- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

With a newly expanded product lineup of three passenger cars and three SUVs, Suzuki has radically changed direction. Once known only as a supplier of rugged little sport utility vehicles, Suzuki began its penetration of the car market several years ago with the introduction of the competent and affordable Aerio sedan and Aerio SX crossover.

For 2004, Suzuki has entered the midsize sedan category for the first time with the Verona, a family-size vehicle that will challenge more-expensive category leaders such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Verona comes standard with an all-aluminum, double-overhead cam, 24-valve, 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine that makes 155 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque. The front-wheel-drive Verona has a standard electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. And because of its transverse-mounted engine design, the Verona offers a wide stance and plenty of passenger room.

Verona’s attractive body sculpture was created by Italdesign in Turin, Italy. Inside dimensions are very close to those of its big-name rivals. The attractive interior is softened with wood grain accents and equipped with a host of luxury features. Available in three trim levels, prices range from $16,500 to $19,500.

The latest addition to Suzuki’s growing lineup is the Forenza. With a body styled by Pininfarina of Italy, and more room inside than Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, the Forenza offers a serious alternative for compact shoppers. Forenza has standard features that are normally associated with higher-priced cars: CD/cassette, AM/FM audio, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, four-wheel disc brakes, power windows, power door locks, heated mirrors, tilt wheel, and floor mats, to name a few. Many of Forenza’s competitors offer these features only as options, or don’t offer them at all.

Power for Forenza comes from a 2.0-liter, double-overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine. It’s rated at a respectable 126 horsepower and 131 foot-pounds of torque and can be mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Forenza is available in three trim levels, the basic S, midlevel LX, and the upscale EX. Prices range from $12,500 to $16,000 and should get those at Honda and Toyota to sit up and take notice.

The Verona joins the all-new 2004 Forenza premium compact sedan as the first two of nine new value-packed vehicles Suzuki will launch in the next five years as the cornerstone of its plan to triple its 2002 U.S. vehicle sales by 2007. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the Suzuki lineup has been ignored.

For 2004, the Aerio’s engine gains an additional 300 cubic centimeters of displacement and picks up 10 horsepower. The Aerio’s new total: 155 horsepower from a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, giving it more power than any of its direct competitors. And now, Suzuki’s most affordable SUV gets a bigger engine and a new name. The soft-top Vitara Two-door has been dropped and now the vehicle is simply called the “Vitara V6.” It comes solely in LX trim with either rear- or four-wheel drive. With its now-standard V-6, Vitara has 28 more horsepower than last year’s four-cylinder version. Changes on the 2004 Grand Vitara are mostly cosmetic.

For 2004, the XL-7 gets more power and torque and an optional five-speed automatic transmission that optimizes acceleration and helps maximize fuel mileage. Other significant changes to the XL-7 include a restyled exterior with an attractively freshened front end, grille, bumper cover and headlights. In back, the taillights have also been restyled and a color-keyed hard tire cover has been added. On the safety front, there’s an advanced new front-passenger air-bag system. Finally, the keyless remote system features an integrated panic button.

Even with all of the new offerings, perhaps the most compelling reason to take a look at the Suzuki product lineup is its warranty. All 2004 Suzuki models carry a 100,000-mile/seven-year powertrain limited warranty that is fully transferable to succeeding owners without deductibles for covered items. This is in addition to the 36,000-mile/three-year new-vehicle limited warranty. This powertrain warranty covers the engine, transaxle, transmission, front and/or rear drive system and transfer case (when so equipped).

Although others offer longer powertrain warranties that may seem to challenge Suzuki’s, some might not be fully transferable. The Suzuki powertrain limited warranty is designed to boost resale or trade-in value and underscores the corporation’s confidence in its product quality.

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