Suzuki Aerio SXLori Lovely

Suzuki"s all-new vehicle defies classification. This little crossover competes with Toyota"s Matrix, providing plenty of cargo space in a zippy four-cylinder package of funky high-riding aerodynamic design.

The love-it-or-hate-it profile of the Aerio SX will be considered either innovative and edgy or comically abbreviated. The SX is 5 inches shorter than the sedan version - and its competitor, the Matrix. Sure, that will help you fit into those compact parking spaces in parking towers, but it does look a bit bizarre. Who chopped off the rear, leaving a roofline spoiler extending above a large rear window?

Its height makes up for any shortcomings in length. This small vehicle sits high off the ground, making climbing in and out more dignified - and less revealing when you"re wearing a short skirt. Its tallness translates into generous in head room. The chairlike seat height also provides increased leg room because legs go down rather than ahead. Leg room in the rear is commendable, and the view from the theater-style seating is better than from many full-size SUVs.

The SX has the bone structure of a bigger vehicle, dwarfing its 15-inch wheels. A cubic feat, as Suzuki says. A deep, wide trunk with low lift-over height easily handles luggage, but if you pack like I do or you"re hauling your dog, it comes ready for a roof rack. The back seat folds down flat (or has a 60/40 split) and the rear hatch opening is tall and wide, for easy transporting of man"s best friend or other important cargo. The liftgate has a black painted area below the rear window that makes lighter colored SXs easy to identify from a distance, and emphasizes its unusual shape. There"s hidden storage for dog bowls under the floor (Sure, why not? There"s no full-size spare taking up space; it"s just a doughnut.), and a storage tray for treats under the front passenger seat.

OK, so we all fit. Now for the road test. Butler Warehouse salesman Robbin Hatchett Sr. put me behind the wheel and sent me off. Magic words to my dog: ride in the car.

The 2-liter engine revs as impatiently as my dog pants: Let"s go! The four-cylinder engine is mounted transversely, with an elongated intake manifold and larger catalyst and muffler. It produces 141 horsepower, and with the five-speed manual tranny, provides more bang for your buck - on the street and at the pump. Standing starts are tire squealers. The SX"s light curb weight makes the four-cylinder feel powerful.

The stick is smooth, quick and easy, with short throws. No need to slam the gears; they go happily. Steering feedback is decent, and turning radius is impressive. But it leans in corners like a bigger SUV (or a racing bike), due to its high-riding stance. It"s softly sprung and roll resistance is low, which is surprising considering Suzuki"s sport bike heritage.

Its ability to take the bumps well makes the ride a lot easier for a driver, or a dog eager to get somewhere. The struts have layered valves for progressive shock damping, allowing the suspension to absorb small bumps while stiffening for big ones. Harshness and highway noise is further reduced by a rear subframe mounted in rubber. Variable thickness steel contributes to a rigid chassis.

Inside, the Aerio has one of the tiniest wedge instrument panels on the market. Just big enough for an LCD analog tach, digital speedometer and itty-bitty temperature and fuel gauges in eye-popping orange, it"s matched by a symmetrical wedge shape on the passenger side for - uh, looks, I guess. Or for cheap and easy right-hand-drive conversions for sales in other countries.

That triangular wedge theme is repeated from headlights to profile to taillights. It"s evident even from the driver"s seat. The A-pillars have a nice little triangle of a window, adding to the visibility.

The standard Clarion AM/FM/CD and HVAC controls are mounted in the center for easy access, or arguments, as the case may be. The interior is all plastic, but quality-look plastics. The dash has an industrial-look texture, and function hasn"t been compromised by style.

Sometimes it doesn"t matter what classification fits a vehicle. The SX is a well-behaved daily driver with ample cargo (human and otherwise) space. To complete the temptation, Suzuki throws in standard features like AC and power windows and mirrors, at a price significantly below that of its closest competitor"s.

Suzuki Aerio SXBase Price: $16,074

2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine

141 horespower

Fuel mileage: 26 mpg in the city and

32 mpg on the highway

15-inch alloy wheels

Power locks and windows

Keyless remote entry


Tilt steering

Cruise control

Rear seat armrest

Air conditioning

Driver & passenger air bag

Rear defogger

Fog lamps

Power locks / mirrors

Second row folding seat

Rear spoiler


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