American Suzuki Motor Corp. yesterday presented what it called "important new evidence" that Consumer Reports magazine faked a 1988 rollover test that killed a key product and cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales.

James Fitzpatrick, an attorney for the magazine, which is one of the most respected consumer publications in America, dismissed American Suzuki's charges as "having no basis in fact."

But at a news conference here, George Ball, general counsel for American Suzuki, presented films, documents and the affidavit of a former Consumer Reports auto technician as proof that the magazine went beyond the boundaries of the handling test and deliberately tipped the tiny Suzuki Samurai sport-utility model to get dramatic TV footage of the vehicle approaching rollover.

Ball said American Suzuki obtained the materials last month through its lawsuit alleging that the nonprofit Consumers Union, through its magazine, engaged in fraud and deception in obtaining and publishing the results of its Samurai rollover tests.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1988 investigated the rollover allegations against the Samurai and concluded that the vehicle was as stable and, in some cases, more stable than its rivals. The agency found no cause for recall.

The Samurai was dropped from Suzuki's lineup in 1995.

The suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, was filed last April in U.S. District Court in California. In February the court dismissed Suzuki's concurrent allegations of libel and product disparagement. But it let stand the allegations of fraud and permitted Suzuki, over Consumers Union's objections, to obtain the material presented yesterday.

Ball said Consumers Union's motive for the alleged fraud was to create enough publicity to help Consumer Reports sell magazines.

That assertion also was made in the affidavit by Ronald L. Denison, who from 1979 through 1989 was a part of the Consumers Union group testing automobiles.

"It was common knowledge while I worked at Consumers Union that dramatic test results were good for magazine sales," Denison said in his affidavit. "It was generally understood that the testing we did must be interesting enough to generate publicity to help sell magazines," Denison said.

To that end, said Denison, Irwin Landau, a top executive of Consumers Union, ordered Kevin Sheehan, one of the organization's vehicle testers, "to find someone who could make the Suzuki Samurai roll over."

Landau was then editorial director of Consumers Union. The "someone" he found to bring about the Samurai rollover was one of the organization's test drivers, Richard Small, according to the Denison affidavit.

After numerous tries, "Mr. Small was able to make the Suzuki Samurai tip up," Denison said in his affidavit. American Suzuki alleges that Consumers Union's tests were inconsistent, and that the Samurai was pushed harder than other vehicles tested.

But R. David Pittle, technical director of Consumers Union, said yesterday, "There is absolutely no chance that our tests of the Suzuki Samurai were anything but completely objective, accurate and unbiased."

As for Denison, Pittle said, "Suzuki has now dredged up, nine years after the fact, a disgruntled ex-employee who was discharged for cause and incompetence."

Denison, who was present at the Washington press conference, declined comment yesterday because of the pending litigation.

But Suzuki lawyer Ball offered as evidence supporting the company's allegations film of Consumers Union officials cheering and applauding upon getting the Samurai to tip over after 47 tries.

Ball also provided test driver Small's original notes on the Samurai, in which he said the Samurai "responds well and corrects quickly {in turns}, leans normally, snaps back in line. Confidence high, no real problem."

Small, according to excerpts from the driver logs, gave the Samurai a "5 plus" for handling, one of the best marks awarded to sport-utility vehicles by Consumers Union's testers.

However, Pittle said that in the real world, "at least 147 deaths have been directly linked to Samurai rollover accidents."

Suzuki, which denies the allegations, has reached six out-of-court settlements in those cases and has won outright court victories in three others. CAPTION: A 1988 picture of a Suzuki Samurai toppling during a Consumers Union road test. The group's magazine rated the vehicle "not acceptable."