All froth and no espresso shot? Not this little mug. It’s full of beans and ready to deliver 660cc of Robusta excitement. All you good folks out in the US of A seem to always be yearning for something really original to show up with at your car meets. Well, if Camaros and Mustangs aren’t your cup of tea, your barista T87 has found the car for you. It’s tiny, sporty and completely unknown in your climes. And despite the colour, it is not “pumpkin-spiced.” Ready to try a new kind of Cappuccino?
Suzuki are more renowned for their sports bike than their sports cars. But back in the ‘90s, they got their act together and made the coolest sports kei of the period (along with the Autozam AZ-1). The Cappuccino was launched in October 1991, not long after the kei regulations had changed to allow engines to grow to 660cc. In the Suzuki, it’s a 657cc 12-valve turbocharged DOHC 3-cyl. that delivers all of 63 hp – the maximum allowed under kei regulations. Oddly enough, the aforementioned Autozam used the very same power source. The engine block was purposefully placed behind the front wheels to improve the car’s balance and weight distribution.
Power is sent to the rear wheels via a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed auto. The body, the wheels and the suspension – double wishbones all around – are aluminium, making the Cappuccino quite the featherweight: only 700 kg. In 1995, the engine block also switched to all-alloy and the 14-inch wheels went from seven to six spokes, taking another 10 kg off the car. Brakes were discs all around (ventilated in the front) and ABS was on the options list. But this is a kei car, so there was a limiter on the engine: the Cappuccino can only reach 140 kph (about 90 mph), but at least you’ll have a ball doing it. First though, you have to get inside and drive it, and that’s where things might get tricky for some of you.
If you’re over 180cm tall and your diet is not based on raw fish and seaweed, you might find it a bit too snug for comfort. As per kei regulations, Suzuki only had 3.3 meters (10’ 8’’) to design the car into and they still decided to push the engine back. For laudable and sporty reasons, sure, but that still ate into the footwells. Then, there is the clever modular hardtop to take into account. The Cappuccino is a coupé / T-top / targa / roadster. The roof can be taken apart (easily, this is not an MG) and stowed (manually, this is not a Mercedes) in the trunk while the rear window slides behind the seats. So they had to give this sucker a rear end, too.
And strangely, this rear end, smooth as it is, seems to lack any sort of identification or script. Looking a bit closer, you do see a very faint “Suzuki” embossed under the rear window, but the white paint that used to be there weathered off ages ago. No mention of the word “Cappuccino” anywhere. Period PR material does show a chromed “Cappuccino” script on the back of the car, but perhaps this was only optional.
Out on the front side, it’s also rather difficult to know what you’re looking at. Some Cappuccinos do have the Suzuki “S” emblem on the hood, but judging from a quick Google image search, they’re not necessarily the majority. Furthermore, no car I’ve seen on the Internets had the rear “Cappuccino” script, either. Another baffling branding decision by a Japanese automaker, optional emblem delete from the dealership or do this car’s badges tend to self-destruct with time?
Only 26,583 Cappuccinos – all of them RHD – were made when production stopped in late 1998. They were expensive and exclusive. In fact, they were meant to be strictly for the domestic market, but a few hundred were exported to the UK and Hong Kong, and a few dozen of the British ones ended up in another handful of Western European destinations, but 90% of them stayed in Japan. And they’re still popular. As a sporty RWD drop-top, this kei car is one of the few of its kind that never really went out of style. It seems the pre-1995 models command a higher price, due to their more reliable engine and their age, which makes them eligible for export to the US. I understand some have already crossed the Pacific. Overall, this is quite an irresistible little thing. It’s a ¾ scale Miata, but with the same amount of fun built into it.
Curbside Capsule: 1991-97 Suzuki Cappuccino – Hot Frothy Little Thing, by William Stopford