One of this year’s most pleasant small car surprises has been the Suzuki Aerio. Now we first tried the 5-door wagon Aerio SX. Now in our long term test fleet, it has impressed us with its versatility, performance, and price. But, you know, not everyone wants a wagon, which is why there is also an Aerio sedan. And this one boasts more fours than just doors. Surprise,this little four-portal hardtop has four drive wheels as well! Like its Aerio SX 5-door sibling, the 2003 Suzuki Aerio GS 4-door sedan is available with Suzuki’s optional QuadGrip all-wheel-drive system.
Quadgrip is a very straightforward, fully automatic system, with a viscous coupling that feeds all the engine’s power to the front wheels in dry conditions. When things get slippery, the system transfers up to 50-percent of available torque to the rear wheels to compensate for traction loss up front.
Both front-drive S and all-wheel-drive GS sedans are powered by the same 2.0-liter twin- cam 16-valve 4-cylinder we loved in the SX. Output is 145 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. Front drive Aerios have a standard 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4-speed automatic. The automatic is the only transmission with all-wheel drive. And, with everything engaged, our 2,805 pound Aerio GS hit 60 in a leisurely 10.9 seconds, and finished the 1/4 mile in 18 seconds at 78 miles-per-hour. The engine really doesn’t come to life until 3,000 rpm, but then pulls strongly to the redline. Engine vibration is quite prominent under hard acceleration, but both the transmission and all-wheel-drive systems produce seamless shifts.
And, with a 13.2 gallon fuel tank, you won’t be shifting into park to gas up every day. EPA fuel economy estimates with all-wheel drive are 24 City and 28 Highway. We managed 24 miles per gallon on our test economy loop.
Back at the track, we found that with the soft all-independent MacPherson strut suspension, the Aerio sedan’s handling is a long way from sporty. Body roll is prominent, and the power rack-and-pinion steering delivers little feedback. But it does turn on a dime with a turning diameter of only 32.8 feet. Also ride quality is quite high for a small fry, as is foul weather traction. In fact, the all-wheel-drive Aerio’s excellent behavior in slippery conditions makes it a legitimate alternative to today’s mini-sport-utes. Braking, like handling, is acceptable rather than exceptional. Front discs and rear drums stop our test car from 60 in an average of 140 feet. The pedal goes soft after just a few hard stops, but with optional ABS, the chassis stays straight and true.
The Aerio sedan’s tall, angular exterior looks pretty substantial for a car that’s only 166.5- inches long, and rides on a compact 97.6-inch wheelbase. GS trim adds standard front fog lamps, tires upsized from 14 to 15 inch on alloy rims, and around back, a body colored rear spoiler.
The Aerio’s spiffy but stubby body envelops a very useful interior, one that’s 12 cubic- feet larger than that of a Honda Civic. You especially notice the extra room in the front seat. The dash layout, also shared with the SX, is straightforward and designed to easily fit left or right hand drive requirements. But it exhibits a rather utilitarian level of fit and finish compared to the Honda. The small, show-car-like digital gauge cluster, an item that we have complained about before, is also hard on the eyes. But the firm and surprisingly supportive front bucket seats treat the other end of you quite well. And put you just a short reach away from our GS model’s nicely high-mounted, 6-disc in-dash CD changer and simple three dial climate controls. We noted that on high the fan is quieter than usual for a budget priced car.
The rear seat offers good head and reasonable leg room for normal sized adults. And just to prove that a small sedan can be versatile, a split-folding seatback is standard. While the trunk, like the cabin, is larger than that of a Civic, measuring a spacious 12.9 cubic feet. Liftover is low as well.
The Aerio GS sedan is not as sporty as many of today’s compact 4-doors, but with its substantial interior space, large trunk, and available all-wheel-drive, it’s definitely one of the most practical entries among small sedans.
And one of the most affordable ones as well. Base price for the Aerio GS sedan is $15,219. With our car’s optional all-wheel-drive, automatic transmission, and anti-lock brakes, the price tops out at $17,794. That’s over a grand less than the benchmark all-wheel-drive compact Subaru Impreza.
The 2003 Suzuki Aerio GS sedan is, like its 5-door Aerio SX sibling, a very pleasant small car surprise. It’s a compact sedan that offers more fours than just doors. A whole lot more of almost everything in fact, except price.
Engine: 2.0-Liter Twin-cam 16-valve 4-Cylinder
Torque: 136 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 10.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 18 Seconds @ 78 MPH
60-0 MPH: 140 Feet
EPA Mileage: 24 MPG City 28 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 24 MPG Mixed City/highway