Well, one thing is certain, he won't be getting too many speeding tickets in it, and it will teach him to appreciate HP later in life. [img]/wwwthreads_images/icons/smile.gif[/img]
The 1.3 can take a beating, and the tranny is pretty stout, so he can grind and mis-shift all he wants I think (within reason) until he learns how to drive it. As far as working on it, there is really no simpler emgine to work on. And with the many Samurai gurus that frequent (interpret: have no life and exist solely to post on this forum), there is no shortage of experienced mechanical advice.
As far as roll overs, well... I wouldn't put too much stock in the old Consumer Reports roll over studies (sic) done in the 80's. Suzuki is about to own them for their bogus reporting and rigged roll over tests. My rig has been lifted and one of the first "mods" I did was to remove the anti-sway bar, and as a daily driver I never came close to rolling it, not at all. Not to say it won't tip. The center of gravity on a Samurai is not as high as one would think. With slightly larger than stock tires, the center of gravity is lower than that of most "SUV's on the road today.
The largest area of concern as far as safety with the
Samurai as I understand from my experience is it's lack of cab, or passenger area protection from side impacts. Front or rear impacts are not of much concern (relatively speaking ofcourse), as I have seen a Sammy take a hit from the rear by a vehicle moving at 35+ mph while the Sam was sitting at a stop light. The frame on the Sam is made in such a way that it arches slightly from such an impact, while distributing the momentum from the impact forward. It's light weight tends to allow it to roll or be pushed rather than offer resistance to such an impact. This as opposed to simply crumpling like an accordion.
All in all, I'm happy with the Samurai, I've bought 6 in 7 years now, and will own another when I'm done building this one up again. My own daughter is learning to drive in it, although she is only 7 yrs old right now, and facing a different obstacle than your 15 year old son. There are other variables I would consider as far as the vehicles saftey concerns, things like the environment he will be driving in. But in general, I feel safe in mine, and happy.
My two cents, hope it helps.
Neal the Zukiguy