2003 Suzuki Aerio Review

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Bob Hall Bob Hall Editor
March 17, 2002

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — Question: What is an Aerio? A new strain of anthrax? An aircraft component? A vowel exercise for preschoolers? Or American Suzuki Motor Corporation’s (ASMC) new entry in the small-car marketplace? No, the answer isn’t all of the above; it’s the latter.

ASMC wants you to know Aerio, and to hold it in high esteem ¾ or at least higher than the Esteem. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Suzuki says “Aerio” implies aerodynamics and cutting-edge style. To reinforce Aerio in the minds of consumers, stylized letter As have been incorporated in its design, inside and out. But this recurring triangular motif shouldn’t elicit Richard Dreyfuss-like Close Encounters because ASMC is up front about this power of suggestion.

“First and most importantly, we wanted to introduce and reinforce the name Aerio,” said Cam Smith Arnold, ASMC’s director of corporate brand marketing & communications. “The emphasis on the Aerio A, or triangle, is a creative and unique way to define and position our new vehicle.” Two vehicles actually, a four-door sedan in S and GS trim, and a five-door, GS-only-grade Aerio SX, for “sport crossover.” And you do see triangular shapes everywhere.

They begin up front with large headlamp assemblies faired into the fenders and housing multi-reflector, jewel-type halogen headlights. Then there’s a small fixed window just above where the front door and fender meet. Besides following the “A” theme, it reduces the width of the A-pillar and improves visibility a tad. Taillamps on both body styles are quite visible. The sedan’s are large equilateral triangles that wrap around each rear corner, while the SX’s are long, almost diagonal units that follow the body contour along the tailgate. Even the instrument panel is a long narrow triangle containing LCD readouts with digital speedometer and odometer. 

2003 Suzuki Aerio

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Triangle theme

The SX’s exterior styling is almost identical to the SX Concept shown at 2001’s Chicago Auto Show, including a fixed, sort-of-triangular rear corner window. It’s double the size of a similar piece on the Elantra GT and large enough to make obvious the Aerio SX’s body style. A quick glance at the Elantra doesn’t scream “five-door.” That’s not a criticism of either. The SX has more of a wagon look. It’s more upright by design, as is the sedan, in order to maximize interior space.

Aerio VLE Koji Yamada (Suzuki’s first vehicle line executive) noted that Aerio’s overall height “is three to four inches taller than most passenger cars,” and compared it to Suzuki’s Wagon R (not sold in the U.S.), which utilizes a similar “smaller outside larger inside” approach to interior design. Compare the Aerio’s 60.8-inch overall height (SX is 61) to the Elantra’s 56.1 inches. This higher profile made possible a higher seating position for better visibility, larger doors for easier entry and exit, a storage tray under the passenger’s front bucket seat (GS and SX), more head and leg room in both models than a slew of competitors. In fact, the Aerio sedan’s 14.6 cubic feet of trunk space is the most in class, and the principal reason its overall length is 171.3 inches versus the SX’s 166.5.   

2003 Suzuki Aerio

2003 Suzuki Aerio

Enlarge Photo
Price, specifically value-for-your-money, and not having to compromise are the major tenets of Suzuki’s pitch for Aerio. According to ASMC President Ryosaku “Rick” Suzuki, “the small car category has been dominated for years by familiar, practical vehicles whose owners have grown to accept a pervading sense of sameness.” But he admitted that since development of the Aerio project began in the late ‘90s, things have changed, thanks to Mazda’s Protégé5, the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe and the Ford Focus. Conspicuously absent from that list and Smith Arnold’s marketing presentation is Hyundai’s Elantra, which seems odd considering its price and similar target customer.

2003 Suzuki Aerio

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Challenging environment

Rick Suzuki’s request to his engineers was “to develop a new small car with a powerful standard engine, category-leading interior room, a long list of standard amenities, all at a price below $15,000.” Surprise, surprise, the Aerio S sedan begins at $13,999 (including $500 destination charge); the GS sedan and SX each start at $14,999. The list of standard equipment is impressive: air conditioning; power mirrors and windows; fog lamps; Clarion six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system; 14-inch steel wheels; tilt wheel and dual front airbags on the base S. The GS sedan and SX add 15-inch aluminum wheels; keyless remote entry; rear spoiler; chrome exhaust tip; power locks; cruise control; and color-keyed door handles and mirrors.

 

2003 Suzuki Aerio

2003 Suzuki Aerio

Enlarge Photo

All Aerios get equal power, 141 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque from a 2.0-liter, dual overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder with aluminum block and heads. ASMC notes that maximum torque is delivered at only 3000 rpm ¾ lower than much of Aerio’s competition ¾ and this J20A engine has a two-stage, high-performance timing chain instead of the more common timing belt found in Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla and Kia Sephia. A five-speed manual transmission is standard across the Aerio lineup, with a four-speed automatic at $1000 and ABS at $500 being the only major options. Brakes are ventilated discs in front, but drums at the rear. A sunroof isn’t available, and “we’re currently testing side airbags,” said ASMC’s Alan Bethke.

Although Savannah and the adjoining areas of South Carolina don’t possess any real challenging roadways, we got enough decent seat time to form some Aerio impressions. Driving all versions but the base S sedan, Suzuki’s two-liter provided more than sufficient power with either transmission. In fact the automatic was a pleasant surprise; its gearing provided good acceleration and smooth shifts. The five-speed had the expected longish throws, but shifts were precise with positive engagement and a good feel.

2003 Suzuki Aerio

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Suspension, front and rear, is via McPherson struts, with both mounted on sub-frames to reduce road noise and vibration. Additionally, the rear subframe is mounted in rubber for even better NVH. Liquid-filled motor mounts help NVH as well. Handling is good, the steering predictable with no surprises. Ride quality is excellent for this class and attention to NVH paid off: it’s as quiet a cabin as you’re likely to find in this price range. The Aerio isn’t, nor does it pretend to be, an enthusiast’s car, an argument you can make for the Elantra GT.

Of the 20,000 Aerios that ASMC hopes to sell in the first year, it expects sedans to outsell wagons three to one. Aerios should be in dealerships by the end of March. An all-wheel-drive version is due in September, but no details about what system it will use will come until June. “My goal is sell 100,000 cars in the U.S. and to own one percent of U.S. market share,” Rick Suzuki told us. “We are well on our way to reaching that goal, but we’re not there yet.” The Aerio should help that goal become a reality. With it, Suzuki finally does have a solid contender in the small car universe; but it also has lots of company.  

2003 Suzuki Aerio
Price: $13,499 (S); $14,499 (GS and SX) ($500 destination charge)
Engine: 2.0-liter four, 141 hp/135 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($1000)
Wheelbase: 97.6 inches
Length: 171.3 in (sedan); 166.5 (SX five-door)
Height: 60.8 in (sedan); 61.0 (SX)
Curb Weight: 2604 lb (sedan); 2668 (SX)
EPA cty/hwy: 26/32 (manual, SX and GS); 26/33 (S); 26/31 (automatic)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags
Major standard features: air conditioning; power mirrors and windows; fog lamps; Clarion six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system; 14-inch steel wheels; tilt wheel
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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