Korean competition has been just the impetus Suzuki needed. Sales of the brand better known for motorcycles have doubled from practically nothing five years ago to 65,000 cars and SUVs in 2001. To surf the crossover wave, Suzuki's new Aerio SX is a blender baby--one part minivan, a scoop of SUV, and a snippet of sport sedan.
Raising the roof four inches above Honda Civic height facilitates true minivan sit-up-and-beg seating. The sport part of the recipe is a mostly aluminum DOHC 2.0-liter engine generating an enthusiastic 141 horsepower. The SUV ingredient--a viscous-coupling-based four-wheel-drive system--arrives this fall.
Suedelike cloth stitched onto the Aerio SX's seats and door panels, a cut above the materials provided in previous Suzukis, is available in any color you want, as long as that's black with gray accents. One anomaly is a digital instrument cluster peeking out from the deep recesses of a dash slot.
The big-for-its-class engine booms authoritatively past 3000 rpm, at which point it musters more than enough torque to steer the front end hither and yon. Firm suspension settings give the Aerio a well-planted feel over good and bad pavement, but care is called for when dialing in rapid steering commands. The unsettling sensation of bowling balls strapped to the roof is inevitable given the Aerio SX's elevated center of gravity.
Ripping a page from the Koreans' playbook, the Aerio SX comes with air conditioning, aluminum wheels, and keyless entry at a bargain-basement $14,999.