A few months back it seemed every time a new test car was dropped off it would be raining heavily. There could've been six days of beautiful sunshine leading up to it, but when the shiny new car rolled up skies darkened, rain fell and I was stuck having no fun for the first day no matter what I was driving. Every one of those instances paled in comparison to last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, when the new Suzuki Reno was delivered. Not only were the skies grey, but a huge weather system moved into Chicago dumping a few inches of snow and ice on the roads.
On a normal Wednesday I would’ve just quickly driven home, parked the car and run inside for a night of TV watching, but instead I had to hightail it to the suburbs for a family dinner and to prepare for a flight to Florida the next day. A normal 45-minute commute turned into two-plus hours of shear road hell.
I had to adjust to the Suzuki’s interior, controls and seating in complete darkness since it now gets dark at 4 p.m. As I first pulled out onto the slick and icy roads I was cursing my timing. Why didn’t I schedule the Subaru Legacy GT with its All-Wheel Drive for this week? I’m sure the folks at both Subaru and Suzuki are saying the exact same thing.
The little economy hatchback is not made to handle conditions like this as aggressively as the Subaru of course, but I felt moderately safe on the highway as huge salt trucks pelted me with their cargo. After two hours of white knuckle driving the leather seats in my top of the line EX model didn’t feel too comfy and my back was ready for some stretching. However even in the dark you can tell the Reno’s interior is far above anything Suzuki’s Korean competition (yes I know this is basically a Daewoo) has put out there.
I really can’t say much about the driving impressions either since it was such adverse weather. That had to wait until my return from the holiday vacation and much better roads.
Driving the new Suzuki Reno on dry roads was such a pleasure compared to my snowy initiation behind the wheel on Day 1. In the light of day the Suzuki is a pleasant commuter with plenty of power at high speeds even if the acceleration is pretty dismal.
I don't want to totally blast the car's performance because it doesn't match other cars we regularly test. I can't stand automotive journalists that think every car should be as fast as the WRX etc. The Reno is an economy car and that's that. Compared to the Kia Spectra I tested a few months back the Reno outdoes it in every performance category. Granted I didn't drive the new Spectra 5-door, but the sedan is the big seller and the prices are very similar.
Highway driving without slush on the roads was an extremely pleasant affair. The car is exceptionally quiet for an economy car, especially a hatchback. There was minimal road noise but there was noticeable wind howling around the windows at high speeds. I can say I reached 80 mph and only felt the car beginning to struggle around that mark. But as a highway driver it was much more capable than the Spectra, could pass other cars with more confidence and tracks better.
My main problem with the car in the driving arena is the mushy clutch. Every shift feels like I’m stirring cake mix. This is actually one tester I’d almost have preferred in automatic because of the response of the shifter. Luckily the clutch is nice and light and there is ample room for my foot when hitting the pedals. The driving position is relatively high which most buyers will appreciate, although I’m not in love with the adjustable driver’s seat on my legs.
While the handling and performance don’t measure up to more expensive economy cars like the Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla XRS it does offer a lot of practicality and user friendliness for the price.
By far the most impressive aspect of the Suzuki Reno is the interior. I'm going to spend a lot of time applauding the work the company has done to this cool little hatchback. Again I'll compare it to the Kia Spectra that was redesigned this year and also marvel at how come other brands can't make cheap cars feel not so cheap.
Notice the first picture here (click on it for larger version) and see the semetric bar going across the dash and the cool air vents. This is plastic made to look like metal but is nice to the touch and offers a very stylish contrast of dark and light greys to the cabin. I'm no design student or critic but I know what I like and the Reno is one of those rare economy cars that will not make you feel like you're driving an economy car. It also follows the Chevy Aveo in making something inexpensive look more upscale. The Spectra felt cheap to me at all times. Flimsy map holders to a boring center stack reminded me that no one will be impressed with the Spectra.
In the Reno there are tons of trays, cubbies and two front cup holders that can adjust to fit small water bottles, a must these days. I wasn’t impressed by the CD player and speaker quality but the sound system was head and tails better than the last Suzuki I tested, the much more expensive Verona, and obviously it’s better than the Chevy Aveo.
There is a rather large for the class sunroof that opens easily. The door panels also follow the lines of the dash and are laid out well. The driver’s side window has an auto-down function and I guess that means it matches that feature on the double the price Subaru Legacy GT. And the doors have some decent weight to them adding to the aura of better quality.
