2002 Suzuki Aerio
This 2002 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2007.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
It's not exactly cute; it's definitely not sexy. But there's something both practical and oddly stylish about Suzuki's new, low-priced, 2002 Aerio that can make it appealing, especially as an SX hatchback trim.
Pricing is a main reason. The Aerio SX and its sedan sibling, known as the Aerio S or GS depending on trim level, have a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of only $13,499 for a manual-transmission sedan and $14,499 for a manual-transmission hatchback.
The approximately 5-foot tall Aerio doesn't look odd or gangly when sitting alone. But when it gets out into U.S. traffic, other drivers are bound to see it's noticeably taller than more traditional small cars. In fact, an Aerio is a good half foot taller than a Chevrolet Cavalier.
Combine all this with a body that, especially in SX hatchback form, looks like it has been to a customizer's shop—fitted with fog lights, large front bumper, fender flares, rocker panel extensions and rear spoiler—and you begin to understand why I call the Aerio "oddly stylish."
Don't take this to mean people driving the Aerio will get strange looks.
When I tested a dark blue Aerio sedan, I didn't get much notice. Maybe it was the muted color, or the fact the sedan body was functionally just like any other small sedan's.
A test Aerio SX hatchback in bright red paint, however, drew attention from younger drivers, many of whom were in Hondas that had some custom touches of their own.
They appear a bit small on a car with customized touches. Note that small hatchback competitors to the Aerio SX, in particular, either come with larger, standard 16-inch tires or offer them as options.
Besides the look of the Aerio tires, I found it wasn't difficult to make them chirp when I'd start up, and in aggressive maneuvers, the tires seemed a bit taxed.
There's only one engine: A 2.0-liter, double overhead cam, four cylinder that produces a commendable 141 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm.
It can provide peppy power in many circumstances for this lightweight, 2,600-pound car.
But mated to the four-speed automatic that was in both test cars, the engine at times got quite boomy as it struggled to keep the cars' momentum on hilly highways. The same laborious effort was noticed when I pulled out into busy traffic and needed to get up to speed very fast.
The Aerio SX stats are competitive for its segment, however. The 2002 Ford Focus ZX5 has a 2.0-liter four that produces 130 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm and the base engine in the 2002 Toyota Matrix is a 130-horse 1.8-liter four that can generate 125 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm.
Easy to maneuver
Don't expect a plush ride, though. The styling may do a lot to hide the fact the Aerio is a low-priced car, but the independent, MacPherson strut suspension, front and rear, doesn't.
I felt a lot of the road bumps in this car, including what seemed like every expansion joint on bridge near my home.
Even manhole covers could transmit mild vibrations, or worse, to passengers. The tall profile of the car added a top-heavy feeling in aggressive cornering maneuvers, too.
There was considerable road noise in both the sedan and the Aerio SX and wind noise at highway speeds.
The list includes air conditioning, power mirrors and windows, rear defroster, separate split, folding rear seats, tachometer and Clarion AM/FM stereo with CD player and six speakers. The SX hatchback has even more standard equipment.
Despite being small cars, with wheelbases shorter than those in the Vibe, Matrix and Focus, both models of Aerio have a sense of airiness inside, especially in the front seats where headroom is plentiful.
Rear-seat legroom, however, can be a bit cramped if the front seats are back all the way, and I wouldn't squeeze three adults back there for anything other than a short ride.
Cargo room in the hatchback SX model is commendable. A one-piece liftgate opens easily to 14.6 cubic feet of room behind the second-row seats. When the rear seats are folded down, there's an SUV-like 63.7 cubic feet of space for cargo in the Aerio SX, according to Suzuki.
Aerio passengers all sit up nicely on seats that are positioned higher than in typical small cars, though. Not only does this higher seat position make entry and exit from the car easier—no dropping down and squeezing inside the vehicle—it also helps visibility on today's truck- and sport utility-clogged roads.
I actually found the Aerios allowed someone my size—5 feet 4—to look through the windows of the car immediately ahead of me in traffic.
But the Aerio's instrument panel—looking like a meager, little insert in the dashboard in front of the driver—is quite barebones in appearance.
The Aerio's sizable, digital speedometer struck me as odd, too. I expect that in an older person's car, not a car with customizer touches outside.
Odds and ends
As of fall 2002, the Aerio replaces the Suzuki Esteem in the automaker's lineup.
Also in fall 2002, Suzuki adds all-wheel-drive versions of the Aerio.