2002 Suzuki Aerio
Click image to enlarge

by Greg Wilson

An all-new model from Suzuki, the 2003 Suzuki Aerio Fastback and Sedan models start at just $15,875, and well-equipped models go for less than $19,000. This week’s test car, a Fastback (wagon) model is noteworthy for its peppy 141 horsepower 2.0 litre engine, fully independent suspension, and roomy, versatile cargo area.

Tall wagon is roomy, affordable

Remember the Honda Civic Wagon and the Dodge Colt Wagon from the early 90’s? They were tall, five-passenger compact wagons that had the advantage of generous headroom and cargo space in addition to thrifty four cylinder engines and nimble handling. They even offered four-wheel-drive.

I for one, lamented the passing of these practical yet affordable roomy wagons. They packed a lot of space into a relatively small package. The recent introduction of the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Mazda Protege5, Toyota Matrix, Ford Focus ZX5, and Pontiac Vibe has helped revive the tall wagon body style, but all these well-equipped models, with the exception of the Matrix, are priced between $19,000 and $30,000.

Now there’s a new small, tall wagon with a more affordable price-tag: the 2002 Suzuki Aerio Fastback. I’m not sure why Suzuki calls it a Fastback as it’s obviously a wagon (or at least a tall hatchback), but I’ll call it a Fastback for the purposes of consistency.

2002 Suzuki Aerio
Click image to enlarge

The Aerio is also available as a four-door sedan which I’ll review separately in a later Test-Drive.

Both Aerio models start at just $15,875 and well-equipped models go for about $18,500. That’s a reasonable price considering the Aerio’s level of standard equipment (see below).

By the way, Suzuki has confirmed that an all-wheel-drive Aerio will be available this Fall – my guess is that the all-wheel-drive system will add another $2000 onto the price-tag.

Two bodystyles, three trim levels

As mentioned, Aerios are available in four-door sedan and four-door wagon (‘Fastback’) body styles in three trim levels: GL, GLX, and SX. Interestingly, both sedan and Fastback are priced identically for each trim level.

2002 Suzuki Aerio sedan
2002 Suzuki Aerio sedan
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Base GL models ($15,875) include a 141 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine (with a block heater) and standard 5 speed manual transmission, AM/FM/CD player, digital instrument panel with tachometer, dual front airbags, power steering and tilt wheel, power windows with automatic-down function for the driver’s window, variable intermittent wipers, split folding rear seatbacks, rear window wiper/washer and defroster, 12 volt power outlet, dual cupholders, and reclining front and rear seatbacks.

GLX models ($18,485) add a standard four-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, power door locks and remote key fob, power mirrors, cruise control, height-adjustable driver’s seat, rear cargo cover, rear seat armrest (with cupholder), and a storage tray under the passenger seat.

Top-of-the-line SX models ($18,985) (this week’s test car) have a standard 5-speed manual transmission, and add an Aero kit which includes side skirts and fender flares, alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, cassette player and 6 speakers, halogen foglamps, heated mirrors, and rear upper spoiler. An automatic transmission is an extra $1,000.

Boxy styling means lots of interior room

2002 Suzuki Aerio
Click image to enlarge

Though shorter and narrower than the Protege, Matrix, PT Cruiser, Focus ZX5, and Vibe, the Aerio Fastback has a very roomy interior thanks to its tall, boxy bodystyle. A lot of that interior room is above your head – even basketball players will find plenty of headroom in the Aerio – but that’s not all bad because it adds a feeling of spaciousness, and adds vertical storage room in the cargo area.

The Aerio’s narrow width however, means that the rear seat is best used for two basketball players rather than three. The rear seat has two height-adjustable head restraints and two outboard three-point seatbelts and a centre lap belt.

The Aerio not only has a tall roof, but large, wide doors that open almost 90 degrees making it easy to get into the front or back. The step-in height is only 355 mm (14 inches). All the seats have a high hip point and it feels like you’re sitting in a kitchen chair rather than on a recliner – a seating position that will be unique to many.

