2002 Suzuki Aerio
Click image to enlarge

Words and photos by Haney Louka

Have you heard of the Suzuki Aerio? If not, you’re not alone. I spent three days with the car and not one person I encountered knew what it was. That’s not surprising: the Aerio has had such a minuscule amount of publicity since its introduction that I could almost believe Suzuki was trying to keep it a secret.

That’s too bad, because this little Suzuki has a lot going for it.

While it’s the latest entry in the ever-trendy segment of the market that includes the Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Chrysler PT Cruiser, and Mazda Protege5, it’s not an entirely new concept. Remember the Dodge Colt Vista and Honda Civic Wagons that were sold in the ’80s? Let’s just say that those cars were about 15 years ahead of their time. Except that these newer entries have been designed with styling near the top, rather than at the bottom, of the priority list.

2002 Suzuki Aerio

2002 Suzuki Aerio

2002 Suzuki Aerio
Click image to enlarge

The Aerio is available in both sedan and “Fastback” models, and starts at a penny-pinching $15,785 for the GL model. Standard equipment includes AM/FM/CD player, dual cup holders, digital instrument panel with tachometer, power windows, rear wiper/washer, and a 12-volt power outlet.

Next in the lineup is the GLX for $18,485 which adds a standard four-speed automatic transmission, A/C, cruise control, front map lights, height-adjustable driver’s seat, power locks and mirrors with remote keyless entry, rear cargo cover, and a rear spoiler.

The top-of-the-line SX is $18,985 with a manual transmission and $19,985 with an automatic transmission. My SX test car wore a ground effects package, five-spoke aluminum wheels, 6-speaker stereo, anti-lock brakes, fog lamps, and heated mirrors. With a five-speed manual gearbox, my tester wore a sticker price of $19,475. That’s not too shabby for the top end of the model range.

Interestingly, both sedan and ‘Fastback’ models are priced identically.

Powering all Aerio models is a smooth-running, transversely mounted 2.0 litre four cylinder engine that produces 141 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 135 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. While my tester’s manual gearbox is standard equipment, a four-speed automatic is optional.

Initial driving impressions of the Aerio are favourable. The driving position is somewhere between car- and minivan-height, which means decent visibility without having the feeling of being perched atop, rather than in, the vehicle.

The smooth four-banger does make a bit of a racket when pushed, but it’s nothing outside the realm of acceptability in this price range. The brakes (a disc/drum combination), though spongy, worked well in the slick weather I experienced while behind the wheel, with the ABS system allowing good control in stopping situations. The one thing I did notice, though, was that the Aerio is highly susceptible to cross winds, most likely owing to its combination of tall height and light weight.

The driving environment is unique, to say the least. The dash shape is symmetrical, with the high central point containing the CD/Cassette head unit. To the left of the stereo is the digital instrument panel, which, while small, does manage to display all of the information that drivers are accustomed to seeing, including speedometer, tachometer, coolant temperature, and fuel level.

2002 Suzuki Aerio

2002 Suzuki Aerio
Click image to enlarge

Secondary controls aren’t so conveniently placed, though. Buttons for the cruise control, rear view mirror defoggers, rear wiper, and rear window defogger are scattered between the centre stack and the lower dash to the left of the steering wheel. The turn-signal lever blocks the electric rear-view mirror control, so it took a couple of seconds before I located it.

A concession to price seems to have been made in the dash materials as well (something has to give, right?). Hard black plastic dominates the dash, with the only break being in the form of metallic rings around the rotary ventilation controls.

Headroom and legroom for four are plentiful, but the middle position in the rear seat is best left vacant. Suzuki’s designers likely realized that the Aerio is too small for families of five to consider, as the middle rear seat belt is of the non-retracting, lap-only variety.

The rear cargo area is quite versatile, thanks to split fold-down rear seats and a nifty floor that lifts to reveal numerous storage bins between the main cargo area and the spare tire. I have to say, though, that the hard plastic cargo floors in the Vibe and Matrix are one step ahead of the Aerio in terms of utility.

Overall, the Aerio is a strong contender because of the excellent value it represents in its class. On top of that, fuel mileage is rated at a miserly 9.1 L/100 km (31 miles per Imperial gallon) city and 6.7 L/100 km (42 mpg) highway.

Look for Autos’s complete Test-Drive report of this interesting new entry in the coming weeks.

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