We hate to sound jaded, but American Suzuki’s recent bankruptcy filing and withdrawal from the U.S. market didn’t exactly catch us by surprise. The automaker’s volumes have been plummeting for years – in fact, thus far in 2012, Suzuki sold only 21,000 vehicles in the U.S. across four model lines, and that figure doesn’t include new-old stock left over from the 2010 and 2011 model years.
So, is this a good riddance to a bit player in our segment? Hardly. Although Suzuki’s American lineup offered little to quicken our collective pulse, the company did show a few occasional flashes of genius abroad, showing there were still a few enthusiasts trapped within the corporate walls. Here are a few examples of cars we wish would have found their way stateside — or, at the very least, exemplify the spirit Suzuki’s North American portfolio sorely lacked.
Cappuccino: Mazda wasn’t the only Japanese automaker to play with the classic roadster formula in the early 1990s – Suzuki’s Cappuccino was cut from the same cloth, but sized, powered, and priced to be more affordable to Japanese buyers. Alas, that worked against its chances of ever coming to America – pity, since the little pocket-sized roadster was rather fun to toss about. Production ended in 1997; despite teasing a conceptual successor at auto shows, Suzuki has shied away from the kei roadster segment ever since.
Samurai / Jimny: Yes, we know Suzuki’s little micro-ute was sold in the United States from 1985 through 1994 until a perfect storm of safety standards and rollover claims prompted the automaker to kill it. But some of us – especially the off-road geeks — still wish the honest, humble, rough-and-tumble Samurai soldiered on, gaining coil front springs in the process. Some of us also wish the Samurai’s other variants, including a long-wheelbase pickup and convertible, had been sold here. And a scant few of us even wish today’s Jimny – which still boasts a part-time 4WD system, two-speed transfer case, and a ladder frame – was sold here. And yes; in case you were wondering, some of us are pretty weird.
Lapin: Suzuki wasn’t the first to launch a boxy small car in Japan, but its Lapin – which debuted in 2002 and is also sold as a Mazda Spiano – is still notable. Mechanically, it’s not much different than an Alto kei car, but the platform is wrapped in curved-yet-cubic bodywork that feels sensationally retro; as if it’s a small French car from the 1950s. Think we’re crazy? DAMD’s simple grille swap turns the Lapin into an incredibly convincing Renault 4 doppelganger.
X-Head Concept: The Tokyo Motor Show is an odd place to show a pickup truck, but that’s where Suzuki chose to unwrap its X-Head concept in 2007. Its in-your-face, Unimog Jr. appearance allows it to appear thrice its size, which is actually closer to a Grand Vitara. Despite winning praise from the global automotive press, the X-Head was essentially stillborn. When Suzuki did launch a small pickup in the U.S. years later, it did so with nothing more than a re-badged Nissan Frontier.
GSX-R/4 Concept: As of late, Suzuki has had more luck selling motorcyles in the United States than automobiles. The GSX-R/4 was an interesting attempt at bridging the divide, merging the spirit of a sportbike with the stance of an automobile. As its name suggested, power came from the famed GSX-1300R Hayabusa; its high-revving 1.3-liter I-4 provided the GSX-R/4 with about 175 hp. Doesn’t sound like much, but the bare-bones, two-seat roadster weighed no more than 1500 pounds. Wild? Yes. Production feasible? Not in the least bit, which is why it remained a concept.
Swift Sport: This is perhaps the most painful missed opportunity on this list – not only is it the most likely to have found success in our market, but it was also indefinitely delayed so the automaker could pursue the midsize Kizashi. Not only does the Swift Sport look like the sexy little Concept S shown in 2002, but it also drives like it looks. It’s agile, it’s eager, it’s spritely – and, with American Suzuki’s recent bankruptcy – it’s never coming stateside.