This article was first published in 2003.
If you're in the market for a car that offers a useable boot and plenty of accommodation - all the 'practical' things to look for in a car - you needn't bother reading any further. If, however, you're searching for a weekend fun machine that can give more enjoyment than any car 'should' for under 15 grand, then look hard and long at the oddity on your screen.
The Suzuki Cappuccino was one of the first vehicles to venture beyond a hatchback design in the Japanese Kei class segment (cars that meet specific size and engine regulations, making them eligible for cheaper road taxes in Japan). Like the Honda Beat, which was introduced around the same time, the Cappuccino can be driven open-top, gets only two doors and sends drive to the rear wheels - the way purists love it.
Certainly, this is one f-u-n to drive little mosquito.
Sliding into the driver's seat can require some gymnastic moves if you're even slightly tall but, once you're in, the Cappy is surprisingly comfortable. Turn the key and the off-beat 3-cylinder fires into life, snick the quick-shift gear selector into first, release the oh-so light clutch and your off for some serious top-down cruisin'.
This isn't the sort of machine to be driven lazily - it doesn't like being caught at very low rpm and off boost - but it is quite throttle responsive and punchy in its mid-to-upper rev range. Keep the engine on-song and the whole package comes together exceptionally well. Off the line, Suzuki's well chosen short gearing masks any potential performance hole and you can stretch the crankshaft to over 7000 rpm before it starts to run out of breathing.
The first '91 - '95 series Cappuccino (the most common) comes stirred by a F6A 657cc, DOHC, 12-valve three-pot with a turbocharger, air-to-air intercooler and, of course, electronic management. Boosted above its 8.3:1 static compression ratio, peak outputs are 47kW (the maximum power allowable in Kei classers) at 6500 rpm and 85Nm at 4000 rpm - pretty good for a 660cc donk.
You can order early Cappuccinos with whatever driveline configuration you want, so long as it's a 5-speed manual driving the rear wheels - there were 3-speed autos available in the latter years (1995 - 1998), but these are very rare.
That rear-drive grip enables the little mug of bubbles to scoot from a standstill to 100 km/h in the high 9-second range. Some examples came with an optional LSD, but these don't appear to be any quicker in any mainstream acceleration increments. Top speed is electronically governed to 140 km/h.
On the road, the Cappuccino feels like a fairly well sorted package. The power assisted rack and pinion steering is direct and offers good feel and, despite weighing just 700 kilograms, it has a surprisingly good overall ride - we didn't get a chance to test its composure over really rough stuff, though. Handling is characterised with some in-built understeer, but - from all accounts - a bit of extra grunt enables the driver to skew the tail out in spectacular power oversteer manoeuvres; it all happens quite progressively given the short 2060mm wheelbase. A double wishbone suspension layout can be found under the front and rear. On the downside, though, there is considerable scuttle shake and steering column wobble with the roof down. We also noticed a tendency to bump steer.
Braking is by way of four wheel discs (ventilated at the front) with optional ABS control. The brakes felt responsive and adequately powerful during our drive.
Standard rims are 14-inch alloys wearing 165/65 tyres.
Inside, the Cappuccino offers standard power windows and mirrors, air conditioning and optional leather seats (as seen here). The seating position is very low, giving you a real go-kart sensation. Other cars that you previously considered small curiously appear massive when they pull alongside... Driver comfort is good (largely thanks to a tilt and reach adjustable steering wheel) - note that no airbag was fitted to out test car, but a driver's 'bag is offered on some examples.
The roof arrangement can be configured to suit any mood. In hardtop mode, there's the full protection of glass panel roofing and a glass rear window (with demister), but when the sun starts to shine its time to rip out two of those top glass panels and go Targa style. The glass roof panels are intended to be put into the boot - the boot, of course, is pretty small so don't expect to fit much else in there at the same time. Finally, if you want completely open-air convertible motoring (as seen here), the rear window can be retracted behind the seats. Certainly, the Suzuki is the ideal machine to enjoy all weather conditions.
Its jellybean styling means the Cappuccino could never be described as macho looking, but it is well proportioned and inoffensive - call it "cute". Not surprisingly, it attracts plenty of attention wherever it's driven - school kids peer down and point from busses and even Joe Average at the helm of his beige Toyota Corona has a double-take at the tiny Suzi. It's a great look-at-me mobile.
The particular 1992 vehicle we drove was provided by Sydney's AutoStyle Performance Cars. With a genuine 64,000 kilometres on the odometer, full ADR-ing and a 3-month/5000km warranty it can be yours for AUD$14,900 - a pretty good price in the current market.
Note that later model Cappuccinos (1995 - 1998) have a 0.1 higher static compression ratio that helps to deliver a healthier 103Nm of torque at 3500 rpm, and kerb weight was snipped to 690kg. Not many of these later model Cappuccinos have been imported to Australia, however.
Unlike some other imports, the Cappuccino lacks any real parts back up in Australia. The body and interior are unique to the model, as is the engine and driveline. This means you should be careful not to have any fender-benders and to take good care of the engine. Parts are available ex-Japan, but these take time to arrive and are generally quite expensive.
Having just told you to take good care of the engine, the Suzuki F6A responds very well to some basic breathing enhancements! The OE press bent exhaust system is crappy enough to cause backpressure at the factory output and a 2 ¼-inch mandrel system makes a huge improvement in flow. The small factory airbox also appears quite restrictive, so a fat cold air induction pipe or a strategically placed pod filter would enhance things in this area. Both of these mods will give a 15 - 20 percent power improvement and make the 8500 rpm limiter much more accessible.
From here, we'd upgrade the tiny Suzuki intercooler and turn up the boost a bit
- with only around 12 psi of boost, you're talking about a machine that will shatter many egos at the traffic lights. Oh, and - just for interest sake - 13-second quarter mile performance has been seen in Japan with larger turbochargers and crazy boost levels.
Now that's one hot Cappuccino!
JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Suzuki Cappuccino Fast Facts...
- Great fun to drive
- Reasonably comfortable once aboard
- Flexible roof arrangement
- Attracts plenty of looks
- Surprising straight-line acceleration - particularly mid-range punch
- Safe RWD handling
- Easy to achieve mild power increases
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