Some things I don’t like include the tray under the CD player. It is popping up a little from the plastic underneath. It’s not a huge deal but shows some poor quality in an otherwise very tight package. I’m also a bit disappointed with the seat support and I’m not a fan of leather in a car in this price range but overall I’d give the interior a big thumbs up.
The Suzuki Reno leaves the Autoblog Garage after getting us through some horrible weather on more than one occasion all the while providing a very reliable driving experience. That doesn't speak to any exhilaration from the driver's seat but it does speak volumes about how much the competition routinely misses the mark.
One thing the Reno has going for it is it's terrific styling. The Italian exterior is much more attractive in person and the interior I discussed at length yesterday is outstanding. In the end I think it's this mix of top design and the smooth and quiet ride that will win over new buyers.
There’s also a lot of utility to be had. With the back seats up the rear hatch holds a decent amount of cargo. I stuffed two decent sized carry-on bags, backpack and briefcase with the seats up and things could’ve been stacked much higher. With the seats down I fit that same amount of luggage along with a big dog bed. The seats flipped down easily and the rather large headrests didn’t get in the way when reorganizing. They did block visibility a bit when up and I’d probably remove them if I was a lone driver or two passenger family.
Of course I’d be remiss without pointing out that the Reno has one of the weakest engines in the class at only 129 horsepower. However those extra horses aren’t really missed except in pure off the line acceleration. Highway performance and general “zippiness” are attributes the Reno has chalked up after our week of driving. Another thought on the horsepower though goes to mileage. It only gets 22/30 mpg. I was kind of surprised but then double-checked the Kia Spectra sedan and that only gets 25/34 with a 138 hp engine. But it feels much slower. Even the better-powered Suzuki Aerio wagon gets 25/31 mpg at 155 hp.
This leads to my logical suggestion to Suzuki to either up the hp or up the mpg in 2006 to satisfy either the tuners or commuters. Right now the Reno is right in the middle and hitting people that just need a reliable and attractive small wagon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
New Car Test Drive
Competent sedan, wagon and hatchback.
When you're shopping in the $15,000 new-car market, chances are that head-turning style and high-performance aren't first on your priority list. No, more likely you're looking to get as much car as you possibly can for as few dollars as possible.
It is into this hotly contested, price- and feature-sensitive market that Suzuki enters with two new models this year. The Suzuki Forenza Wagon and Reno are new to Suzuki's Forenza family for the 2005 model year. Both are based on the Forenza sedan, which was introduced as an all-new model for 2004. The underpinnings of the three body styles are mechanically identical. The major difference among them is exterior styling and a few trim choices.
From the standpoint of stuff for the money, the Forenza family of cars does well. They are well equipped even at the base trim level, and retail for less than most of their competitors.
The Reno is the fun member of the family. Its job is to be Suzuki's pretty face, attracting buyers who might otherwise consider cars sitting on Scion showroom floors, or perhaps the sleek lines of the Mazda 3, to which it bears a slight resemblance. The Forenza Wagon's most compelling feature is just that: it's a wagon. Larger than the Chevy Aveo and Kia Rio, it costs significantly less than comparably sized wagons such as the Ford Focus ZXW or the Toyota Matrix. The Forenza sedan is designed to offer a strong value in a sea of value-priced compact sedans, no easy job. It does this by providing side-impact airbags as standard equipment; they're extra-cost options on the 2005 Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. Other features that are optional on the big brand names are standard on the Forenza, including air conditioning, power windows and door locks, and a CD player.
Suzuki is able to keep prices low because, despite the Japanese nameplate, the cars are built in Korea by Daewoo, courtesy of General Motors, which owns a stake in both Daewoo and Suzuki. General Motors benefits by keeping its Daewoo plant active, and Suzuki gets a full line of cars to draw more people into its dealerships.
The cars resulting from this complex genealogy are not ground breaking; few cars in this segment ever are. Breaking ground costs money, after all, so breaking ground is a job usually done by more expensive vehicles. However, these cars are strong on features, have warranties, and are good values for the money, even if they are short on pizzazz.
Suzuki Forenza and Reno models are available in three trim levels: S, LX and EX. All models come with four-wheel disc brakes and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Five-speed manual gearboxes are standard on S and LX models, four-speed automatics are optional ($800). Forenza sedan and Reno hatchback are the same price, while the Forenza wagon adds $500.
