40 years of Suzuki 4X4 history

With a corporate history spanning over 85 years Suzuki Motor Corporation has achieved international success by maintaining a continuous policy of designing and producing value-packed, quality products to innovatively meet everyday customer needs.

During the last 40 years, design and technological expertise has produced a range of unique and ground breaking 4x4 vehicles that emphasizes this spirit and achieved an enviable reputation and respect throughout the world.

The first Suzuki 4x4 was also the first mass-production 4x4 in Japan's domestic mini-car category. With development starting in 1968, the first Suzuki 4x4 lightweight vehicle became available in 1970 and was marketed with only three seats.

Development of first three-seat
4X4 started in 1968, became
available in 1970

In order to comply with limitations on the class's external dimensions the spare tire had to be fitted behind the front passenger's seat.

It was a simple vehicle with zipped canvas doors and leaf springs to cope with big loads for the light and tiny 4x4 (it weighed just 1,320 pounds and had a wheelbase of 76 inches.) A separate chassis allowed the use of lightweight body panels.

The first LJ was powered by a new but equally small twin cylinder air-cooled two-stroke turning out 25 horsepower from its 360cc.

The LJ10 achieved success in the domestic market but Suzuki knew that other countries, without Japan's mini-car category, would need a bigger engine.

Countries don't come any bigger than Australia, so when the LJ50 was exported there in 1974 it had a 550cc three-cylinder, water-cooled two-stroke unit that gave better power.

The spare wheel moved to the outside, on a hanger at the rear allowing two rear passenger seats, both facing each other. Hard and soft-top versions were available in Australia, where the LJ50 soon gained a reputation as a fun go anywhere vehicle.

  1974 LJ50

The development upmarket for what was originally a utility 4x4 continued with the last LJ model, the LJ80 in 1977. Body changes were minimal, with larger front wheel arches and flared rear wheel arches to offer a more stylish design. The bonnet, still held down with two spring clips like on earlier LJs, was slightly raised to make room for the biggest change — a new engine. This was a four-cylinder, water-cooled 800cc four-stroke unit producing 41 horsepower.

The LJ80 sold well in Australia, where it went on sale in 1978, but that was just the start. When the LJ80 was first exported to the Netherlands in 1978 followed by the rest of Europe it created and firmly established a whole new market sector for fun 4x4 recreational vehicles.

In 1982 Suzuki continued to enjoy a developing level of success in the domestic market, but it was with the export of the SJ410 (nomenclature signifying 4-wheel-drive, 1.0 liter engine) that the company really broke into new markets. It was an all new design for a 4x4 vehicle that offered a new statement in fashionable styling. True to the utility heritage, it still featured leaf-spring suspension although this had been softened with gas dampers at the rear and improved approach and departure angles.

The LJ410                                   Suzuki SJ413                             1986 Samurai                                             
Under the new bodywork, which featured a sloping grille, there was a new interior and a brand new engine, a four-cylinder 1000cc four-stroke delivering 45 horsepower. The separate chassis and small dimensions combined with a bigger engine to make the SJ410 a real giant-killer off-road, and it continued to expand further the leisure 4x4 market created by Suzuki.

In 1984 Suzuki launched an upgraded SJ model, the SJ413, which, as indicated by the model name, featured a lightweight 1.3-litre four cylinder engine that produced 66 bhp. Inside, the comfort levels of the SJ413 were developed in-line with customer requirements and included a five-speed gearbox.

In the later years, Suzuki also launched a separate model for export purposes, the Samurai, which incorporated further upgraded features. With its rugged functionality the Samurai was quickly accepted with its uniqueness all over the world.

The Suzuki 4x4 family expanded in 1988 with the launch of the all-new Vitara, a 3-door model that soon gained its own enthusiastic following. The new Vitara was complemented by a 1.6-litre lightweight alloy engine. It was a true 4x4 with separate steel chassis, five-speed gearbox, part-time four-wheel drive system and integrated two-speed transfer box. However, ride and comfort achieved new levels with the leaf springs of earlier models replaced by coil springs front and rear, standard power steering and an interior that was functional but much more comfortable. The 3-door was just the start of a whole new trend in 4x4 motoring.

