Suzuki Forenza Car Review – Motor Point
Suzuki Forenza Road Test
A Better Buy?
It is not easy to buy a Suzuki vehicle knowing that there is significant depreciation and a smaller dealer network than its many rivals. Suzuki obviously knows this and is offering an excellent warranty pricing well below the competition and an abundance of standard features. However even though the result is an enjoyable vehicle to drive it still lacks the sophistication of its rivals and you are limited in your choices of safety features and engines. On the plus side you are certainly getting good value for your money and a spacious nice riding conveyance. And if you can wait a bit the Forenza is going to appear as a station wagon with a price around $17000 (US) and that should make it the most economical cargo hauler around.
Dad’s view: This is a quandary. If you order the five-speed manual you get a transmission that has an exceedingly long throw to fifth gear is reluctant to change gears rapidly and is difficult to get into reverse. If you order the automatic you don’t have any of these problems but you get much less performance and gas mileage. It is a tough choice so test them both.
The 126 horsepower 2.0-liter engine is peppy and runs extremely well. The downside is that the gas mileage is about five miles per gallon less than the competition although the Forenza does offer a slightly larger interior and trunk. Daily driving is quite relaxing in the Suzuki although the horn borders on downright useless. In these days of cell phone talking SUV drivers who may not have discovered turn signals or rear view mirrors a smaller vehicle such as the Forenza needs to announce its presence in a manner that gains respect. The Suzuki horn is more of an annoyance than a warning. Other than that the car drives well stops adequately and holds a great deal. I wouldn’t challenge any corners with it as the Forenza goes from understeer to oversteer quite suddenly. The construction feel solid and visibility was good but the rear view adjustment buttons are difficult to reach for shorter drivers.
Speed wise the Forenza accelerates better than most of the competition and stops with precision. The fully independent front strut/rear dual-link suspension does its work well and only an unruly bump can disturb its composure. As such the soft setting provides a fair amount of body lean around corners but let’s face it you aren’t going to buy a Forenza for its corning abilities because the dynamics just aren’t its forte even though the steering feel progressive and feedback is adequate. Despite not having ABS the car stopped straight and true and the four-wheel disc brakes seem well matched to the 2700-pound front wheel drive sedan.
Mom’s view: Don’t get the manual transmission if you have short arms. You have to lean forward and press against the seat belts to get it into fifth. The good news is that because the engine has a gutsy you can skip second and fourth. The cabin was comfortable but the center console needs more storage room. What I didn’t understand is why Suzuki didn’t take the much more powerful engine from the Liana and put it in the Forenza to make if much more automatic transmission friendly. As it now stands the Liana is the better deal if you like its styling with more room more power and more safety features.
I like the looks of the Forenza with sort of a European flavor but by far my favorite thing is the number of items that Suzuki offers for the money. Our test car which listed for $14300 (US) had a sunroof four-wheel disc brakes; air conditioning; eight-speaker a fairly nice 140-watt stereo with a CD player equalizer and steering-wheel audio duplicate controls; and power windows mirrors and locks.
There were some items that bothered me as the testing went on and which should be checked by potential buyers who usually only get a short drive. First the speedometer is difficult to read as the markings are very limited. The small light that goes on when you are low on gas is difficult to see and there is no audio warning. The trunk does not open wide enough when you unlock it with the remote. When you have your hands full of shopping bags you want the rear deck to open enough so that you don’t have to get your hands dirty on the rear bumper. The engine sometimes runs rough especially with the air conditioner off. Once it stalled at a stoplight but it quickly restarted. I want side airbags. The low beam headlights are very good the high beams border on very weak. The horn buttons need to extend to the center of the steering wheel. As it is you have to find one of two small buttons located near the side of the wheel to use activate the horn. This is non-intuitive. The stereo is good but the reads should include more if you are playing a CD.
On the plus side of the ledger is a well laid out dash storage space except for the center console good seats spacious trunk nice interior gauge illumination at night comfortable cruising ride peppy engine and the warranty.
Young working woman’s view: Anyone in the business of business knows that you need to find a niche if you hope to survive with the big people. Suzuki is going against the titans in the form of the Neon Sentra Echo Scion Corolla Focus and even the Kia and Hyundai to name just a few. But to me the greatest challenge is within its own company. The Liana is similarly priced comes with available all wheel drive and has the same warranty and nearly the same price and it has better crash test scores.
