Suzuki Samurai: The Underrated Off-Roader

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Many people dismiss this odd-looking box as it rolls down the road. Who would drive such a strange car? Aren’t they dangerous? One thing is certain⁠—opinions about this vehicle vary widely among off-road enthusiasts.

There are numerous misconceptions (and some real issues) with the Suzuki Samurai. But there’s also a lot of underrated benefits to owning this car. Plus, they’re inexpensive compared to similar vehicles and enjoy widespread popularity across Europe and Asia. Here’s why we think the Suzuki Samurai is worth a second look.

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Suzuki Samurai Overview


The Suzuki Samurai is a small offroad vehicle based on the Hope Motor Company ‘HopeStar ON360’ Jeep-style vehicle. The Samurai, originally called the Suzuki ‘Jimny,’ (and still sold offshore under that name), arrived in the United States in 1985.


The Samurai is no race car. From the factory, the Suzuki Samurai came with a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that produced only 63 horsepower. Coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission, the engine proved adequate for the 2,059lb vehicle.


The Suzuki Samurai was short (in length) and narrow, even by 1980s compact car standards. The vehicle had a 79” wheelbase and narrow width of only 60.6 inches. However, the narrow width of the car was disproportional to the weight and 64.6-inch height.

As many automakers would learn (the hard way), width, height, and weight distribution matter quite a bit on an off-road vehicle.

Is the Suzuki Samurai Safe?


Lots of people have strong opinions about the safety of the Suzuki Samurai. Some people say they’re death traps; others say idiot drivers are responsible for the Samurai’s reputation. AutoBuzz calls the Samurai, “famously unsafe.” What gives? Well, the Samurai is known for rolling down the road in an… unconventional sort of way. And it’s not hard to see why.

Unstable at Any Speed

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t ‘popular belief’ that originally doomed the Samurai. A 1988 Consumer Reports review claimed that the vehicle “literally trips over its own feet,” when performing sharp turns at high speeds.

Now it’s rarely ‘safe’ to perform an abrupt maneuver at high speeds regardless of what car you’re driving. Some cars are suited to it, some cars (like almost every 4x4) are not. Nonetheless, the reputation of the Samurai went down the drain with the report.

Suzuki Samurai is an Ideal Off-Roader


What makes a good off-road vehicle? Well, the Russians have one philosophy, and the Americans have another. But regardless, the Samurai has some qualities that make it comparable to the U.S. military Willys Jeep and other highly effective off-roaders. Here are the reasons why the Suzuki Samurai is an ideal off-road rig.


The 2,000-pound Samurai is a lightweight vehicle that tends to glide over silt, sand, and relatively viscous mud. Combine that with light tires, and you’re in business. Plus, you have fuel efficiency on your side.


The short wheelbase makes the Samurai a nimble off-roader with unusual climbing capabilities. A short wheelbase means it won’t high-center as easily as a long pickup truck. Unfortunately, the 1.3-liter engine leaves something to be desired in the power department.


Overall, the Suzuki Samurai is a pretty good little off-road rig. They’re well thought-out and zippy little cars that are a ton of fun to drive (and maybe beat up a little bit. If you’re careful not to roll it, there’s no reason that the Samurai can’t be a ton of fun for flying down a dirt road this summer.