2003 Suzuki Aerio SX

April 17, 2003
If you put a Mazda Protege 5 and a Ford Focus ZX5 in a blender, the result would be the Suzuki Aerio SX.

Styled in Italy, this oddly shaped vehicle is supposed to be a blend of a sports sedan, minivan, and SUV. What it really looks like is a tiny wagon with an unusually high roofline.

Enough about its looks. The Aerio SX is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 145 hp at 5,700 rpm and 136 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. While these numbers give the powerplant a leg up on its competition, the engine nonetheless makes the distinctive four-cylinder whine and is slow to accelerate onto busy highways. The engine mates to a four-speed automatic with overdrive. Our test vehicle carried all-wheel drive, a $1,000 option.

As luck would have it, we had a couple of snowstorms during the week-long test drive. The AWD handled admirably on snow-covered roads, with little slippage even when goosing the engine. Suzuki's AWD, called QuadGrip, features a transfer case with a viscous coupling which runs from the driveline to the rear wheels. This allows for a power split between the front and rear axles when necessary. Inside the coupling are two sets of plates sealed in a housing filled with high-viscosity silicone. One set of plates connects to the front wheels, the other to the rear wheels. When driving on dry pavement, the system operates in front-wheel drive. On slippery roads, the front-axle plates begin to spin faster than the rear-axle plates. The viscous fluid heats up and expands, dragging the slower plates along and transferring progressively more power to the rear wheels until the front and rear torque split is 50/50. The Aerio SX carries an independent MacPherson strut front and rear suspension, with coil springs and stabilizer bars.

The interior of the SX is functional and fairly utilitarian. The digital speedometer was a bit odd at first, but after a couple of days I became accustomed to it. Rear seats fold down to provide 63.7 ft3 of cargo space. Standard features on the SX include air conditioning; power windows, mirrors, and locks; an in-dash six-disc CD changer; cruise control; fog lamps; remote-keyless entry; fog lamps; rear spoiler; and even a display for outside temperature with a clock. So why, with all these bells and whistles, did the doors sound like tin cans upon opening and shutting? Not only would a bit of insulation added some heft to the doors, it would have also kept out road noise.

Mileage estimates are 24 mpg city/28 highway, which are not great, but seem accurate. The Suzuki Aerio SX has a base price of $15,999. Add on AWD, ABS (a $500 option), and a whopping $75 for carpeted floor mats, and you're looking at a bottom line of $17,574. A bit high for a crossover vehicle that needs some tweaking.

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