Though best known for its contributions to the compact sport/utility segment with the Samurai and Sidekick, Suzuki was trying hard to become a contender in the entry-level car market as well. The next offering took a step up from the Swift and drew down on the Honda Civic, Sentra, Dodge/Plymouth Neon, Toyota Corolla and Saturn compacts and subcompacts.
The Suzuki Esteem was first introduced to the North American market in May 1995 as a replacement for the Swift sedan, and as a 1995.5 model (there was no early 1995 model sedan available from Suzuki). It was available only as a 4-door sedan in GL and GLX trim. It had a larger interior volume (97.5 cu. ft.) than any other car in its class except the Sentra, and was outfitted with dual airbags. An antilock braking system was available at extra cost. The Esteem was shorter and lighter than its competition and, except for the nasty Neon, offered a more favorable pound-per-horsepower ratio than the rest_22.3:1. Impetus came from a 1.6-liter sohc 16-valve, multipoint fuel-injected 4-cylinder that produced 98 hp. Drivetrains were limited to the standard 5-speed manual and optional electronic 4-speed automatic.
To compete on equal ground with its playmates, the Esteem was founded on contemporary mechanicals. The independent front and rear coil-spring suspension systems utilized MacPherson and Chapman struts, respectively. Lower control arms and a stabilizer bar located the struts up front. Both models had large ventilated front discs and 9-in.-dia. rear drums, but only the GLX came with ABS. Suzuki's thinking here was to provide the entry-level Esteem with frugal pricing and better options than the other base models currently on the market. To wit: the GL featured standard power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering (19.0:1 ratio), rear-window defogger, fold-down rear seat, remote trunk and fuel-filler door release, twin cup holders and tinted glass. To this fertile base, the upscale GLX added power windows/door locks/remote outside mirrors, split-folding rear seat, cloth upholstery and mud flaps. Further amenities for GLX buyers included cruise control, air conditioning, vanity mirrors and a tachometer.
Only the GL now included daytime running lights, standard air conditioning and body-color bumpers. No further changes were made through 1997.
A new station wagon was introduced for this model year. It went on sale in August 1997.
Late for the 1999 model year in March 1999, the Esteem received a new 1.8-liter engine.
As of April 20, 1995:
- $11,399 (1995.5 Suzuki Esteem GL)
- $12,699 (1995.5 Suzuki Esteem GLX)
As of December 8, 1995:
- $11,599 (1996 Suzuki Esteem GL)
- $12,899 (1996 Suzuki Esteem GLX)
- $13,699 (1996 Suzuki Esteem GLX with anti-lock braking system; optional)
- $390 (1995-1996 Suzuki Esteem)