The Aerio was supposed to be Suzuki’s Corolla-beater. Born in ’01, refreshed in ’04, the Aerio is one of the few cars that can make a Corolla look sexy. While Suzuki’s website assures us “one thing is for sure about the Aerio: it really stands out in a crowd,” one thing’s for sure: it really doesn’t. The Aerio’s sheetmetal is so deeply and completely plain that Top Gear used it as a beast of burden for its ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’ segment. And now it's a lame duck waddling into the history books. How should we remember this entry level captive import?
Obviously, not as a rice rocket. Even in Premium trim, complete with body skirt, fog lights and some steelies, the Aerio's about as exciting as the Consumer Reports description of same. At best this straight-from-the-factory makeover is classier than a cladding-infested Pontiac of the 2001-era, and a lot less aesthetically-challenged than an Aztek. At worst, it's a Toyota Echo.
The Aerio’s Spartan interior is a generation behind its fitter, more versatile competition. That said, if you don't mind an endless ride on "It's A Gray World (After All)," or touching materials designed for train stations, the cheap-and-not-so-cheerful Aerio is a feature creep double feature. It comes complete with climate control, power windows, door locks and mirrors; six-speaker MP3/WMA audio, wheel-mounted audio control and… map lights.
Although the Aerio offers plenty of head room, the car still seems optimized for people 5’8” or shorter. Anyone taller than Carmen Electa will discover that the back seat doesn’t slide back far enough to fully accommodate their extremities (keep it clean folks). What’s more, the Aerio’s rear-view mirror is planted at ear level, obscuring most of the windshield’s top-right quadrant. So, if you’re a height challenged claustrophobe with a long torso and three kids, the Aerio’s cabin is ideal.
The little sedan’s engine bay is filled with a 2.3-liter four-banger producing 155hp and 152 ft-lbs. of torque. The overhead cam, 16-valve, direct ignition mini mill makes the Aerio more brisk than it looks, or numbers would indicate (zero to 60mph in about 10 seconds). There’s enough shove on tap to ensure [merely] adequate progress in both town and country.
A five-speed manual may help boost mileage above mission critical 30mpg highway, but the Aerio’s powertrain is as coarse as kosher salt. Autobox shifts are slam, bam, thank you M'am and the engine noise is endlessly, relentlessly intrusive. The thrashy engine that [just about] could may have made the grade in ’01, back when Cavaliers were wheezing about, but today's small car market offers plenty of smoother-running alternatives.
If you protect your ears by surrendering to the gods of sloth, the Aerio’s not a bad little city car. Its turning circle rivals the big cog in a Spirograph, and independent front and rear suspension soaks-up bumps well enough– even if never fails to share its tactile triumphs through an endless series of booming thumps.
The Aerio’s high roofline delivers a definite dynamic downside; the vehicle's high center of gravity makes it lean in the bends like a hurricane battered palm tree. The resulting cornering experience can best be described as “disconcerting,” especially when exiting a freeway onto a curvaceous off-ramp. When pushed (or even gently nudged), the Aerio’s chassis serves up copious amounts of understeer. All things considered, that's no bad thing.
The Aerio’s optional QuadGrip System is the car’s unique selling point. So equipped, the Aerio is America’s lowest-priced all wheel-drive sedan. Our Premium tester (with heated side mirrors no less) was a front driver. But given this model's demure demeanor, it’s hard to imagine the Aerio's core clientele would need more “security” than its standard front-wheel drive and some good snow tires would provide. But we get it; and there's a grand's difference between need and want.
With a fully-transferable 100k mile/seven-year powertrain warranty with roadside assistance and loaner cars (for three years/36k miles), owning an Aerio isn’t an onerous experience. One caveat: if something does go wrong, the Aerio is not what you’d call a common model. Parts are not plentiful.
Clearly, the Suzuki Aerio failed to meet its mass market ambitions. Which is too bad. The Aerio is a lot of car for the money with one of the most powerful engines in its class and cheap all wheel-drive. But aside from its ironic fame as Top Gear resident beater, the dull-but-worthy Aerio never appeared on econobox shoppers’ radar.
And now the Aerio passes the torch to the SX4, a vehicle that’s better in every way and only marginally more expensive (before end-of-run discounts) than its rapidly ageing sibling. The Aerio will not be missed, but it was a not entirely horrible placeholder for Suzuki's newer, better model. How great is that?