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FIRST DRIVE

Suzuki's Aerio fails to beat competition

The little sedan has a roomy interior and trunk, but there are better choices in its class, even from Suzuki.

March 03, 2004|Steven Cole Smith | Orlando Sentinel

I pulled out the copy of the window sticker supplied with the 2004 Suzuki Aerio test car and was amazed to see the peculiar-looking little sedan listed for more than $16,000. As cheap as $16,000 may be for a new car these days, that seemed dramatically overpriced.

Then I noticed that the delivery service had supplied a window sticker for the premium SX model. The test Aerio was a base S model, listing for $14,299.

Suddenly, instead of being dramatically overpriced, the Aerio seemed just moderately overpriced.

What led me to think that? I recently tested a 2004 Suzuki Forenza, a new model built in South Korea by Daewoo, the company that was bought by General Motors Corp., which also owns a piece of Suzuki Motor Corp. Suzuki sells a Forenza this is equipped like the test Aerio but is bigger, prettier, quicker and more comfortable -- and costs only $13,799. So why would I buy an Aerio sedan? No good reason I can think of.

OK, one reason: The Aerio sedan is tall -- headroom, even in the rear, is excellent -- and the interior isn't cramped. Trunk space, at 14.6 cubic feet, is among the best in its class.

For 2004, the Aerio gets a 2.3-liter, 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine, an upgrade from last year's 2.0-liter, which was rated at 145 horsepower. Still, acceleration is unexceptional, and the four-speed automatic transmission does not communicate particularly well with the engine. Fuel economy -- 25 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway -- is above average, given the engine size.

The S comes standard with air conditioning, power windows and an AM-FM stereo with CD. For cruise control, remote locking or several other niceties, you must upgrade to the mid-level GS model. The GS also gives you larger tires and wheels, which would have been nice -- the test car's P185/65R-14s seemed taxed, even though they were Bridgestone Potenza radials.

Handling is average. Probably because of its height and low weight, crosswinds affect the Aerio on the highway, making it seem smaller than it is. At 171.3 inches, it's about 6 inches longer than a Toyota Echo but 6 inches shorter than the Forenza.

That said, it's a surprisingly accommodating car on trips, so long as the wind is calm and the pavement reasonably smooth. Even so, the Aerio had a disturbing number of squeaks, rattles and buzzes.

The 2004 Suzuki Aerio S sedan is not a bad car by any stretch. But there are better choices, even at this price. And one already is sold by Suzuki.

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