Suzuki Forenza
At some point in their lives, most people find themselves in need of a small, inexpensive car that gets them around with minimal hassle. While the names "Civic" and "Corolla" come up in most every small sedan buyer's research, the trouble is that you often pay dearly for these household names. In hopes of attracting people on a tighter budget, Suzuki offers the Forenza.
This value-oriented compact has been out for a few years now and comes in sedan and wagon body styles. It boasts a low price of entry, a roomy interior, European-inspired design, a host of standard features, a competitive amount of horsepower and a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
At a glance, the well-equipped Suzuki Forenza appears to offer terrific value. But in our evaluations, we've found that it falls short of the segment leaders in terms of performance, fuel economy, handling and interior refinement. As such, we feel it's a compromised, marginal player, struggling just a bit too much to keep up. Unless you really need the extra space of its available wagon body style, we recommend that you focus on one of its more worthy competitors.
Current Suzuki Forenza
The Suzuki Forenza is actually built by the Korean automaker Daewoo and rebadged as the Forenza for the American market. It's offered as a four-door sedan or wagon in a single trim level with various available packages. Standard on all are four-wheel disc brakes, air-conditioning, front seat side airbags, full power accessories and a CD/MP3 stereo with steering-wheel controls. A Convenience Package adds cruise control and remote keyless entry, while the Popular Package adds those items plus a sunroof. Antilock brakes are optional.
The Suzuki Forenza is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 127 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. While these outputs are competitive on paper, we've found that the engine offers less motivation than expected. It performs adequately with the manual transmission but feels burdened and underpowered when saddled with the four-speed automatic. To make matters worse, it's not particularly fuel-efficient or refined, either.
The Forenza's cabin is something of a mixed bag, too. It's spacious, with lots of stylish metallic accents, and offers some features not normally found at this price point. However, we find this is offset by inconsistent materials quality and an overall lack of refinement and execution compared with class leaders. If you can get past that, there's lots of rear legroom for adults and a 60/40-split-folding seatback for extra utility. The sedan provides 12 cubic feet of trunk capacity, with the wagon offering nearly 62 cubic feet of space with the rear seat folded.
On the road, the Suzuki Forenza exhibits soft, rubbery handling and a poor ride quality compared with its competitors, as well as excessive wind noise on the highway. Although it's compliant enough, we found there's little suspension control over bumps and ruts. Handling around corners is loose and unsure, with excessive body roll and minimal grip from the tires. When merging into traffic, automatic-equipped Forenzas accelerate weakly and any maneuver takes a little planning. One bright spot is the braking system, which provides short stopping distances despite a slightly spongy pedal.
The Forenza debuted in 2004, with the wagon model following in 2005. That year also brought standard side impact airbags for all Forenzas. The Forenza was freshened up a bit for 2006, receiving a new front fascia, redesigned seats, new wheels and revised trim levels. Used economy car shoppers are advised to check out the competition before committing to the Forenza.

Suzuki Grand Vitara
The Suzuki Grand Vitara is a small SUV that attempts to deliver the often mutually exclusive attributes of off-road ability and on-road comfort. In its first generation, the Grand Vitara featured a trucklike chassis, V6 power and low-range gearing. The new model has a similar powertrain but features a body structure that blends car and truck chassis designs.
Due to a variety of shortcomings, the original Grand Vitara did not achieve a great deal of success in the U.S. marketplace. The current model is greatly improved, however, and would be a good choice for a consumer interested in a comfortable and affordable compact SUV that can be used for typical daily urban purposes in addition to occasional recreational jaunts on dirt trails.
Current Suzuki Grand Vitara
The current Suzuki Grand Vitara represents the model's second generation and has been available since the 2006 model year. This compact SUV has seating for five passengers, V6 power, a long list of standard features and available four-wheel drive with low-range gearing.
There are three styles available for the Suzuki Grand Vitara: base, XSport and Luxury. Even base models are pretty well equipped with features like automatic climate control, full power accessories and side and side curtain airbags. The XSport has a few additional items including keyless startup, while the top-line Luxury has, well, luxurious upgrades like leather seating.
