Suzuki Sidekick – Samurai in Costa Rica aka Geo – Chevrolet Tracker

The original beach buggy for Costa Rica

The Ideal Sport Utility Vehicle ? — We talk about SUVs all the time, but if you sit down and think about the individual terms, the Suzuki Sidekick really comes close to being the ideal SUV — Sport Utility Vehicle.

Sport – Starting with the Samurai, and continuing with the original Sidekicks, the Suzuki 4 x 4 is convertible. How much sportier can you get? The colors are also fun and perfect for the tropics.

Utility – Utility means useful. The convertible top allows you to literally fit almost anything in the cargo area if the need arises, no matter how awkward or bulky. In normal day to day use, all of the versions have folding rear seats, allowing for 2 passengers and cargo / gear / groceries. Some versions have split bench seats, which means you can have 3 passengers and some gear — or a cooler! As well, the 4 x 4 capability is excellent, the bare bones construction and short wheel base means that you can get almost anywhere, and you aren’t worrying about damage you might be doing to some fancy electronics or delicate emissions control system.

Vehicle – being something that gets you from place to place. Aside from having 4 wheels and seats, the Suzuki Sidekick, Suzuki Samurai, Geo Tracker and Chevrolet Tracker are all dependable vehicles with good quality parts, that are also available nationwide. They’ll get you around when you first buy one, but you also can depend on being able to keep them going with a minimum of fuss. The Samurai is truly bare bones and you don’t have much that can go wrong there. Think of the classic VW Bug. The Sidekick is a step above and a bit more complex, but still fairly simple in most facets through the mid 1990s versions.

Suzuki Samurai / Sidekick History (aka Geo / Chevrolet Tracker)

The Suzuki Samurai was introduced in 1986 and has lines reminiscent of the WWII Jeep Willys. These were initially very popular in the US, but the rough ride and low powered engine by US standards meant that the attraction faded fairly fast. But for Costa Rica the SUV is a very viable option. And the $3000 and $4000 average price range is attractive for those on a shoe string budget.

The 4 door version offers more room and very good 4 x 4 capability

Starting in 1989 Suzuki introduced the Sidekick. It has more modern styling than the Samurai, the convertible flip top over the front seats is a huge improvement, the system for removing the top was also improved considerably. The interior was also upgraded, in addition to having a beefier chassis and suspension. The engine is also larger and more powerful, but since the vehicle is heavier there isn’t a lot of difference in performance.

In 1991 the 4 door hardtop version was introduced. Through the 1990s the Suzuki Sidekick is a sold choice in both versions. The car was also produced in Canada and sold in the US as the Geo Tracker. In the late 1990s the 4 door Sidekick Sport was sold, these have a more modern styling and upgrades to the engine and chassis.

Suzuki Samurai / Sidekick Features

Great if your motto is “Life’s a Beach!”

In Costa Rica these vehicles are fantastic on the beach. The convertible top can be removed, or left off even. They get around beautifully on the sand, and surfers will be able to reach nearly any break. In general they are tough, reliable vehicles, with outstanding 4 x 4 capability. The 2 door versions have a short wheel base for getting over most obstacles on most roads. The relatively light weight means that they don’t get bogged down in mud either, and also means that the small engine and low horsepower are still adequate for most situations.

The cars are also good for city driving, being economical to operate and also commonly available in automatic transmission (Sidekick / Tracker), which is nice if you spend a lot of time in traffic. The early Samurai and Sidekick are very bare bones, often without A/C and no electronic gadgetry either. Power steering is standard though! In later years they are available with power windows and mirrors, and also cold A/C. In the mid 1990s Suzuki improved the horsepower while only slightly increasing the engine size. They also introduced some non- 4 x 4 versions, so you may have to be careful about seeing one of those when comparing prices.

Suzuki Samurai / Sidekick — Geo / Chevrolet Tracker Parts and Repairs

This is the Geo Tracker / Suzuki Sidekick 2 door model from the early years. The convertible top has been replaced with a fiberglass roof, normally the top is still removable.

These SUVs are extremely popular in Costa Rica. Parts are readily available nationwide and mechanics know them very well. The Samurai is one of the most basic vehicles on the market, no specialized tools or electronics are present or needed for repairs. The Sidekick / Tracker is more complicated, but no trouble for any reputable mechanic. Parts are not expensive.

Suzuki Samurai / Sidekick — Geo / Chevrolet Tracker Summary

Pros: If you are looking for the absolutely most inexpensive SUV on the market, the Suzuki Samurai is perfect. You will be able to buy a vehicle with as little as $3000, maybe $4000 including all fees and for those in better condition. If you want to spend a little more and need extreme 4 x 4 capability, you can purchase Samurais with after-market equipment like lift kits and winches. The Samurai has the minimum of moving parts, so there isn’t much that will even break down. Just keep the oil and filters fresh and you will probably rarely even visit the mechanic.

Suzuki offers a high quality vehicle, so the more complicated Sidekick and Tracker are not likely to break down often either. Once you do repair something, you will get your money’s worth. In all cases the 4 x 4 is outstanding, with some models even having a limited slip differential. This means that even if one tire is spinning, the others will have traction and you can keep going. Many high end SUVs don’t have this capability. All of the 4 x 4 models have true 4 x 4, not just all wheel drive, so they will get through many heavy duty situations that are commonly found due to the tropical climate and road conditions in Costa Rica.

Cons: The main drawback goes hand-in-hand with the main advantage, simplicity and economy which are virtues, are also disadvantages. No electric windows in many cases, the Samurai does not have power steering. The short wheel base is a big advantage in off road situations, but in city and high way driving the ride tends to be bouncy. This is a big problem with the Samurai, and not as much with the Sidekick / Tracker. The 4 door versions are much better as well, particularly in later year models.

The Suzuki Sidekick aka Geo Tracker interior is basic. The front seats are fairly room and comfortable. The back seats can be, particularly the LSI Sidekick version.

Summary: All in all this is a solid choice. The low end offers great economy and a car that is easy to buy and sell if need be. It will get you around. The higher end 4 door models run from $7000 to $10,000 and offer very good all around utility: seating for 5 adults plus cargo room, they may be fitted for luggage racks if interior space isn’t sufficient. If you are generally single or a couple, you will find these excellent day to day vehicles, that will be economical to operate and maintain.

Published by Russ Martin

Helping expats locate reliable used vehicles since 2006. I have lived in Costa Rica since 1994.

2 thoughts on “Suzuki Sidekick – Samurai in Costa Rica aka Geo – Chevrolet Tracker

    1. These are pretty good choices. The old Troopers (circa 1990) are real classics and a good option for rural areas. The later models are also fairly good, and a good value. The new Isuzu diesel pickups are very popular and a good value also.

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