Jewel of the junkyard: 2000 Suzuki Esteem Wagon

Jewel of the junkyard: 2000 Suzuki Esteem Wagon

GM began selling the Suzuki Cultus to Americans with Chevrolet Sprint badging in the 1985 model year, with the next generation Cultus becoming the Geo (and, later, Chevrolet) Metro. Suzuki started selling the Cultus as the Swift here from 1990, then expanded that car’s platform to create the larger Cultus Crescent five years later. This car first appeared in American Suzuki showrooms as the 1995 Esteem, and a wagon version arrived for 1998. Most Esteem longtops disappeared from our roads long ago, but I was able to find this 2000 model a thousand miles away in a Northern California. car graveyard.

The Esteem was available in the United States until 2002, after which it was replaced by the Aerio. Since station wagons were rapidly falling out of favor with American car buyers at this time, the Aerio was not available as a wagon; Suzuki buyers here who insisted on a small cargo hauler in 2003 had to either upgrade to the larger Forenza wagon or join the SUV craze by getting a Vitara.

This was all in the future when this car was first sold. It’s a base GL 1.8 model with no options that I can find, and its MSRP was $13,399. That’s about $23,959 in 2023 dollars.

The 2000-2002 Esteem wagon was forced to compete for sales with the larger and more powerful Daewoo Nubira wagon, which had a similarly menacing price tag ($14,160 in 2000, or $25,320 after inflation). Hyundai was in the last year of selling a wagon version of the Elantra here in 2000, and it was priced at just $12,499 ($22,350 today). Ford was asking $15,380 for its lowest-priced Focus 2000 wagon ($27,501 now), while Saturn was offering the SW2 wagon for $14,290 ($25,552 in 2023 dollars).

What all of these affordable little wagons had in common was a five-speed manual transmission as standard equipment, and that’s what this car has. A four-speed automatic added $1,000 ($1,788 today) to the cost of a new Esteem 2000.

This car featured a 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder that produced 122 horsepower and 117 lb-ft. Not thrilling by 21st century standards, but enough to keep driving misery at bay in a 2,359-pound wagon.

The owner(s) of this car took good care of it, and it rewarded them with 237,255 miles in its 23 years on the road.

The interior still looks good, which is typical of high mileage cars I find in these places. A car owner who keeps the upholstery in good condition also tends to do all the maintenance on point.

The keys are still in the ignition, suggesting that this car may have been a dealer trade-in that wouldn’t sell at auction due to its high miles, long-gone marque, and drivetrain that most Americans can’t use.

“So far I haven’t had any problems except for the speeding ticket I got yesterday.”

As is almost always the case, JDM’s TV commercials are more fun.

The Cultus Crescent has been sold all over the world. In Venezuela, it was the Chevrolet Esteem.


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