The Aerio’s tall cabin and seating positions provide great outward visibility – note the extra front side windows near the rearview mirrors, the additional third side windows, and the large rear window. Also, the two rear head restraints are positioned so as not to get in the way of rear visibility.

Interior impressions

The quality of the dash materials and the level of fit and finish are a step up from previous Suzukis, and though not class-leading, are adequate for this class of car. A combination of darker and lighter plastics, cloth door inserts, metallic trim around the heater controls and shift lever, and charcoal seats add up to a fairly attractive interior.

My top-of-the-line SX test car had front sport seats with substantial thigh and side bolsters – I found them very grippy in the corners. And the driver’s seat has a manual seat cushion height adjustment.

2002 Suzuki Aerio
Photo: Haney Louka, Click image to enlarge

The Aerio’s digital instrument display is unconventional, but effective. Large orange numerals flash your speed, and a digital tachometer in a semi-circular analogue-style readout gives the engine speed. There are also small bar graph gauges for fuel and coolant. Though I’m not a fan of digital instruments, I found the Aerio’s to be easy to read at all times, even on a sunny day when I had my sunglasses on.

The centre dash area has an AM/FM/CD player at the top – my SX model had a cassette player as well and a total of six speakers, but GL and GLX models just have the CD player and four speakers. The CD player includes a Repeat function, and the radio has a Scan and Tune functions. I didn’t see a CD changer on the option list.

The heater has easy-to-use round dials for fan, temperature, and ventilation, while push-buttons activate auxiliary functions such as air conditioning, recirculation, defroster, and rear wiper/washer. Note that there are two buttons for the rear wiper: one activates the washer and wipes the window a couple of times; the other activates the wiper continuously. I would have preferred an intermittent setting because the rear window gets only light spray.

I noted that at night, the stereo and heater controls are illuminated, but the power window buttons and door lock buttons are not.

The floor console includes a couple of cupholders with removeable inserts to accommodate larger cups — and the cupholders also have slots for mug handles. There is another cupholder at the rear of the centre console for rear passengers, and in the SX model, there are two cupholders in the folding centre rear armrest. Note that there isn’t a front folding centre armrest with storage, but there is a storage bin under the front passenger seat on GLX and SX models.

The Aerio’s other controls are generally well-placed, though the power mirror button is partially hidden behind the left stalk. Curiously, a button for the outside mirror heaters is located separately on the lower left dash.

Generous cargo room

2002 Suzuki Aerio

2002 Suzuki Aerio
Photo: Haney Louka, Click image to enlarge

The cargo area is accessed by lifting a lightweight hatch door which can be unlocked remotely with the keyfob (on GLX and SX models). The rear hatch door extends down into the bumper, creating a low liftover height of just 0.7 metres (26 inches). The trunk opening is about 0.9 metres (3 feet) wide, and about 0.9 metres (3 feet) wide between the rear shock towers. At its widest point, the trunk is 1.3 metres (52 inches) wide.

The standard split folding rear seats double the amount of cargo area available. First, the rear seat cushions flip up, and then the seatbacks fold down after the head restraints have been removed.

The distance from the rear hatch to the back of the rear seats is 0.8 metres (30 inches), and with the rear seats folded down, the cargo floor is 1.4 metres (57 inches) long.

The cargo area is carpeted, but the side walls are a shiny plastic which could get scratched by cargo objects moving around. A privacy cover is standard on GLX and SX models. A bonus is a unique plastic storage tray underneath the cargo floor with four separate compartments and a lift-out ice bucket! As well, there are hidden compartments under the panels behind the rear wheelwells. A temporary spare tire resides under the centre storage tray.

Driving impressions

2002 suzuki Aerio
Click image to enlarge

All Aerios come with a standard 2.0 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine that develops a credible 141 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 135 lb-ft of torque at just 3000 rpm. This is the most powerful standard engine in the subcompact vehicle category.

The engine rumbles while idling, but is otherwise quite smooth. Acceleration is lively and the throttle is quite responsive — in part due to the engine’s maximum torque being developed at a relatively low engine speed (3000 rpm), and in part because of the car is lightweight – it weighs only 1190 kg/2623 lb.