The Forenza is available in three trim levels but all of them are well equipped. As you move up in price Suzuki provides more items to make travel easier such as cruise control remote entry antilock brakes and some interior trim bits. Fortunately the Forenza has seatbelt pre-tensioners dual-stage airbags and daytime running lights.
I never felt deprived when driving the Forenza. It is comfortable and quiet while giving you such goodies as a cabin air filtration a rear seat that has a 60/40-split folding arrangement and a 12.4 cubic feet trunk. I could keep up with traffic and once you get used to the manual-shifting pattern easy to downshift. But I would highly recommend you spend a lot of time getting to know the gearshift because it does not like to be hurried. I never needed more power. Driving on even rutted roads wasn’t a chore but the softly sprung Suzuki did not cater to turns at anything but conservative speeds.
Overall this is a car for those who seek a computer vehicle with a low base price and are willing to forsake the glamour and higher resale of the competition. For the money there is little that can compete feature for feature. The crash test scores lackadaisical fuel mileage and lacks of side airbags temper my enthusiasm.
Young working male’s view: Since I have recently been accused of judging things by their looks I will start there with the Forenza. It isn’t bad and I wouldn’t feel badly about fixing up my buddy with it but this Suzuki is just too plain for my apparently jaded taste. (Can you tell I’m between girl friends?) The Forenza is not offensive inside or out has a meat and potato type of driving feel and makes you feel at home.
Behind the wheel the seats offer some nice manual adjustments or tilt lumbar and enough room for the long legged. The cupholders are okay but if you have a tall drink and are driving a stick shift beware. At night the ignition switch has a nice glow that makes finding it easier than in the day. Once up to speed which does not take long the stereo is easy to figure out although the equalizer is a bit primitive for my tastes but at least it has one and the layout of the radio is too busy for me. What bugged me the most about this Suzuki was the location of the switch for the power mirrors near the front driver’s side mirror. It worked but not smoothly. The Forenza is easy to drive well but think seriously about the automatic transmission because the clutch take-up is high and it gets tiring to constantly shift in thick traffic.
The rear bench seat is okay there isn’t much problem getting in and out if you are small and the rear fold down center armrest has cupholders. I would rate the rear seats are average.
Family conference: Money talks and so the Forenza doesn’t shout look at me too well. It needs some thought before buying because of its shortcomings in fuel lack of side airbags and resale. On the positive side the Forenza offers a lot for the money and the 100000-mile transferable warranty with a seven-year limit is a comforting financial pillow.
Sometimes new cars can be very surprising for better or for worse. Expecting the comfort and civility of a Corolla the Matrix can seem harsh and cheap; but expecting the cost-cutting interior of a Focus or the ride of a Civic the Suzuki Forenza seems especially well-made and comfortable. What makes it even more remarkable is the low starting price of under $12000.
As with many new low-end cars the Forenza sports an expensive-looking exterior which leads people to think it is much pricier. More interesting is the extent to the which the interior picks up cues from more expensive vehicles such as Mercedes and new Chryslers and executives them quite well. The general look of the dashboard is pleasing with a chrome-style smooth plastic covering most surfaces and textured grey and black panels covering the rest in a scheme that is echoed on the doors. Tight tolerances keep it looking good and we must admit we didn’t hear a single squeak or rattle – putting it above even the Camry we recently tested.
The instrument panel features silver trim rings around the gauges for a luxury look accented by an intelligent choice of typefaces and the large white-and-black speedometer. There are luxury cars that don’t look this good.
The sheer number of conveniences and features in this $16000 car (the top of the line EX model which lists for $4000 more than the base model) are astonishing. We can start with an unusually good stereo featuring excellent stereo separation and both CD and cassette built in equalizations for different types of music and voice as well as optional bass boosting and on-wheel controls air four-speed automatic speed-sensitive steering cruise tilt steering driver’s seat height adjustment leather alloy wheels fog lights remote power windows locks and mirrors and moonroof. Topping off that rather amazing feature list is a 100000 mile seven year transferable powertrain warranty roadside assistance and free loaners for certain warranty repairs. Our fully loaded test car did not have and did not need a single option.
