Don't let its cute Kei car looks fool you.
Suzuki has been out of the North American market since 2012 but its spirit there lives on among those who owned one. Nameplates like Vitara and Samurai immediately come to mind. The Japanese automaker didn’t just build some highly capable SUVs, but also a wide variety of body styles, including the Cappuccino roadster. Now, we can feel your hesitation to like any car named after a type of coffee, but the Cappuccino was an impressive little thing. Really.
Built from 1991 until 1998, the Cappuccino was classified as a Kei car, meaning it was small and lightweight in order to qualify for lower tax and insurance rates in its home market of Japan. It was also sold in the UK and parts of Europe, but never North America.
Weighing a total of 1,600 pounds, it’s powered by a turbocharged and intercooled inline-three cylinder with 63 hp. Believe it or not, that was the maximum power output legally allowed for Kei cars. Power was sent to the rear wheels through either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual. In short: a lightweight, front-engined, RWD roadster with a manual. Our type of fun.
Oh, and Suzuki claimed front-rear weight distribution was a perfect 50:50. To help shave weight, its hood, roof, roll bar, and lower front guard panels are made of aluminum. The removable roof panels, which are stowed in the trunk, enable buyers to have a coupe, T-top, targa or a full-on convertible (with the rear window and roll bar tucked away behind the seats) if they so choose. The only downside to storing the roof panels in the trunk was the elimination of space for anything else.
As an overall package, the Cappuccino worked as a sports car for an automaker not normally accustomed to building sports cars. Competitors? Well, the Mazda MX-5 Miata wasn’t one of them. The likes of the Honda Beat and Autozam AZ-1 were its direct Kei car competition. In 1995, Suzuki updated the Cappuccino in order to enable it to meet new European emission standards. An already feather-light little sports that needed emissions improvement? Indeed.
Suzuki lightened the engine with chain-driven camshafts, lighter wheels, and an optional three-speed slushbox with power steering. While that may have helped solve the emissions part, sales of the Cappuccino were never outstanding, especially outside of Japan. By 1998, Suzuki decided to discontinue the Cappuccino without a direct successor, and that was that.
Fortunately, because the 25-year import ban is now over, some used Suzuki Cappuccinos are making their way to the US, such as this 1992 example we found for sale on Craigslist. The seller is located in Los Angeles and is asking $6,000. With a total of 62,000 miles on its clock, this light metallic brown Cappuccino (fitting color, by the way) is equipped with the manual gearbox and appears to be in generally good condition. It is, of course, right-hand drive and comes with an export certificate, Japanese title, and all other relevant paperwork.
It’s still not registered in California, so that’s something its new owner will have to handle. The Suzuki Cappuccino may not be the fastest little sports car out there or the best handling, but it’s certainly unique and fun to drive.