GM began selling Americans the Suzuki Cultus with Chevrolet Sprint badges in the 1985 model year, with the following generation of Cultus becoming the Geo (and, a bit later, Chevrolet) Metro. Suzuki began selling the Cultus as the Swift over here starting in 1990, then enlarged that car’s platform to create the bigger Cultus Crescent five years later. This car first showed up in American Suzuki showrooms as the 1995 Esteem, and a wagon version arrived for 1998. Most of the Esteem longroofs disappeared from our roads long ago, but I was able to find this high-mile 2000 model in a Northern California car graveyard.
The Esteem was available in the United States through 2002, after which it was replaced by the Aerio. Since station wagons were falling out of favor in a hurry with American car shoppers by that point, the Aerio wasn’t available as a wagon; Suzuki buyers here who insisted on a small cargo hauler in 2003 either had to move up to the bigger Forenza wagon or join the SUV craze by getting a Vitara.
All that was in the future when this car was first sold, though. It’s a base-grade 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 against the bigger and more powerful Daewoo Nubira wagon, which had a menacingly similar price tag ($14,160 in 2000, or $25,320 after inflation). Hyundai was in the final year of selling a wagon version of the Elantra here in 2000, and its price was a mere $12,499 ($22,350 today). Ford was asking $15,380 for its cheapest 2000 Focus wagon ($27,501 now), while Saturn offered the SW2 wagon for $14,290 ($25,552 in 2023 bucks).
What all those affordable small wagons had in common was a five-speed manual transmission as base equipment, and that’s what this car has. A four-speed automatic added $1,000 ($1,788 today) to the cost of a new 2000 Esteem.
This car came with a DOHC 1.8-liter four-cylinder rated at 122 horsepower and 117 pound-feet. Not exciting by 21st-century standards, but enough to keep driving misery at bay in a 2,359-pound wagon.
This car’s owner or owners took good care of it, and it rewarded them by driving 237,255 miles during its 23 years on the road.
The interior still looks good, which is typical of high-mile cars I find in these places. A car owner who keeps the upholstery in good shape also tends to perform all the maintenance on the dot.
The keys are still in the ignition, which suggests that this car may have been a dealership trade-in that wouldn’t sell at auction due to its high miles, long-departed marque and transmission that most Americans can’t operate.
“So far I haven’t had any problems, except for the speeding ticket I got yesterday.”
As is nearly always the case, the JDM TV commercials are more fun.
The Cultus Crescent was sold all over the world. In Venezuela, it was the Chevrolet Esteem.