Like most other compact SUVs, the Grand Vitara features a carlike unibody chassis for improved body rigidity, handling and safety. Suzuki has attempted to differentiate it, however, by incorporating a ladder frame design into the unibody structure. The company says this enhances the vehicle's off-road and towing abilities.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara is equipped with a 2.7-liter V6 engine that's capable of 185 horsepower. A five-speed manual is standard on the base model, while a five-speed automatic is optional. Luxury and XSport versions have that automatic as a standard feature. A four-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing is available for all trim levels.
In editorial reviews, this Suzuki SUV has earned favorable commentary for its long list of standard features, attractive price and above-average abilities when taken off-pavement. Downsides mainly revolve around the engine, which our editors have found to be noisy and lacking in power at highway speeds and when carrying or towing large loads.
Changes have been minimal since this generation's Grand Vitara debuted. Most notably, there was a midlevel Premium trim that was available for 2006 and '07.
Past Suzuki Grand Vitara Models
The original Suzuki Grand Vitara debuted for the 1999 model year and lasted through 2005. It served as a replacement for the Sidekick, Suzuki's previous compact SUV. There was also a "regular" Vitara -- the difference between the two was that the Grand Vitara came with a V6 engine and more standard equipment and was available as a four-door body style only.
In its first year, the Grand Vitara was the only small SUV for the U.S. market equipped with a V6 engine. Upon release, this 2.5-liter V6 made 155 hp. Other distinct design elements included a trucklike chassis and low-range gearing on four-wheel-drive models. The main trim levels were either two-wheel-drive JS or four-wheel-drive JLX. There were also "plus" versions that came standard with antilock brakes and alloy wheels. In 2000, a plush Limited model was released that featured, among other luxuries, leather seating. In 2002 the V6 gained 10 more hp, and in 2003 Suzuki simplified the trim levels to be known simply as 2WD and 4WD.
Though many of its specs looked good on paper, this Grand Vitara's shortcomings quickly became apparent in editorial reviews. The V6's output lagged behind many competitors' four-cylinder engines; ride quality was poor over rough pavement; and the interior was short on comfort and space. For the most part, shoppers interested in a used SUV should look elsewhere.

Suzuki Reno
No matter how you slice it, the Suzuki Reno is basically a Suzuki Forenza wagon with a slightly more stylish body. It shares that car's basic architecture, engine and transmission. A four-door compact hatchback, the Reno offers all the flexibility and cargo-hauling ability of a small wagon but with a slightly more stylish body. The net result is an affordable car with plenty of interior space and lots of features. Don't expect class-leading performance, however, as the Reno lags behind the competition in virtually every driving-related category -- even fuel economy.
Current Suzuki Reno
The Suzuki Reno debuted for the 2005 model year. With its emphasis on value, the Reno's long list of standard features quickly takes center stage. Many modern compact cars come standard with power door locks and windows, a tilt wheel and other convenience features, but the Reno goes a little further by offering such features as a micron air-filtration system for the cabin, a four-speaker CD stereo with MP3 capability and a height- and lumbar-adjustable driver seat -- all without checking a single box on the options list.
Clearly the car is an excellent value, even more so if you're looking for an affordable used car. Still, "excellent value" doesn't exactly bring to mind comfort or power. While the EX trim level is loaded and includes features like leather seats, remote keyless entry and cruise control, the Reno in any trim offers barely adequate performance, particularly in the acceleration department, with the Reno's subpar fuel economy adding insult to injury. Handling is also less than spectacular, as Suzuki has endowed the Reno with a soft, smooth ride at the expense of cornering ability. However, this is a trade-off that the average consumer will likely appreciate.
Because the 127-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is working so hard to keep up, a good deal of engine noise makes its way into the cabin. Competitors like the Mazda 3 are more refined and quicker by comparison.
The Reno's interior comes up short as well when compared to other domestic and import-branded small cars. The materials are low quality, and many panels simply don't fit correctly. Though the Reno's long powertrain warranty is a bonus, it's not really enough to overcome the car's faults. We suggest that shoppers looking for an inexpensive hatchback skip the Reno and check out more viable choices.
