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New Car Review: 2004 Suzuki Forenza LX

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MODEL: Suzuki Forenza LX
ENGINE: 2.0-liter four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 126 hp @ 5,600rpm/131 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 102.4 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 178.3 x 66.9 x 57.5 in.
TIRES: P195/55R15
ECONOMY: 22 mpg City/30 mpg Highway

You never know what's going to come out of Suzuki these days. Recent models have included the extended-wheelbase Vitara XL-7 and the compact Verona. Both of these belied Suzuki's well-earned reputation for building inexpensive, and cheap, automobiles and SUVs.

So, after recreating its image, Suzuki has returned to its roots with the Forenza. This model began life as a Daewoo, which is now bankrupt. The Verona was a former Daewoo model as well. The combination of GM, which owns parts of both Suzuki and Daewoo, and Suzuki, has created the Forenza, which is assembled by GM Daewoo Automotive Technologies. Confused yet?

At its heart, the Forenza is an inexpensive alternative to other compacts, such as the Focus, Civic and Corolla. Its problem is that it borders on cheap, with a tinny sound to the doors and trunk lid when they're closed, and a general feeling that the bottom line was the main concern all around.

On the plus side, I was impressed with the interior room of the Forenza. It's relatively large and offers good rear seat legroom, for example, to belie its compact label. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine was also a plus. While it's buzzy, especially when called upon to do some serious work, it had decent power (126 hp) to get the Forenza moving and keep it out of the way of big trucks.

The engine was connected to a 5-speed manual transmission that helped extract the most performance out of the small engine. One problem I had with the gearbox was that using it was like stirring thick oatmeal. The linkages weren't as precise as I would have liked and I found the wrong gear far too often. I'll admit to not being the best shifter in the world, but I'm not that bad.

In the right gear, though, the combination of engine and gearbox was good. We averaged slightly under 20 mpg in our test, while the Monronie label says the Forenza will average 22 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway. Our test comprised mostly local driving.

Even with its modest sticker price, the Forenza included a host of power features, including a remote lock/unlock on the key. One feature I liked, but had trouble getting used to, was the "unlock" button on top. Most cars have the "lock" button on top. I always feel unlocking is more important than locking, but I guess it's six of one, a half dozen of the other.

Power outside mirror controls were on the "A" pillar, like some more expensive vehicles. Once you find them, it's a good location, out of the way and convenient at the same time.

Forenza has audio controls and cruise control switches on the steering wheel. The audio controls were good, but I hit the "power" switch way too often, turning the sound off. The cruiser control switches were hard to figure out at first, but worked fine once I moved up the learning curve.

The instrument panel was well-designed and clear. There was no confusing the instruments I needed.

In back, the trunk was a good size. It's rated at 12.4 cubic feet and was big enough for at least one golf bag. It's possible we could have squeezed more bags in there, but we didn't try. The rear seats fold for additional cargo space, although the "hole" between the trunk and rear area is crimped by the seat framing.

As with most compact cars, the ride was rough. Ride quality was slightly better than some compacts, but there was still lean in the corners and bounce on some road surfaces. FOR THE PRICE, the Suzuki Forenza is a good package. It isn't the best compact car out there, but it is one of the least expensive. Fuel economy could be improved with more highway driving, and greater familiarity with the vehicle.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate