We at MotorPunk generally like cars that are a little bit oddball, take a left-field approach or throw spanners in the face of convention … but the Suzuki X-90 is a weird beast that’s been rather hard to love. This is the motor that Clarkson declared, quite simply, as the ‘Worst car ever.’ A car that was once described by American journalists as ‘neither fish nor fowl’, despite having the face of a bloated carp and pretty foul road manners to boot.

When this two-seater pseudo-SUV landed on European forecourts in October 1995 it certainly got car buffs talking; with all the practicality of a compact sports car, off-roader ride height and the sex appeal of a Sumo in drag, it was, in fact, none of these things. Everything about the X-90 was plain wrong. Sales-wise, the car was a bit of a flop. Only 1,300 were flogged to the Japanese and barely 7,000 were sold in the United States – the key export market Suzuki had hoped to crack.

When the hard-pressed Suzuki marketing team was asked to come up with a snazzy billboard poster campaign to plug the fugly X-90 the resulting advert showed the best snap they could find with the strapline “what are you staring at?” scrawled beneath. Ironically brilliant? Maybe. But nobody wanted to be in on the joke even when they knocked 25% off the RRP. In 1997, in one final desperate attempt to boost sales, Suzuki created the Philippe Cousteau special edition. Unsurprisingly, this limited edition X-90, named after the son of a once-famous French frogman, also failed to cause a run on Suzuki showrooms for the freaky-looking runabout.

suzuki-X-90

Perhaps the most notable thing about the Suzuki X-90 during its short three year production run was that, thanks to its tall three-box design, it found service for a few years with Red Bull as a can-carrying promotional vehicle for its revolting fizzy pop – and therefore, a good match in our books – before the fleets of MINI Coopers, driven by orange-skinned promo girls, took on the task.

However, that wasn’t the end of the road for the X-90 here in Blighty. Many of these unloved second-hand Suzuki have recently found a new lease of life in classic car trials where 2WD road cars are thrashed up steep forgotten byways and forest tracks in this historic grassroots motorsport. You might remember us covering classic trialling when we took our much abused Golf GTI on the Edinburgh Trail a few years ago, or our piece on the plucky trialling Morgans.

Trialling is perhaps the oldest form of off-road motorsport in the world; the basic objective being to get an old-school road car (i.e. one without traction control, LSD, low range boxes, 4WD or knobbly tyres) up steep muddy tracks and farm roads without losing forward momentum and stopping. This is known as ‘cleaning’ a section and it’s much harder than you might think. But because most UK spec’s X-90 were the basic 2WD faux-by-four versions, without any real off-roading credentials, they are actually highly sought after now for classic trials. They have the benefit of low weight (only 1100kg), good ground clearance, a torquey 1.6-litre powerplant and (most importantly) are virtually worthless.

So does this new life as the favourite weapon of today’s classic trialists mean the fish-faced X-90 now deserves a place in MotorPunk’s CarClub 18-30? Well, I’m not really sure. The rules say that it should be ‘Cool, Quick or Quirky’ and ‘built between 18 to 30 years ago’. It’s the right age, it is certainly quirky and it’s pretty quick in the hands of decent trial driver! But cool? I’m afraid on that score it’s a definite, emphatic and categorical ‘NO’ from the entire MotorPunk committee.

Want to see one in action at the Ebworth Classic Trial?

Photo credits to Alden Jewell, Milkmandan from Wikipedia and Bude Motor Club

Dr.Octane

About The Author

Darryl can usually be found up to his elbows in some unloved piece of BL detritus when he isn’t snapping and scribbling for various print magazines or producing the book on road tripping or tally-ho adventurers. As an occasional presenter on CBS's Carfection YouTube channel, his other hobbies include vintage Scalextrics, ‘60s Bang & Olufsen and dabbling in grassroots motorsport.

10 Responses

  1. Eldavo

    My Latin teacher at school had a purple one of these – he was called Mr Bateson. Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.

    Reply
  2. Gaynor Bridges

    i had one of these and totally loved it. I loved going out in the sun taking the glass roof off. The only reason i got rid of it was because my insurance was really high and when i had a baby the health visitor lied to me and told me the baby had to go in the back of a car which was a no brainer because it had no back seat obviously. I was forced into selling it. Life goes on

    Reply
    • Rich Duisberg
      Rich Duisberg

      Babies love odd old cars, that’s a scientifically proven* fact.

      *By us on our own babies.

      Reply
  3. Anthony Pietzak

    I loved my X-90. I miss it! It had t-tops and air for summer and 4wd for winter. Great for Pittsburgh roads, except when all the pot holes showed up, then you really got rocked around. I wished it had better seats. It ran very well! I only sold it because I though parts would start to be hard to get in the future I aiso wish they made a model of it. Little scary on the highway, but I mostly ran it around in the city

    Reply
  4. Captain Don

    It’s 2022 and I am still driving a 1996 X-90. I actually looked hard to find this one about 15 years ago, as I like quirky cars. That being said, the X-90 has proved to be one of the best and most bulletproof cars I have ever owned, It has 200,000+ miles on it with zero issues in all the years I have had it. I change the oil, occasionally the tires but little else is needed ever. I currently own about 8 cars, but the X-90 is my go to car, most days, as it is perfect for buzzing around town. I have done several long trips in it over the years with no issue, but it is not a great highway car, 65mph is about the max speed for comfort and noise. While the various odd little Suzuki’s didn’t catch on in the USA, I see dozens of them around my place in the Bahamas (mostly Samuri’s and Sidekicks), and the owners love them dearly, as they are perfect for surviving the horrid roads there. It is an ideal little car for Florida, matter of fact, I’m taking the T-tops off and heading out right now. Say what you will, the X-90 is a fun,cheap little car that is ultra simple and easy to keep up. I will never get rid of mine, its just too much fun.

    Reply
    • Darryl Sleath

      Each to their own. Good for you. Sounds like you are having a lot of fun with it and that’s what really matters.

      Reply
    • Raymond Paul Hardwick

      my daughter had one, i used to love taking the tops off on a sunny day, colour co ordinated purple/blue wheels too. it used to turn heads,

      Reply
      • rainer drexl

        I bought one some years ago and I modernized it at first with acustic isolation material in the interior and doors. With the new almost white leather-seats it looks great. I would not use it for long trips, but highway trips up to 150 km are good to do and in the warmer part of our year here in Italy without the T-tops there’s great fun.

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