The Suzuki Reno has undergone a few changes since its '05 debut. 2006 brought the addition of a standard tilt steering wheel and new seat fabrics, while '07 saw the inclusion of a standard tire pressure monitoring system for all trim levels. Unfortunately for audiophiles, the formerly standard eight-speaker stereo was dropped altogether for '08, leaving a meager four-speaker unit in its stead.

Suzuki SX4 While Suzuki makes class-leading motorcycles that are desired from Okinawa to Omaha, its luck in the automobile market has been less than stellar. Most recent models have essentially been rebadged Daewoos. One exception is the Suzuki SX4, a compact car that proves the small Japanese company now makes better cars when it takes on the project itself. While it's not quite as fun as Suzuki's two-wheeled vehicles, the SX4 is nevertheless a thoroughly competent and well-made small car.
Considering that Americans still overwhelmingly prefer sedans to hatchbacks, the new-for-2008 sedan model gives the Suzuki SX4 an advantage over other subcompact cars that are offered only with a hatch. The standard all-wheel drive on the hatchback also gives the SX4 a decided advantage, as do both models' impressive build quality and sporty styling. However, its 143-horsepower four-cylinder engine struggles with the hefty curb weight, and fuel economy is consequently below average as a result. If your top priority is having a fuel-sipping compact, the SX4 is not the best choice. Yet while other subcompacts may lean toward either sportiness or comfort, the Suzuki SX4 does a good job of providing both, with the added bonus of all-wheel drive and a sedan model.
Current Suzuki SX4
The Suzuki SX4 debuted for the 2007 model year. It's offered in four-door hatchback and four-door sedan body styles that actually differ from each other quite a bit. The hatch is aimed at a more rugged, active lifestyle, with standard all-wheel drive, SUV-like body cladding and a taller ride height. The front-wheel-drive sedan is 110 pounds lighter than the hatch (thanks to the deletion of AWD), has different suspension tuning, a sporty body kit and is 15 inches longer despite sharing the same wheelbase.
Underneath its sporty exterior lies a platform shared with the award-winning Suzuki Swift sold in Europe and Japan. This translates into a car with ride and handling characteristics seemingly fashioned for those locales. The ride is on the firm side, but in an upscale sort of way, absorbing bumps and undulating pavement with impressive composure. Its steering is also tight and direct, offering one of the more fun driving experiences in this segment.
For those in colder climes, the SX4 hatchback should prove attractive, as it is the least expensive all-wheel-drive car on the market. Featuring three modes, the AWD system can be configured for maximum traction or fuel economy. AWD Auto is like many crossover SUV systems that shunt power to the rear wheels only when front-wheel slippage is detected. AWD Lock is for lower speeds through snow or mud, while FWD mode is best for fuel economy. In most cases, that's the mode of choice, since neither body style achieves good fuel economy numbers for this class.
The interior is one of the Suzuki SX4's best attributes, sporting a simple, user-friendly design and top-notch materials. Standard equipment includes air-conditioning, full power accessories, a CD/MP3 player and a six-way manual driver seat that provides good space for taller drivers. The SX4 Sport trim adds luxurious niceties like automatic climate control, cruise control, SmartPass keyless entry and ignition, a trip computer and a premium audio system with six-CD changer, subwoofer and steering wheel controls. Although not as versatile as some other subcompact hatchbacks, the SX4 does offer plenty of rear passenger room and cargo space thanks to a flip-and-fold backseat that's placed high atop the floor for so-called "stadium seating."
Changes to the Suzuki SX4 lineup since its debut include the addition of the front-wheel drive SX4 Sport sedan in '08; in its first year of production, the SX4 was offered only as an all-wheel-drive hatchback.

