SAVANNAH, GA — AmericanMotor Corp. picks an unseasonably chilly week in late February to bring journalists here for the intro of its all-new Aerio sedan and Aerio SX hatchback.
But skies are blue and the roads are dry, and Southern hospitality more than makes up for the frigid clime.
folks tell us they were looking for style and distinction. For style, the SX crossover fills the bill. The sedan is … well … distinctive. The tall roof line works in the SX, but leaves the sedan looking slightly out of proportion, which might explain why all but one of the slides and photos in the press kit were of the SX hatch.
The engine is all new. Suzuki engineers stroked the current Esteem DOHC I-4 to bump it from 1.8L to 2L — a whole lot bigger than Japan's Aerio, powered by a 1.5L I-4, and the European version, dubbed Liana, that offers a 1.6L. All Aerios and Lianas come from Suzuki's Kosai plant in Japan.
The efforts help the 16-valve engine put out a class-leading 141 hp at a high-revving 5,700 rpm and peak torque of 135 lb.-ft. (183 Nm) at 3,000 rpm. It's a more-than-adequate package for a car that remains small — only a 97.6-in. (248 cm) wheelbase. Fuel economy numbers are good, with a 26/33 mpg city/highway mix for the 5-speed manual and 26/31 mpg for the automatic.
The tall roof line allows for a very noteworthy high seating position. It's not quite a minivan/SUV perspective, but it provides the driver with a commanding view of the road.
Standard amenities include air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, tilt wheel and a six-speaker stereo with CD on the base model, priced at $13,499. Move up to the higher trim on the GS sedan and SX and they throw in 15-in. aluminum wheels, keyless entry, cruise control and a height-adjustable driver's seat.
An automatic transmission tags another $1,000 onto the sticker price. ABS adds $500.
Base price on the SX is $14,499. All-wheel-drive Aerios will come this fall.
Suzuki marketers say the Aerio sedan is out to compete withCivic, Focus, Mazda Protege and Sentra. It's about 5 ins. (13 cm) shorter in wheelbase than most of that bunch, but is competitively priced and beats all of the competition with its 141 hp. The crossover SX hopes to nab a few Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix or Mazda Protege5 intenders, where it offers 11 more hp for about $2,000 less in price. The new Aerio hit dealer showrooms in early March.
Aerio's sales mix is expected to be about 3:1 of sedans to SX hatches.
Worldwide annual sales for the Aerio, which replaces the nearly invisible Esteem sedan and wagon, are targeted in the 80,000 range, with about 20,000 coming to the U.S. Those are small volumes compared to the segment's heavy hitters, but a significant increase over the Esteem, whose sales totaled 13,061 last year.