On the highway, the Aerio’s engine emits a subdued buzz, but it’s not ‘noisy’ until it reaches about 4000 rpm. At a steady 100 km/h in top gear, the engine does just 2300 rpm, and at 120 km/h it’s doing only 3000 rpm, and sounds very smooth. The cruise control is easy to operate, but it necessitates taking your right hand off the steering wheel to twist the right stalk (twist down to Set or Coast, twist up to Resume or Accelerate).

Fuel consumption is very good, though not as good as say, a Honda Civic. Equipped with an automatic transmission, the Aerio offers 9.1 l/100 km (31 mpg) in city driving and 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg) on the highway. With a manual transmission, the figures are 8.9 l/100 km (32 mpg) and 6.5 l/100 km (43 mpg). The Aerio uses Regular unleaded gas.

2002 Suzuki Aerio
Click image to enlarge

I found the Aerio easy to drive for extended periods on the freeway – it tracks well, and contrary to the experience of Autos contributor Haney Louka, my Aerio resisted side winds quite well (it must be because Haney lives in Windy-peg). I discerned some tire noise seeping in from the back suspension and a little wind noise from the front mirrors, but it wasn’t intrusive. The ride, while firm, is quite comfortable. Unlike many small cars which use a non-independent beam-type rear axle, the Aerio has a fully independent MacPherson strut rear suspension which complements its independent MacPherson strut front suspension. This type of suspension provides more stable handling on uneven roads, and a better ride.

My SX Fastback had Yokohama Geolander 195/55R-15 inch tires mounted on five-spoke alloy wheels, but GL and GLX models have standard 185/65R-14 inch tire on steel wheels. Brakes are front disc/rear drum, but anti-lock braking is available only on the top-of-the-line SX model.

I liked the Aerio’s optional four-speed automatic transmission – even when you stomp on the accelerator pedal, the transmission doesn’t change with a ‘jerk’ – a common problem with small engines and automatic transmissions. The on/off overdrive button on the shift lever is useful – when approaching a hill, I would activate overdrive to speed up the engine and maintain speed going up the hill. The same thing could be accomplished by pushing down on the accelerator pedal, but the button ensures the transmission will stay in third gear and not drop back into fourth.

With an overall length of just 4230 mm (166.5 in.) and a short 2480 mm (97.6 inch) wheelbase, the Aerio is easy to maneouver in traffic, easy to park, and has a tight turning circle. The Aerio’s power rack and pinion steering is quick and accurate but a little firm at slow speeds. Overall, the Aerio is a very easy car to drive.

Competitor overview

The Aerio doesn’t have many comparable competitors because there are few comparable tall wagons in its price range. Competitors may include the Toyota Matrix ($16,645 – $24,540), Kia Rio RX-V ($14,695 – $15,095), and possibly the Toyota Echo sedan ($14,085 -$16,475). The Aerio has more power than these competitors, a fully independent suspension, and the versatility of a tall bodystyle with folding rear seats and a rear hatchback in a relatively compact vehicle size. The Aerio has a good standard warranty of 3 years/80,000 kilometres, but doesn’t offer the 5 year/100,000 km warranty offered by most imports.


For under $20,000 fully-equipped, the Aerio Fastback is an affordable, practical, fuel-efficient urban runabout that’s easy to drive and offers a surprisingly roomy cargo area.

Technical Data:

2002 Suzuki Aerio ‘Fastback’
Base price $15,785
Price as tested $19,985
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact wagon
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 141 @ 5700 rpm
Torque 135 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Fuel Regular unleaded
Transmission 5 speed manual (4 speed automatic)
Tires P195/55R-15
Curb weight 1190 kg (2623 lb.)
Wheelbase 2480 mm (97.6 in.)
Length 4230 mm (166.5 in.)
Width 1690 mm (66.5 in.)
Height 1550 mm (61.0 in.)
Cargo area 364 litres (12.9 cu. ft.) behind rear seat
Fuel consumption City: 9.1 l/100 km (31 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/80,000 km

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