Suzuki avoids the usual gimmicks of a steep destination charge – theirs is $0 – and overpriced floor mats – theirs are included. That’s a sign of class.
You may ask how a Japanese automaker can do it. Well Suzuki is owned by General Motors – and Suzuki owns Daewoo. The Forenza is made in Korea with substantial components including the engine coming from Australia. Overall 4% of the car is from North America 73% from Korea and 23% from Australia.
Given all these features which could add up to thousands and thousands of dollars in an ordinary car one might expect a harsh buzzy ride lots of wind noise and an engine that can barely keep going. None of these are true. The ride is quite pleasant similar to the Mitsubishi Lancer and does an amazing job of smoothing out harsh and bumpy roads without over-insulating the driver. There’s a sense of control which is refreshing after our experience with the cushy Camry yet it’s hard to find a street that can jar the passengers. What’s more most bumps don’t give any audible feedback – no annoying subsonic boom. Few shocks will be strong enough to intrude.
Cornering does not appear to be compromised by the good ride. It’s not a sports car but it will handle anything most people throw at it and it feels good doing it. Stability at speed is good.
Visibility is good in all directions enhanced in bad weather by the standard (on EX) heated mirrors – which incidentally fold in when you need to free up a little more space or think there’s a risk of having them taken off. The side windows have dedicated demisters and an electric rear defroster and intermittent wipers are both standard. The wipers could cover a greater area on the passenger side but that probably won’t be a big issue; and the sun visors could be a little better designed. The gentle green backlighting is easy on the eyes and quite effective without hurting visibility in twilight. Interior lighting is surprisingly good with dual map lights up front and a dome light in middle.
Acceleration is not a strong spot but it isn’t too weak either. The engine could use some updating – gas mileage of 22 city 30 highway isn’t bad but it isn’t great either; the V6 Camry is only one mile per gallon less and there are many bigger faster cars that do better albeit not in this price range. The smog index is fairly good meaning that this engine is relatively clean.
The Forenza feels fairly sprightly on city streets but doesn’t do as well in highway merges; the transmission is responsive but the 2-liter engine needs to rev high to get quick acceleration and it takes time to get there; then there’s a sharp first-second drop as the gap between gears makes itself known. Situations that left us wanting quicker takeoffs were fairly few to be fair and there’s something to be said for the saying that it’s more fun to drive fast in a slow car than to drive slowly in a fast car. The Forenza is not slow but it’s also not going to be beating any Neons.
While the transmission shifts fairly smoothly and firmly and is good at figuring out what gear to be in we still advise drivers to go for the five-speed manual transmission to get the most out of their vehicle: it will increase gas mileage quite a bit while making acceleration faster. A manual transmission is probably the easiest power boost you can give to a car like this but we don’t think you can get it with the EX model.
The engine is not overly noisy and idles fairly quietly but it can be a little raucous on acceleration. Most people will not mind but it is not a Camry engine and will make itself known when you hit the throttle. The engine note clearly says “four-cylinder import” not “American muscle” or for that matter “four-cylinder Toyota.” It’s a matter of taste. We can’t say we found it objectionable but then again we like to feel the road and hear the engine; we just don’t want to be hurt by either one.
Aside from a less than ideally efficient engine it’s hard to figure out where Suzuki economized in making the Forenza EX. The power trunk release is unusual in this price class as is an express open feature for the power moonroof and the driver’s window. The moonroof even has a vented sliding cover so you can tilt the moonroof open and slide the cover shut avoiding the sun’s rays while letting hot air escape; and the moonroof has a screen pattern to block out harsh direct sunlight. Aside from the clearly mechanical vent switch all the controls have a good quality feel (we do have to note that the Forenza has separate horn buttons on either side of the airbag which no doubt saves a few dollars). The key goes into a switch with a lighted ring that looks better than just about any competing ignition switch including those used by Toyota and Volkswagen. Just about the only places we can see overt frugality are the simply cupholder the horn buttons rather small sun visors firm seats and a single visible trim screw (not that we have anything against seeing trim screws by the way – it certainly makes it easier on mechanics!).