Reno S ($13,499), Forenza S ($13,499) and Forenza wagon S ($13,949) come standard with air conditioning, cloth upholstery, AM/FM/CD/cassette with six speakers, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, power windows, power door locks, heated power mirrors, 60/40 split folding rear seats, intermittent wipers and other features. Also standard are details such as a trunk light, seatback pockets, and remote releases for the trunk and fuel filler door. The Reno's stereo also supports MP3 playback.
Forenza and Reno LX ($15,349) and the Forenza wagon LX ($15,849) add remote keyless entry, cruise control, fog lamps, a power sunroof, 15-inch alloy wheels, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Forenza and Reno EX ($16,949) and the wagon ($17,449) come with leather upholstery and the automatic.
Safety features include side-impact airbags as standard equipment along with the mandated dual front airbags. We recommend getting the optional anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution ($500), which are available for LX and EX models. Three-point seatbelts are provided for all positions and we strongly recommend wearing them because they are your first line of defense in any crash; the front seatbelts are equipped with pretensioners designed to reduce belt-related injuries in a crash and adjustable shoulder-height adjusters for better comfort. The LATCH system of lower anchors and top tethers for child seats comes standard along with rear-door child safety locks. Safety sells, and these Suzukis are long on it for this class.
The biggest distinction between the Suzuki Forenza and Reno models is the exterior styling.
The Forenza sedan and wagon boast clean lines when viewed from the side, and the jeweled taillights are a nice touch from the rear. The front, however, features a three-element grille, with a center section surrounded by body-colored plastic. Dead center is a Texas belt-buckle sized Suzuki 'S.' It's not the most flattering angle of the car, and it reminds us of Mitsubishi's similarly peculiar nose treatment. In addition, the 15-inch wheels look a little lost in the bodywork, especially in the back. Bigger wheels would help, but they would also push that low base price up, which would be an unforgivable sin.
The Reno boasts a much smoother design, and if the word 'Italian' crosses your mind when looking at it, give yourself a pat on the back. Penned by Italy's ItalDesign studios, the Reno's smooth shape is its best asset. Sleek headlights sweep into the body work, the fenders are nicely arched, and a strong character line runs along the top of the fender, over the doors, and to the tail. The arched wheel wells give the same 15-inch wheels a little added dimension, so they don't look as tiny here. It's one of the nicer five-door hatchbacks on the road, better than Suzuki's own Aerio and several others.
Fit and finish on these cars is good, but not class leading. Still, we couldn't find any assembly problems or anything that pointed to a slapdash effort on the part of the Korean builders. Word is that Suzuki's engineers taught Daewoo a little something about fit and finish, and the lessons seem to have taken hold. The paint was nicely sprayed, with our Forenza wagon a very pretty medium blue color. Silver is a tough color to get right, but the Reno's paint job was without blotches or other cheap-looking touches. The only quirk, and we've noticed this in all the Korean-built Suzuki models, were doors that required a strong effort to slam. We're not talking blast-door weight here, but we frequently found ourselves staring at the 'door ajar' light.
The interiors of the Reno and Forenza LX models we've seen were virtually identical, with the only exceptions being the shape as dictated by the bodywork. The dash is trimmed in black and metallic-look plastic, and it's a harmonious and integrated design that eschews gimmickry for common sense. If you've driven any Japanese car in the past 20 years, you'll be immediately familiar with the control layout. Hard plastic is kept to a relative minimum, and the dash top, door pulls and virtually anything else you'll touch on a day-to-day basis feel as good as comparable Korean or, as the case may be, Japanese competitors.
Gauges are big and clear, with a central speedometer flanked to the left by the tachometer and the right by the fuel and temperature gauges. The stereo in both cars sounded only mediocre, but both had clear controls and were easy to figure out.
The front seats were comfortable, with adjustments for fore, aft, and height. Engine noise gets intrusive the higher you rev it, but wind and road noise is well controlled for this price point. As long as you don't expect Lexus-levels of silence, you'll be happy.
Rear-seat room is among the best in the class. On paper, the Forenza sedan offers more rear hip room, head room and leg room than the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and Nissan Sentra. And Reno offers more rear legroom than the Mazda 3 and Toyota Matrix. Still, this is a compact, so the back seats are tight. Although five belts are available, we recommend squeezing three people in the back only if they still want cookies and milk before naptime. Back seat roominess is mostly identical for sedan, wagon and hatchback, though the wagon offers more rear headroom than the Reno does.
