- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

Suzuki is re-establishing itself as a passenger car company following its success with sport utility vehicles. This movement begins with the new Aerio, a compact passenger car that not only is practical, but is a solid basis for owners who like to customize their vehicles.

Suzuki had, it seemed, put all its eggs into the SUV basket, at least in North America. It was for good reason; they put their efforts into making the Grand Vitara and the XL-7 cornerstones of their product line. These SUVs formed a solid foundation on which to build a firm presence.

The Aerio is available in two models, Aerio and Aerio SX. The Aerio is a four-door sedan and the SX is a five-door configuration that is fashioned like a wagon complete with lift gate. Both models are very Asian in appearance, meaning they have short hoods that slope quickly downward with large triangular-shaped light housings.

In fact, this angled approach is seen in many character lines concluding at the taillights.

When viewed from the rear, especially the SX, you may think the Aerio is very narrow, when in fact it is a bit of an optical illusion. You see, the Aerio is taller than most vehicles in its class. While adding additional headroom, it also allows the engineers to raise the hip point of the seats.

Raising the hip point by fractions can ease entry and exit of the vehicle. This also gives the car a higher roof line making it appear narrow. Getting in and out is also made easier with the tall design allowing larger door openings, a major concern with small cars.

In many cases a body that is tall tends to detract from the handling aspects of a vehicle, not here. Suzuki has taken the abilities of the Aerio quite serious and given the vehicle more than adequate capability.

In stock form, both models handled all the twisting country roads I could throw their way. And to prove that the "Tuners" would be happy, Suzuki gave me a day on the racetrack with a few mildly modified Aerio SXs.

To showcase the fact that it doesn't take a gold mine to finance these modifications, Suzuki kept the cost at about $2,000. By adding a K&N air filter and a free-flowing Suzuki Sport muffler they were able to bump the power up a tad. To give the car exceptionally good handling characteristics, they added stiffer springs and modified shocks, as well as performance Yokahoma tires mounted on large 16-inch ally wheels.

These changes increased stiffness by about 30 percent and lowered the car by an inch compared to the stock Aerio. Make no mistake, the Aerio isn't a race car, but with just a little massaging it was quite evident that this car had a great deal of agility hiding under its skin.

The interior is a compilation of form and function. I know you've heard that term bantered about by manufacturers as much as I have. But here, it is on our terms not theirs.

The dash is an amalgam of arching lines that form stylized triangles all of which give the interior a contemporary look.

The one thing I was not overly excited about was the use of a nontraditional digital speedometer and a sweeping-bar tachometer. I know that many younger buyers are quite comfortable with this layout, but I have also talked with many who agree with me. This certainly should not keep you from considering the Aerio.

In fact, as you weigh the alternatives and look closely at the features offered on this car, the Aerio is clearly an able contender in the compact-car market.

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