Interior space is neither generous nor cramped reflecting the increasing size of entry-level cars; it seems roomier than the previous-generation Corolla. Up front it certainly is spacious with good headroom even when the seat is raised to the highest level; in back legroom is moderately tight though it seems more generous than the past-generation Corolla. The only way to tell how easily you fit is to try it out. Entry to the back seats is easy and once there occupants have their own door speakers (standard) to help with stereo imaging their own map pockets on the doors and the back of the front seats and a fold-out center armrest with integrated cupholders – all features often lacking in considerably more expensive cars. An ashtray folds out of the back of the front center console. Our only complaint is that it’s a bit hard to put in LATCH car seats but this is something that doesn’t have to be done very often. The rear LATCH mounts have flip-up covers that won’t be lost and are directly behind the seats they serve.
The front cup holders are simple but there really is only a one-cup capacity: a pair of openings share a single flipping template which holds a cup quite firmly (if it’s the right size). The rear cup holders are also simple but there are two of them. A sunglass holder above the driver’s door is a clever and unusual feature.
A large area under the center console includes a power outlet and space for whatever stuff you keep around: shaver power adapter EZ-Pass. The power adapter there and the cigarette lighter are both keyed to the ignition: take out the key and you lose the power. There is no power memory: everything shuts off when the key comes out. In addition as in past Korean-designed vehicles the power locks operate all at once when you use the remote which is fine for most people but those who use low-security parking areas may have some concern. (Of course you can always use the actual mechanical key.)
The stereo is large with big buttons and a big clear display. Our main complaint is that the steps on the volume control are fairly large as well. Built-in equalization curves cover several types of music as well as voice and bass treble balance and fade are all done by pressing a SOUND button and then using the volume control. There’s a bass-boost feature which can be shut off at the press of a button; we like this system better than those stereos which keep bass boosted all the time making voice more annoying than audible. Switching from mode to mode is done via individual buttons for each mode. This is one stereo that was apparently tested on humans rather than being designed and produced without any end-user testing.
The climate control system is also easy to use and is tuned to be fairly quiet except at the highest setting. The air conditioning is not especially strong but we appreciate the separate a/c control. The tiny sun visors do include mirrors (with flip-up covers and ticket-holders built in).
Given Suzuki’s relationship with General Motors it should come as no surprise that the Suzuki Forenza is equipped with daytime running lights (even the Corolla has these because GM sold a version as the Prizm). In another standard-GM vein a light labeled “DRL” (daytime running lights) remains lit unless you turn the headlights on. At least they labeled the switch more sensibly – GM vehicles tend to just have a little headlight pictogram which lights up when the headlights are off. We suspect we’d yank out the bulb…we’d also prefer to eliminate the DRL entirely except in Canada where it’s mandatory.
Cruise control is handled by short-travel buttons on the wheel with an on/off button that keeps its setting from trip to trip and no “cancel” button – if you want to temporarily go off cruise you need to hit the brake. The wheel also has simple stereo controls: power mode radio-station seek and volume up/down. As we noted earlier the horn buttons themselves are small and mounted on either side of the wheel. The horn itself gives a meek small-car sound. Horns are easy to replace.
Unlike many pricier cars the Forenza has both a remote gas cap release and a power trunk release. Both are easy to find and to reach with the door closed.
The gated transmission shifter echoes those of more expensive cars and we can’t say we like them much there either but one does get used to them. The EX includes a HOLD button which keeps the transmission either in a gear or in a range of gears according to a moderately complicated algorithm which “lets you shift for yourself.” Like the AutoStick we suspect it will go unused 99% of the time but it can be handy in some situations. The gear you’ve chosen shows up both on the mechanical shifter and also on the odometer in a single large letter.
The trunk is surprisingly roomy; underneath the carpet is a spacious bay for the full-size spare and tools with room for other emergency equipment you may care to add – flares jumper cables and such. Unfortunately you have to take everything out of the trunk to get to that compartment because it’s covered by an oversized board – but the same is true for the Toyota Camry. The equipment bay is well organized and the board is supported to hold real weight. The back seats fold down for increased storage.
Overall the Forenza is a surprisingly likeable and enjoyable car offered at an amazingly good price. If you’re not into straight-line performance seek out a Suzuki dealer. With an interior that easily beats the Ford Focus a fun quotient that beats the Corolla and value that Hyundai must envy the Suzuki Forenza should be on your short list.
Written by The Car Family
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