 The Suzuki Vitara three-door

In 1991 the Vitara range expanded, literally, with the longer-wheelbase 5-door, 1.6-litre model. Width stayed the same but the wheelbase went up to 98 inches and the overall length similarly increased to 158 inches.

By this time some models started to feature fuel injection to provide power of 80 horsepower and a catalytic converter to reduce emissions. The performance of the 5-door model developed further with the introduction of 16 valves and multi-point fuel injection, giving 95 horsepower. More legroom, more luggage capacity and the option of an automatic version helped reached new customers for the Vitara. 

The Vitara five-door                  The 1995 Vitara, known as the Sidekick in North America

In 1995 the first 2.0 litre V6 engine ever in a 4x4 vehicle brought a new sophistication to the 5-door Vitara. With 134 horsepower produced smoothly, aided by a 2.0-litre engine with 24 valves and four camshafts, this was the most powerful Vitara ever.

To match the engine the bodywork was revised, with stylish, lower splash guards and flared arches accommodating optional wider alloy wheels. Inside the interior was revised with higher specification features such as dual airbags, electric windows and mirrors and central locking.

In 1996 Suzuki introduced a turbo-diesel engine and the following year offered an intercooled version. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit gave superb flexibility for off-road use and comfortable on-road driving, coupled with economical fuel consumption. Intercooling the unit gave 23% more horsepower and 29% more torque. Short wheelbase, long wheelbase, 1.6-litre, 2.0-litre, petrol, diesel, manual, automatic - the Vitara range was complete.

From a technical point of view, from a styling aspect and from a quality perspective — the 1998 Grand Vitara took Suzuki further forward in the lifestyle motoring sector and is a continued emphasis of the company's corporate philosophy of uniqueness and market innovation. With its elegant body styling, rugged full-frame and powerful 2.5-litre V6 and 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engines — the Grand Vitara has been designed to confidently look the part and to widen the scope of the users' active lifestyles.

A 1999 Grand Vitara                                                 2001 Suzuki XL-7

The Grand Vitara XL-7 broke new ground in 2001 by delivering comfortable cruising performance and capable off-road performance together with a cabin roomy enough for seven people. Created as the smallest seven-seater sport utility vehicle in the class, it was based on the five-door Grand Vitara but was more than 12 inches longer in terms of wheelbase and 19 inches longer in terms of overall length. Three rows of seats gave the Grand Vitara XL-7 unprecedented people-carrying performance for a Grand Vitara and contributed to its position as the flagship model in the Grand Vitara series.

Power came from the 2.7-litre V6 H27A engine, which was based on the Grand Vitara’s 2.5-litre V6 H25A engine but had a larger bore.

This next-generation 2005 Grand Vitara inherited the originality of the Vitara series and represented an evolution that greatly boosted recognition of Suzuki sport utility vehicles. An exterior design that included wide treads, flared fenders, and large wheels gave the new Grand Vitara a look of sportiness, dynamism, and stability.

2005 Suzuki Grand Vitara                            2007 Suzuki XL-7

The fresh, new crossover design of the 2006 Suzuki XL7 was a step ahead of conventional styling for sport utility vehicles and clearly distinguished the XL7 from the earlier Grand Vitara XL7. As the only seven-seater premium entry SUV with three rows of seats in North America, the XL7 occupied the market niche that Suzuki had carved out with the Grand Vitara XL7.

A newly developed high-power 3.6-litre V6 engine gave the XL7 the sporty performance that’s a hallmark of all new Suzuki models. Also, a change from a ladder frame to a monocoque body and a change from a part-time four-wheel drive system to an electronically controlled all-wheel drive system realized superior ride comfort and handling stability.