteed to draw people in even faster than VW’s GTI plaid. The only downside is that the law doesn’t consider it a classic yet.

But don’t worry. Don’t fret. The 6-month wait is not a problem, it’s an opportunity. Bide your time. Find the perfect one in that fabulous ‘90s purple or teal. It may sound like I’m being facetious here, but I guarantee you, this is sincere: by the time you’ve got it all squared up, you’ll be able to hit the DMV with your head held high, because you’ll have something truly special.

You’ll have an X-90.


Lamestain Index: Zero. Not lame.

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21 responses to “Not Lame Not-Yet-Classic: Find Peace with the Suzuki X-90”

  1. crank_case Avatar

    Of all the cars to be considered potential lame classics, this is one I might have agreed with – even as a Suzuki fan. It’s unusual, but also a terrible idea. It’s hard to see why I’d want one over a Escudo/Vitara/samurai/sidechick/whateveritwascalledwhereyoulive All the impracticalities of a roadster with all driving dynamics of a 90s off roader when there wasn’t much sport in SUV, but then again, there are people who like lifted Miatas, so it’s sort of that without the hassle, and actual off road ability and the thing is people do love them, which is what it’s all about with old cars.

    It’s dumb but it makes people happy, so it’s great.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      Probably the main reason would be kudos at Radwood, or at least your own private Radwood.

      484 sold in Australia, none currently for sale. Probably most were used as Red Bull promo cars, no doubt they got them cheap as it took a couple of years to sell them all.

      1. crank_case Avatar

        Pretty much, but it’s a sort of “after-the-fact” classic by virtue of weirdness rather than in-period virtues. A niche no-one really bothered go near again, even in this SUV niche-in-a-niche age – except, at a real stretch, the Ariel Nomad. As a design, it’s stil a half baked idea and a less than successful execution. Other manufacturers at the time also had their own takes on combining sports car and off roader. The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution seems the opposite of this – getting the best of both.

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          Agreed. There have been a few concept cars that would qualify, back in the day when concept cars were a thing, remember that?!?

    2. Wayne Moyer Avatar
      Wayne Moyer

      This is exactly what makes it the perfect classic car. It doesn’t need to be a daily anymore. So it doesn’t have to prove itself. Which means a little two seater that makes no sense is what you want to put in a garage and drag out on the weekends and just enjoy.

  2. Batshitbox Avatar

    These exist in a zone so close to the lame/awesome event horizon that on a quantum level they are simultaneously lame and awesome.

    The cat’s out of the bag, as Schrödinger never said, about this example though. This ex-Red Bull advertising car exists in Sand Point on the Shumagin Islands off the coast of Alaska and sports some rally worthy mods. In this case, ‘mods’ include battle scars. Nonetheless, it’s firmly in the Awesome realm of the universe based on the sheer improbability of its observed location.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      It does need the big can on the back though, for extra storage!

    2. Keith P. Avatar
      Keith P.

      Instead of the wing on the back, it needs a giant wind-up key superglued to the decklid to complete the clown car look.

  3. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    As a small Japanese car with a targa top I think this should be accompanied by a Honda Del Sol as a point/counterpoint

    1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
      Wayne Moyer

      The difference is that the Del Sol looks mostly like a Civic where the X-90 doesn’t like anything else. Where the two are alike is how they both fill a niche that doesn’t exist.
      What the X-90 does do is fill a nice that the two door convertible Rav4 from ’95 tried to do. Did you notice that those didn’t continue to the second generation? I remember selling the 2 door RAV’s and they were useless but the customers were buying the fun aspects of them. I can imagine the people who bought the X-90 thought the same thing.
      This is so much a future classic that needs to live in a garage. Just like low mileage Aztec’s. These are the oddities of the time.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        All the X-90 needed was a trunk that turned into a rumble seat, in case you wanted to take more than one friend on a short trip.

        1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
          Wayne Moyer

          A rumble seat would have been awesome.

      2. Maymar Avatar

        The X90 sort of previews the Vitara that would come around the turn of the century. That said, it was probably a hard sell over a softtop Sidekick, which would have drove about the same, had similar youthful cred, and was at least a little practical.

        Doesn’t mean I don’t love that it exists though.

  4. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    The best summation of these truly terrible, awful vehicles was in the UK magazine Autocar in it’s end of year roundup with a series of ten best cars in various categories.

    They put this horrible little vehicle in a class of it’s own, The Suzuki X90 Class.

    Listed like this…

    The Suzuki X90 category










    10th. Suzuki X90

    So. So badly executed as a vehicle, combining all the disadvantages of a cramped two seater with all the disadvantages of a cheap 4WD,( without being cheap).

    Last in it’s own class. Followed by a discussion as to whether it even deserved being that highly placed, and that it should have been placed 11th.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I am responsible for this site’s Subaru Justy project car, so I am unable to back you up here. I clearly have a thing for weird, useless, terrible 4WD orphan cars.

    2. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I am responsible for this site’s Subaru Justy project car, so I am unable to back you up here. I clearly have a thing for weird, useless, terrible 4WD orphan cars.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        The Justy, may have it’s faults, but it’s nowhere as bad as the X90. At least the design aim is clear, and the execution has a certain, almost French quirky charm.

  5. X-90 Avatar

    Tough love for a pretty nice car to bump around the city in. Yes, slow, yes funny looking, but easy to park with a ridiculous turning circle with T-tops and a decent trunk (how 80’s is that?). My wife has the 2WD Auto for around town and loves it, it’s a blast to drive slow but it gets quite crazy on 80 mph highways. She gets nice comments nearly every time she drives it – how rare is that?

  6. Robert Avatar

    I’m in love with my X-90 in San Diego. T-tops, small wheel base for easy parking, and the cab is quite big – you can stow things behind the seats in a pinch. The X-90’s engine is perfect for driving around town – why do people keep giving the 95 hp engine a hard time like they are speed demons. Have fun driving your 2010s sedans while I pull into the parking spot you wish you could fit into at the beach – T-tops off.

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