Suzuki XL7

The original Suzuki XL-7 was designed to appeal to people who liked the idea of having seven-passenger seating in an SUV but didn't want the hassles and expense of owning a full-size sport utility. By taking an extended-wheelbase version of its Grand Vitara small SUV and installing a third-row seat, Suzuki pioneered a concept, and indeed many other manufacturers have been doing the same with their smaller SUVs. Unfortunately, the first XL-7 was neat in theory but flawed in execution. Its third-row seat was too small to be of any real use and its aging truck-based design, claustrophobic cabin and poor-quality interior pieces relegated it to bit-player status among a growing and increasingly refined field of midsize contenders.
Fortunately, Suzuki made amends with a completely redesigned second-generation midsize XL7. The largest Suzuki ever, the new model is 10 inches longer and 2 inches wider than before. Designed for the North American market, the latest Suzuki XL7 is based on partner GM's midsize crossover SUV platform, which means it bears some mechanical resemblance to vehicles like the Chevy Equinox. Compared to the old model, the new XL7 certainly looks and works much better overall, with improved ride and agility, a smoother, more powerful Suzuki-built V6 engine and roomier, more comfortable passenger accommodations. The third row, however, is still obviously meant for children only, like others in this class.
Current Suzuki XL7
Redesigned for 2007, the current Suzuki XL7 is a well-equipped, five- or seven-passenger midsize crossover SUV available in four trim levels: base XL7, Premium, Luxury and Limited. The Premium and Luxury models are available in either seating configuration, while the flagship XL7 Limited delivers standard seven-passenger capacity. (Note the name XL7; it was changed from XL-7 starting in 2007).
All models are available as front-wheel drive or with all-wheel drive for enhanced traction in slippery weather or on dirt trails. Motivation is provided by a Suzuki-built 3.6-liter V6 providing 252 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. Standard on all models is a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.
The new Suzuki XL7 is the largest, most comfortable Suzuki SUV ever built, with a spacious, functional and refined interior. With deep footwells, the XL7 provides lots of room to stretch out. The second-row 60/40-split seats tumble forward for easy access to the third row, or fold completely flat. The optional 50/50-split-folding third-row seat can be folded flat as well for additional cargo-carrying room.
Included is a long list of standard features, including alloy wheels, security alarm, automatic climate control, privacy glass and a six-speaker CD stereo; seven-seaters also feature rear underfloor cargo storage and rear air-conditioning. The Premium trim adds little in the way of standard equipment, but unlike the base model, it can be equipped with the optional third-row seat. The loaded Luxury trim level adds leather, wood accents and heated front seats. To this, the Limited piles on foglamps, a rear spoiler, the third-row seat as standard and satellite-radio-ready audio with navigation and DVD entertainment.
The new XL7's unibody chassis features full-length underbody rails for added strength, and it provides carlike ride and reflexes on the pavement where it counts. In reviews, we've found that this SUV is easy to drive on a daily basis. The engine is powerful, handling is secure and maneuverability is good enough to ply the crowded streets for weekend errands. The model's main weakness is that it doesn't feel as refined in terms of ride quality and engine smoothness as some other midsize crossover SUVs.
Changes since the current XL7's debut include the elimination of the third-row option for base models in '08, which resulted in a slight price drop. The Premium trim level was also new for '08.
Past Suzuki XL-7 models
Suzuki introduced the all-new midsize XL-7 in 2001. At the time, it was the first SUV in its class to offer a third-row seat for a price starting under $20,000. Based on the Grand Vitara, this XL-7 had a trucklike, body-on-frame construction and either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case. These rugged underpinnings made the XL-7 fairly competent for off-road use.
The model's optional third-row seat was of dubious value. There was plenty of luggage room with the rearmost seat folded down, but when the third row was in use, cargo capacity was very limited. Also, the mechanism to drop the third-row seating was fussy and awkward. The third row didn't fold completely flat and created "canyons" into which items could fall.
All models of the Suzuki XL-7 were equipped with a 170-hp, 2.7-liter engine matched to either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. In reviews of the time, we noted that we liked the availability of a third-row seat and the vehicle's reasonable price. However, we felt that it didn't match up well to the competition in terms of refinement or maximum off-road ability.
Changes to the first-generation Suzuki XL-7 were minimal. In 2002, power was increased to 183 hp and antilock brakes became optional.

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