- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2005

A decade ago the station wagon was being eulogized in the automotive press. Only a handful of manufacturers continued to offer wagons. First minivans and then SUVs had gobbled up the wagon market share in prodigious bites. The wagon seemed at best redundant and at worst antiquated; however, if the past few decades have proven anything, it’s the automobile business is cyclical.

Certain vehicle types fall out of favor for a while and then storm back onto the scene. The convertible for example had all but disappeared from American showrooms with the last gasp of the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado soft top. Chrysler, however, coaxed the convertible back to life with a drop-top version of its 1982 LeBaron. Today nearly every manufacturer has an open-air vehicle of some sort. The station wagon is enjoying a similar revival.

As buyers move to shed the family-ride image of minivans and the lackluster fuel economy of SUVs, the wagon is re-establishing itself as a viable alternative for those requiring additional cargo or people-hauling space. More and more manufacturers are offering their interpretation of the wagon.

For 2005, Suzuki has rolled out its take on the genre in the form of the Forenza Wagon. A wagon for the budget-minded, Forenza competes in the $15,000-to-$19,000 price range. It is offered in three trim levels: S, LX and EX (provided for this evaluation). There is very little noteworthy about this subcompact wagon. That is unless you think a base model standard equipment list including four-wheel disc brakes, power windows and door locks, height-adjustable driver’s seat, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel with redundant audio controls, and an eight-speaker audio system with CD changer is a lot of bang for the buck. Toss in standard front seat-mounted side air bags and one of the best warranties in the business, all for under 15 large, and the Forenza Wagon seems quite remarkable after all.

Suzuki not only wanted to deliver a value message with the Forenza, it also wanted to make a fashion statement. That’s why it tapped Italian design studio Pininfarina to shape the exterior lines. Likewise the interior exudes somewhat more pizzazz than is typical of the segment. Although most cabin surfaces are plastic, the combination of colors and surfaces gives the interior a higher-end feel.



Regardless of trim level, only one engine is available to power the Forenza. It is a 126-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four that also produces 131 foot-pounds of peak torque. Granted, this sounds a tad on the light side; though in comparison with key competitors such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Jetta, this four is a little stronger than their 2.0-liter base engines. Both the Focus and Jetta have much more powerful engines available as options, but these models cost significantly more than the base Forenza.

Under typical driving conditions, the Forenza has more than enough thrust to maintain its place in traffic. When equipped with the four-speed transmission (standard in the EX and an $800 option on the S and LX), acceleration is a bit more sluggish, but still acceptable. It strains somewhat when accelerating into expressway traffic, but otherwise performs without complaint.

Fuel economy is better than most other vehicles, but hardly exceptional within its segment. The EPA rates the Forenza Wagon with automatic transmission at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway.

Despite its relatively short wheelbase, the Forenza provides a fairly smooth ride. It remains composed over most surfaces. Thanks to its speed-sensitive power-assisted steering, it feels quite nimble when darting around city traffic. A four-wheel antilock system is optional on all trim levels and will set the buyer back $500.

In the battle of the tape measure, Forenza’s interior is competitive with its segment rivals, often bettering them. It has more head and front/rear seat legroom than Jetta. Focus matches its front and rear headroom and splits the difference in legroom with an inch less up front and an inch more in the rear than Forenza. At 61.4 cubic feet, Forenza’s cargo space is roughly 10 cubic feet less than the Focus, but 10 cubic feet more than Jetta.

In addition to being roomy for its class, the Forenza offers plenty of other creature comforts. The seats are supportive and decently cushioned. Both front buckets have height and lumbar adjustments.

Operating the audio and air-conditioning systems is intuitive. The controls are simple to use and conveniently placed. The air conditioner is equipped with a micron air-filtration system.

Nine storage compartments and cubbies help control clutter. There is no mistaking this for the interior of a luxury sedan, but for the price, it is nicely executed.

To the standard features found on all Forenza Wagons, the LX trim adds a power sunroof, alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. In addition to adding the automatic transmission, moving up to the EX also adds leather seating surfaces.

With delivery charges included, the S base price is $14,494, with the LX coming in at $16,394, and the EX at $17,994.

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