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Is it a hatchback, a wagon or an SUV? It's up to you to decide. Two key factors benefit this Aerio -- it's the least expensive all-wheel-drive vehicle you can get in Canada, and it received top marks in recent crash tests.
2003 Suzuki Aerio SX Fastback AWD
Space Demon with Grip

By Bill Roebuck

The 2003 Suzuki Aerio SX Fastback AWD could have been entered in either the wagon or SUV categories. It's like a wagon because of its cavernous trunk space and vertical hatch. It also boasts all-wheel drive for SUV-like capabilities.

The Fastback term is Suzuki's name for the hatchback version of the Aerio, and that means it has lots of space for cargo and five passengers. Headroom and legroom in both the front and rear seats are very good, with room for three in the rear seat. The hatch opening is large, apparently big enough to fit a 32-in. TV in its box. The interior has several storage bins for holding small items.

The AWD Aerio's 2.0-L, four-cylinder, 145-hp engine, matched with a four-speed automatic transmission, doesn't make it a performer -- it has the slowest acceleration in this group. However, it gets decent fuel economy -- about the middle of the pack. The AWD model isn't offered with a manual transmission. The Aerio excels in braking, though, stopping from 100 km/h more quickly than any other model in this group.

This model, at just over $22,000, is the least expensive all-wheel-drive you can buy in Canada. A base version is offered for just $20,195. The AWD system provides 95 per cent of the power to the front wheels on dry roads, but under slip, puts up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear.

The instrument panel has a small, angular display with a digital speedometer and tachometer that takes some getting used to.

Handling of the Aerio is firm, but the body jostles when going over bumps. There's a lot of road noise to be heard on country roads, but all is smooth and quiet at steady highway speeds.

A bonus is that the Aerio's design is a safe one, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the United States has awarded the Aerio with its highest crash-test rating for its 40-mph (64 km/h) offset frontal crash test of compact cars. The Aerio design received the highest rating for safety, along with the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. The Aerio also received the "best pick" designation for the highest crash-test rating.

* Price as tested: $22,298.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.