2003 Suzuki Aerio Fastback
2003 Suzuki Aerio Fastback; photo by Laurance Yap. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Suzuki’s first compact car was the Esteem (the Swift was a subcompact), a decent, if largely forgettable car offered as a sedan and station wagon from 1996 through 2002. Perhaps its successor, the Aerio, owes its quirky styling to the company’s effort to distinguish its latest car from its competition in what has long been a crowded and competitive market segment.

With its tall roof and relatively short overall length, the Aerio certainly did look different. It owed its compact classification mostly to its height, as otherwise, it wasn’t much larger than many subcompacts. If its looks were polarizing – we think they were – at least the Aerio had a strong motor going for it. The first Aerios used a 2.0-litre four-cylinder making 145 horsepower. Starting in 2004, that engine was enlarged to 2.3 litres, with horsepower increasing to 155. More Aerios you’ll find on used car lots will be front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive was offered as an option on the wagon in all model years.

2003 Suzuki Aerio
2005 Suzuki Aerio
2003 Suzuki Aerio dashboard (top photo) and 2005 Aerio dash (bottom photo); top photo by Laurance Yap, bottom photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

The rarity is a 2004 GLX sedan with all-wheel drive, the only sedan model to ever get the all-wheel drive system. In 2005, Suzuki replaced the original digital instrument cluster with more traditional round gauges, and stuck a new grille on the car’s nose.

Fuel economy is pretty much average: according to Natural Resources Canada, a front-wheel drive Aerio will use about 9.2 L/100 km in the city and 7 L/100 km on the highway, with transmission choice having a negligible effect on consumption. Choose an all-wheel drive model, though, and you can expect to have to fill up more often; adding that option ups fuel consumption to 10 L/100 km in the city and 7.6 L/100 km on the highway. An all-wheel drive Aerio (with an automatic transmission) that was used in Autos’s 50-Litre Challenge in July 2005 finished dead last in that contest of frugality, using almost 8 litres of fuel for every 100 km travelled on a route that consisted of mostly highway driving. It ran dry after only 636 kilometres, a far cry from the 1,022 clicks that the winner – a Honda Civic – covered.

2005 Suzuki Aerio
2005 Suzuki Aerio
2005 Suzuki Aerio; photos by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

Owing to Suzuki’s relatively low sales volumes, it’s tough to gauge reliability with much accuracy. Taking a look at online discussion forums dealing with the Aerio, it seems there are a couple of problem spots. One appears to be the engine – a couple of posters mentioning engine failures caused by bad connecting rod bearings – and Consumer Reports’ data on the Aerio seems to bear this out.

Reading this thread at Suzuki-Forum.com, it seems that Aerios tend to wear out tires at an alarming rate. All-wheel drive versions look like the main culprits, but aren’t alone in this issue.

Consumer Reports also notes unspecified complaints related to the quality of paint and body hardware used on Aerios.

Crash safety isn’t a particularly strong point in the Aerio. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, the Aerio scored four and three stars respectively for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts, and the sedan earned five and four stars, respectively, for front and rear seat occupant protection in side impacts.

The Aerio earned a “good” rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) frontal offset crash test, but came away with a “poor” rating in that organization’s side impact tests. The side impact test was conducted on a car with the side airbags that became a standard feature on 2006 Aerios. The IIHS cited a high likelihood of skull fracture, brain injuries and fractured pelvis, as well as other lesser injuries as the reason for the poor rating.

2002 Suzuki Aerio
2002 Suzuki Aerio; photo by Haney Louka. Click image to enlarge

Price-wise, any used Aerio should come in under $20,000, according to Canadian Red Book, which values a 2006 Aerio fastback with all-wheel drive at $19,225. While the Aerio apparently first became available as a 2002 model, Canadian Red Book lists none older than 2003, the cheapest of which is a GL sedan, which carries a value of $8,500 today.

If pressed, we’d choose a 2004 S fastback model with all-wheel drive; it’s worth $12,275 and represents a decent value in our eyes. Used prices seem to reflect Red Book values, so it shouldn’t be hard to find an Aerio for a fair price.

But if the choice was left to us, we’d look elsewhere for a compact used car. We never hesitate to recommend the outgoing version of the Hyundai Elantra, which is a reliable little car available at low prices. The Mazda Protege is a good choice, too, and offers a bit of a sporty character, even if its values are a little higher.

Online resources

  • AerioStyle.com – Here’s a surprise: a Suzuki forum that’s actually busy. The sections you might want to check out first are the “Aerio FAQs,” “General Discussion” and “Tech/How-To” areas.

  • Otherwise, we found just two other places to go to on the web to discuss Aerios. The first is Suzuki-Forums.com, and it’s the most comprehensive as per the Aerio, which isn’t saying much, as it’s not terribly busy. The other,
    ZukiWorld.com, is even less populous.

Related stories on Autos

Manufacturer’s Website

  • Suzuki Canada


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003155; Units affected: 867

On certain vehicles, the windshield may not be properly secured to the vehicle body due to insufficient adhesion between paint applied during the second-stage painting process and paint applied during final-stage painting. If the windshield is not properly secured to the vehicle body, it may separate from the vehicle during a collision resulting in ejection of unbelted occupants and severe injury or death. Correction: Dealer will affect repairs.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

Connect with Autos.ca