Wednesday, 29 September 2010 00:00
It’s very small and very cute — and it’s also the cheapest new car you can buy. All the more reason to think hard.
Article from Wheels, October 1985 – by John Wright. (Photos: Peter Bateman)
Is this the Boy to send on a Man’s errand? Probalby not, if hauling any real load happens to be the errand. Even your average Man truck could itself carry several Mighty Boys.
In naming the diminutive ute the Mighty Boy, Suzuki seems to be inviting us to have a bit of a smile, to define it straight away as an amusing, perhaps charming, device — a funmobile. Japanese automotive nomenclature has produced some odd names over the years; Daihatsu had a Fellow once. Can we expect another manufacturer to trump Mighty Boy with something like Little Man? And why are these miniscule machines given the male gender? Is it an inverted form of sexism? Sooner or later I’m going to have to say something serious about the Suzuki Mighty Boy. But not just yet. I’m still musing on the name. Apparently Suzuki wants us to emphasise the Boy part: if you have a look at the vehicle’s badging you’ll see that “Boy” is in much larger letters than “Mighty”. Now try saying it aloud that way: Mighty Boy. Yes, we are clearly not supposed to regard this as a fully fledged car.
Indeed, it isn’t a car at all. But is it a utility?
Strictly speaking, yes, but how much would you carry in it? One tester was almost overcome with mirth when he explained to me that he had bought a folding chair — admittedly on the large side — that wouldn’t fit in the Mighty Boy’s load tray. Here, then, is a little utility of little utility.
And yet it will win lots of fans. Genevieve, WHEELS’ Art Director, reckons it’s cute as a button, delightfully basic. It is, she says, “totally unfiddly” but still has “everything you could possibly need”.
Genevieve sees the Mighty Boy as a fun way of getting around — motoring the very way it should be. “There’s very little there, so it’s easy to get used to it. No complaints except that it has the power of a pencil sharpener”.
Others aren’t necessarily charmed. One friend laughed at the Mighty Boy, rather than with it as Suzuki invites us to. “It’s silly,” she said.
Basically I agree with her. Yes, there is some kind of charm about the Boy’s perky basicness, its defiance of the convention of five–speed gearboxes, lively acceleration, FM radio and a clearly defined reason for existing. At first I enjoyed it; but after disappointingly few clicks, I began to find it tiresome. I’m talking now about the manual version: it was just slow; distances seemed longer than they do in other cars.
Wring it out fairly hard and you will post 30, 60 and 90 in the lower gears, with top being good for winding somewhere past the speedo’s highest numeral, 120. But — would you expect anything else on boastful Boy? — that instrument is optimistic. Maybe a true 120 with much encouragement. Our emotionless watches clocked the half–litre powered Mighty Boy at 22.5 seconds for the standing 400 metres, confirming what instinct and experience suggest, namely that this ultra–cheap 1985 car has the same order of performance as a typical early 60s small sedan, — a Mini 850, say. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, slow!
It must be observed at this point, however, that the motivation for this slowness comes not from a four–cylinder four–stroke donk of around a litre, but from a tiny three–cylinder four–stroke that displaces a redoubtable 543cc. In such a context 22.7kw at 6000RPM can’t be all bad. You have to guess the 6000 since there is no tacho, but the Boy will rev delightedly past that point if you can ignore the noise.
This is a smooth yet punchy engine and probably the most sensible reason for naming the vehicle Mighty Boy. It’s the sort of engine you’d like to be able to sample with a five–speed gearbox, but then you remember that the whole aim of the Boy is to provide no frills (except for the somewhat ritzy–trim) and thus the four–speed box makes dollar sense. How many km/h per 1000RPM in top gear can you expect for $5495? Twenty point zero.
So one Man’s errand on which you’d never want to send a Boy would be an interstate trip, even with a fuel consumption as much as 25km/litre completely possible at steady (albeit low) cruising speeds.
Given the extremely moderate nature of its power output, it’s gratifying to realize that Suzuki went to the trouble of putting disc brakes on the front wheels. Thus the braking is always effective with a good–feeling pedal. With good ol’ leafs at the rear, however, you have to expect offline moments over tricky surfaces. With no load behind you are always conscious of the lightness of the tail of the Boy.
There is even an automatic version for just $400 more. But you sacrifice two desperately–needed ratios. The T–bar might as well be an engine volume control under some conditions — going uphill at 50km/h for instance, with your foot hard down: a downchange increases the noise but not the speed. Drive the Mighty Boy auto flat strop (which really is the the only viable method most of the time) and it will switch itself into top 58km/h. This makes for an astonishing drop in revs. Between 50 and 70 km/h, then, the Boy battles. The test auto probably stood out on the road even more than the black manual that won Genevieve’s heart. I was glad it was bright yellow because that made it easier for drivers of such powerhouses as a Datsun 120Y coupe and an old Beetle to take evasive actions, steaming past up a gradient that wouldn’t have disturbed a fit cyclist. But you must admit: a cyclist cannot carry a heavy male passenger plus about two–thirds of a haybale.
Both Boys were fitted out with the same natty notice–me red–and–black seats with matching door trims. How well the red and black toned in with the yellow could in itself be a matter of disputation. Frankly, I thought the combo was in keeping with the character of the Boy.
That character is always enthusiastic. As well as an intrinsically sporty engine, the rack and pinion steering also provides some pleasure. It is nicely direct with just 3.3 light turns from lock to lock. Handling is strong initial understeer with strong liftoff oversteer — what else would you assume? The ride, incidentally, is better than once has any right to expect in so stubby a vehicle. So stubby indeed is the Mighty Boy that at first I thought it had a magnifying rear vision mirror. You wouldn’t believe how big a Bluebird looked, sitting behind us at the lights. You sure as hell wouldn’t want to cop much of a push up the bum!
If there is even a hint of space efficiency in the Mighty Boy then it is the interior arrangement. Yes, there is sufficient head and legroom for tallish adults, although you’d probably have to leave the Akubra at home or put it in the tray. All–round vision is no problem either because you’re practically in the scenery anyway. What else? Well, the gearbox is foolproof and so is the clutch (there ought to be a heavier word than light to classify its weightlessness). Everything seems to work, although the AM–only radio is probably better ignored.
Perhaps you’ll think I am being harsh on the Mighty Boy, damning it with faint laughter. Certainly my first experience of it was enough to make me wonder if automotive orthodoxy was under threat: I had arrived in a five–cylinder Audi 100, to transfer into a three–cylinder half–a–ute.
But Suzuki’s latest toy has some indisputable merits. It’s the cheapest new four–wheeled mechanized person–carrier on the road — by person–carrier, I’m referring to carlike–conveyances. It uses no fuel to speak of — 18.7 km/l or 52.6 mpg on test — and unleaded fuel at that. You can park it anywhere you can fit anything else that has ever mistakenly been called a car. And people will look (and look and look).
The best reason for taking the Mighty Boy seriously is that it forces us to acknowledge that many of the accoutrements of motoring to which we have become happily accustomed are just that — accoutrements. And it does this in a less offensive way that one of those vinyl–upholstered like–me–or–lump–me commercial vehicles. Perhaps the Mighty Boy’s cheeky demeanour (I knew sooner or later I’d have to use the word cheeky) and assertive interior décor fail to qualify it as stylish; but they certainly set it apart form the yaw and yawn of commonplace motoring. Whether you could live with the Boy, however, is quite another matter. If you’re interested in adoption, spend more than just a few minutes in the Boy’s company before you sign the papers and spend your money.