- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Some cars are a bit like some high school cheerleaders: long on looks but sometimes short on substance. High school teaches us how easy it is to overlook the really solid, dependable, desirable choices in life, and such is the case with the Suzuki Aerio. It's no cheerleader, but it's definitely not a car to be overlooked.

The Aerio is designed to counteract the prevailing sense of sameness that permeates the entry-level car class. It's a scrappy little car that looks for all the world like a shrunken minivan (in what Suzuki calls a "sport crossover" vehicle, named the SX). Added to that is a four-door sport sedan that is available in two trim levels, the base S and more upscale GS. The SX hatchback comes only in the GS-level trim.

At $13,499, the base car gives you air conditioning, six-speaker stereo with CD, power windows and mirrors, split folding rear seats and adjustable head restraints front and rear. There's plenty of trunk room too, with 14.6 cubic feet of space that can swallow far more luggage than the competitors' models. Automatic transmissions cost $1,000 more and anti-lock brakes are $500 on top of that.

It's remarkably easy entering the Aerio because seating is placed about three to four inches higher off the floor than other cars this size. Furthermore, sitting a little higher gives one the feeling of driving a minivan or small sport utility vehicle rather than a car. Visibility outside is incredibly good, enhanced by large side-view mirrors.

Suzuki's designers even gave you a nifty underseat-storage tray. They also made the car safe, with high-strength steel in each of the A, B and C pillars, as well as side-impact beams. Front seat-belt tensioners are included for added safety. Suzuki created the dash components as easy-to-read digital displays, a somewhat risky choice when most buyers tend to prefer analog gauges.

One engine is available, a potent, 16-valve dual-overhead-camshaft, 2-liter, inline four-cylinder that pumps out 141 horsepower and 135 foot-pounds of torque. That's as much or more than all its competitors. Inside that engine is a self-adjusting, two-stage timing chain that requires no periodic replacement, eliminating a $400 to $600 nuisance so many owners of cars in this class have to face every 60,000 miles. Good for you, Suzuki.

On the road the Aerio is nimble, peppy and very stable, even at high speeds. Noise levels are quite low, either outside or from the engine compartment. In manual form the Aerio's transmission shifts smoothly and you always know which gear you're in. The automatic shifts imperceptibly and there's surprisingly little loss of performance compared with the manual version.

Competition is stiff in the Aerio's class, with such big sellers as Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Hyundai, Kia, Saturn and many, many more, and it pays to look at them all before buying. You are likely to be impressed with the Aerio, so don't forget to add it to your list.

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