It seems like there is a never-ending stream of niche vehicles that find their way to Australia hoping they will catch on, such as this over-engined (a whopping 1000 cc compared to its native 660 cc!), over-sized Kei car. And what better colour for such an odd-ball car than purple?
Suzuki has been responsible for quite a few of these from the X-90 targa SUV to the SX4 AWD hatchback. The Wagon R was one of a wave of tall-hatch or mini-MPV vehicles that proliferated in the 1990s, debuting at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show initially with an asymmetric 4-door layout. For comparison, the 1996 Renault Scenic was the first similar vehicle in Europe. I expect they served the same purpose; more space and a little extra pizzaz than a standard family hatchback.
It was 255 mm/10” taller than the conventional Alto Kei hatch (above). Interestingly the height of 1.7m (67”) is exactly half of the 3.4m (134”) length and not only does this give extra head room, but also more leg room thanks to the higher seating position. On top of this the Wagon R+ (known as the Wagon R Wide in Japan) also had 180 mm (7″) additional width compared to the non-plus Wagon R, pushing width past the Kei-car limit of 1.4 m (55″).
The 1-litre engine had a ‘full’ four cylinders, and made 48 kW (64 hp). With a weight of just 850 kg (1873 lb), performance was really only adequate for use in the city although of course highway driving was not out of the question, provided you make full use of the 5-speed gearbox but perhaps not the 165/65R13 tyres. This could be illustrated by the R+ needing 10.2 seconds to reach 80 km/h, but another 7.2 sec to hit 100 km/h. The pay-off was combined fuel economy of just 5.2 L/100km (45 mpg).
The Wagon R+ was sold for just two years in Australia, as even second-year price cuts if a whopping $3,000 to $10,990, making it the cheapest car on sale at the time, didn’t help and just 602 were sold here. The Wagon R+ was a long way from being able to serve as family transport although 4 adults would fit, so they would have been bought mostly by people wanting a city or inner suburbs runabout.
The Wagon R+ continued into a second generation that was sold in Europe (built in Hungary and also sold as the Opel/Vauxhall Agila) and India (until 2010), but the third-generation of Wagon R, introduced in Japan in 2003, no longer had a wide-body sibling.
When looking for information on the Wagon R+, I came across the story of Graham Hayton who has done extensive touring through outback Queensland, in what www.caradvice.com.au described as distinctly not your typical offroad touring vehicle!
The locals were probably still getting over the shock when the 2012 Shitbox Rally (which raises money for cancer research using $1,000 cars) ran through the area, complete with Daihatsu Move, the Wagon R+’s chief competitor. I think it is likely the Move sold in even smaller numbers than the R+.
Cohort Outtake: Suzuki Wagon R – The Xb’s Little Brother (another, different purple Wagon R+)