2004 Suzuki Aerio AWD SX
Photos: Suzuki. Click image to enlarge

By Jil McIntosh

Versatility’s a great thing.

In my closet I have sneakers for everyday use, and snow boots for winter. I have wellies for rain, and even fancy heels for the three times a year I put on a dress.

Likewise, there are times that I want the economy of a micro-car, times that I have people to carry, and times when I need to move a stack of cargo. The problem is that shoes are relatively cheap and easy to store. It isn’t quite as simple to have three different vehicles on hand for each use.

Both lines include power mirrors and windows, AM/FM/CD with six speakers, rear wiper and floor mats. The price jump to SX adds air conditioning as standard equipment (it’s optional on front-drive S), as well as 6-CD changer, ABS, aluminum wheels, cargo cover, cruise, fog lamps, power door locks with keyless remote, variable wipers and heated mirrors.

The news for 2004 is an engine change: last year’s 145 horsepower 2-litre is replaced by a 2.3-litre, four-cylinder aluminum powerplant that makes 155 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque. It’s a decent improvement in acceleration and performance, and while it’s gruff in an econo-box way, it isn’t unpleasantly so. Still, the 4-speed automatic could be a little better tuned to it, especially in third, where it growls along under lighter throttle.

2004 Suzuki Aerio Fastback AWD SX

2004 Suzuki Aerio Fastback AWD SX

2004 Suzuki Aerio Fastback AWD SX
Click image to enlarge

I would have liked to see 2004’s improvements include an analog dash, to replace the digital dinosaur that lurks there. And a cut-off added to the rear defroster, which stays on until you turn it off, even if you stop and restart the engine. But these might be minor quibbles, compared to the package you receive for a relatively small price tag.

Cargo space is the appeal here – 80 cm long with the rear seats in place, and 145 cm of flat space when they’re flipped forward. Cargo area height is an impressive 86 cm. The floor lifts up to reveal three shallow rectangular cubbies and one deep well; separate covers expose two more storage wells beside them. The liftgate is well-balanced, and requires only a tug to close and latch it.

Rear legroom is average for a car of this size; seating is for five, although three across the back won’t be happy on a cross-country trek. There are fewer cubby spaces up front than on some other cars, but the glove box and the map pockets are big. The cupholders keep drinks out of the way of the controls (all of which are wonderfully simple), but park a coffee and you can’t open the ashtray.

Visibility is great all around, and a tight turning radius makes it handy at the mall parking lot. It handles well, albeit with a fair bit of torque steer. On the highway it’s smooth, with bigger-car stability, although you do feel crosswinds due to its height.

The optional all-wheel-drive isn’t quite as it sounds – it’s exclusively front-wheel until it senses slippage, and then it transfers power to turn the rear wheels. Whether you think it’s worth the extra $1,900, and the slight decrease in fuel economy, depends on how well they plow your roads. In my AWD tester I averaged 10.2 litres/100 km (28 mpg).

In 2002, the Aerio received top marks in a 40 mph frontal offset crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Aerio received a “good” rating and “Best Pick” designation.

I liked last year’s Aerio, and this year’s more powerful version impresses as well. There are wagons with a more luxurious feel to them, but they’ve got more luxurious price tags, too. When it’s time to take your shoe leather comparison-shopping, add this one to the list.

Technical Data: 2004 Suzuki Aerio Fastback AWD SX

Base price (S) $20,495
Base price (SX AWD) $23,395
Freight $995
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $24,490
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 2.3 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 155 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 152 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic transmission
Curb weight 1240 kg (2734 lb.)
Wheelbase 2480 mm (97.6 in.)
Length 4230 mm (166.5 in.)
Width 1720 mm (67.7 in.)
Height 1550 mm (61.0 in.)
Cargo capacity 364 litres (12.9 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 9.4 l/100 km (30 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg)
Fuel type Unleaded regular
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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