Trunk space in the Forenza sedan is about average for the class, 12.4 cubic feet.
With five doors, both the Reno hatchback and Forenza Wagon lean heavily on utility to get them through the day. All Forenza and Reno models share the same 102.4-inch wheelbase, the norm for the class. But the Forenza Wagon is 10 inches longer overall, so it's able to carry more stuff. With the seats up, the Forenza Wagon can swallow more than 24 cubic feet of cargo, while the Reno manages just under 9 cubic feet, less than the sedan. Fold down the seats, however, and the Reno really opens up with 45.4 cubic feet of cargo space compared with 61 cubic feet in the wagon. Neither car's rear seats fold completely flat, but they're good enough for temporary storage. Also, the cargo covers on both cars deserve special mention for the total lack of reflection they cast on the rear window when in use.
The driving experience in the Suzuki Forenza and Reno is about what you'd expect in a value-oriented compact. The Reno and Forenza share the same platform, including suspension, engine and transmission. So we weren't surprised when all three body styles shared similar driving characteristics.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It's not particularly powerful nor is it particularly fuel efficient. With 16 valves, double overhead cams, direct ignition and most of the other modern engine tricks we see today, its 126 horsepower at 5600 rpm are somewhat disappointing. Torque is a bit better, at 131 lb-ft at 4000 rpm, but no matter how you slice it, this is not a very sporty engine, a fact reinforced by the unhappy noises it makes when pushed hard.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is just 22/30 mpg City/Highway (manual transmission, all models). That's distinctly sub-par for the class. On the plus side, they meet ULEV Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle requirements, meaning they're relatively clean.
Part of the problem is weight. These Suzuki models are fairly heavy cars for this class. Base curb weight for the Forenza sedan is 2701 pounds, which is 200 pounds heavier than a Toyota Corolla and 250 pounds heavier than a Honda Civic. The Reno hatchback weighs in at 2750 pounds while the wagon tips the scales at 2850 pounds. Weight impacts acceleration performance, and these cars are not quick.
We tested both the five-speed manual and the four-speed automatic transmissions. The automatic shifts smoothly, but feels as though it's taking what little power the engine puts out and hiding it away somewhere. The automatic features a fiddly gated shifter on the floor and you have to have to push down on the shifter handle to move it from neutral to reverse, all of which seems to add layer of needless complexity. On the plus side, it offers a Hold function designed to keep the car in gear on long uphill stretches. The standard five-speed manual felt smooth and buttery in a Reno we drove, but vague and ropey in a Forenza sedan.
As befitting a budget car, the suspension is pretty basic, although it is fully independent. MacPherson struts hold up the front of the car, while a dual-link setup takes care of the rear. It's a tried and true setup that does its job well, and is well-sorted in this car, with few extraneous ride motions, and an overall comfortable ride. Despite its looks, the Reno is no sportster, but it and the Forenza have well damped suspensions that keep control of the car body in most circumstances. It feels tuned to the soft side, which was nice on bumpy, broken pavement, but it dove under braking and squatted under acceleration. The steering had a bit of play in it. The steering is decently weighted, but we frequently found ourselves having to re-center the wheel ourselves, rather than letting the car do it.
Brakes are firm underfoot. Anti-lock brakes are optional. We recommend getting ABS as it allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in an evasive maneuver. Electronic brake-force distribution helps balance braking force front to rear according to the situation, resulting in quicker stops and better stability under hard braking. In short, these features can help you avoid a crash, whether it's wet, wintry or dry pavement on a sunny day.
The Suzuki Forenza and Reno models offer a lot of stuff for the money when compared with the big name brands, and come with an excellent warranty (3 years/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 100,000 miles/7-year powertrain). The Reno five-door hatchback, the Forenza four-door sedan and the Forenza wagon are essentially the same vehicle in different body styles. Reno is the best looking with its Italian styling.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Keith Buglewicz is based in Southern California.
Suzuki Forenza Sedan S ($13,449); Sedan LX ($15,349); Sedan EX ($16,949); Wagon S ($13,949); Wagon LX ($15,849) Wagon EX ($17,549); Reno S ($13,449); Reno LX ($15,394); Reno EX ($17,049).
Options As Tested
anti-lock brake system with EBD ($500).
Suzuki Reno LX ($16,149).
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