- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2004

Encroached on from below by aggressive Korean brands such as Hyundai and Kia, while attempting to break through into territory staked out by more established Japanese brands such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan, Suzuki has a tough road to hoe.

Best known for its collection of sport-cutes and midsize SUVs, Suzuki is only beginning to be taken seriously as a purveyor of passenger cars. Even at that, it still seems content to slug it out in the low end of the small and midsize segments.

Its latest entry in the compact arena is the four-door Forenza. Launched as a 2004, its appeal is the result of the high-content/low-price strategy abandoned by its Japanese rivals years ago.

Sedan shoppers on a budget should appreciate the $12,499 sticker price of the base S trim level. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, disc brakes at each wheel, power windows/door locks and an eight-speaker audio system with CD player. The intermediate LX trim level, at $14,399, ups the amenities to include remote keyless entry, sunroof, cruise control and 15-inch alloy wheels. Topping off the trim level choices is the EX, at $15,999, which adds a four-speed automatic transmission and leather seating.

Suzuki provided a Forenza LX for this evaluation. That was fine because the five-speed manual transmission found in the S and LX probably provides more stimulating performance than the four-speed automatic in the EX. All three trim levels use the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It develops 126 horsepower and 131 foot-pounds of peak torque.

This is reasonable for Forenza’s class. You’d have to spend an additional $2,500 for similar horsepower in a Honda Civic, $1,000 more for the Toyota Corolla. Nissan’s base Sentra is roughly the same price and also has 126 horsepower, but falls far short of the base Forenza’s list of standard equipment.

For a small four-banger, the Forenza’s acceleration is at least adequate if not exhilarating. It loves to rev and keeping the needle in the business section of the rpm band is possible with the manual transmission. Fuel economy is decent. The Environmental Protection Agency has rated the Forenza at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway. Others in its class do better.

Despite its short wheelbase, the Forenza delivers a civilized ride. The suspension soaks up most of the pavement’s impurities. Steering is light and quick. Four-wheel disc brakes bring this sedan to a stop. ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution is available on all three trim levels but will add another $500 or so to the bottom line.

Surprisingly roomy inside, Forenza provides an unexpected amount of rear legroom in addition to its ample proportions up front.

With 12.4 cubic feet of trunk space, it measures up fairly well to the average cargo numbers in its segment. Its 60/40 split rear seat can also be folded down to expand the hauling capacity. The rear door openings are a tad narrow, but no more so than those of most of its competitors.

The materials used in the interior won’t encourage its being mistaken for a luxury sedan, but it looks nice enough and everything in the test car was screwed together with precision. A few upscale touches do enhance the cabin’s appearance. The front seat backs have map pockets and rear seat passengers get a fold-down center armrest with dual integrated cup holders. All of the gauges and switches are easy to find and decipher. The combination of tilt steering wheel and driver’s seat height adjustment aids the driver in finding the ideal driving position.

Other standard feature included in the LX’s base price and not already mentioned include leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, fog lamps, remote power trunk release, tilt/slide sunroof and dual power/heated outboard mirrors.

Choices abound in the compact sedan segment, but the Forenza offers solid value and a 100,000-mile/seven-year powertrain warranty. It seats four comfortably and offers a list of standard features that cost thousands more in competitive sedans. Not a bad alternative — especially for someone on a budget.

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