Box O' Fun: '03 Suzuki Aerio SX
You probably know Suzuki best as the maker of hot sport bikes that whiz past you on the interstate while you lamely await traffic to clear. But Suzuki also makes cars-until now, not very interesting ones, but cars nonetheless.
What's changed? Suzuki has breathed some life into its smallest cars. Last year the Aerio sedan replaced the slow-selling Esteem, and with it came along the five-door Aerio SX (SX for "sport crossover," in PR-speak). The Aerio sedan is as vanilla as white rap but the SX is as left-field cool as the Honda Element and Scion xB, and just as ripe for go-fast mods.
You can tell the SX by its Hoover vacuum profile and relatively teensy proportions. It's just under 14-feet long and shorter than five feet tall (in real-world terms, it's like three Heather Locklears laid end to end, without the obvious puns). And in its own funky way, the SX fits right into the dashing mold set by the Ford Focus and the other good-looking compact wagons.
Under the very short hood, the Aero SX grabs pavement through its front wheels with the 141hp breathed out by its 2.0-liter four; torque is 135 lb-ft. Through the stock five-speed tranny the power comes on low in the rev band and makes city darting an entertaining way to spend an afternoon - clip this apex, run this stoplight, dodge this Starbucks patron. At highway speeds it's a little wheezier, especially above 85 mph, as if it were begging to be blown out with a small-diameter turbocharger.
The SX is suspended by MacPherson struts all around, and disc/drum brakes have the braking duties covered, though anti-lock control is optional ($500).
If you're a fan of mid-Eighties
Japanese styling, the SX's interior will have you humming "Mr. Roboto" and doing a stupid safety dance. The instruments are digital, for Styx's sake, and the plastics seem to have been manufactured before new-car smell was invented. There's a charming retro feel to the thin door panels, shallow dash and absolutely maxed-out interior space. There's also some tinnitus after long trips at high revs, because the engine noise in the SX's cabin would drive roaches out of a Ponderosa, even on ribeye night.
That in mind, the Aerio's nimble feel and zippy motor make its $15,000 base sticker price seem a bargain. From there, you can spend a few grand for more power and more grip, and still come in under a $20,000 SVT Focus. Throw in the standard equipment like CD stereo, power windows/locks/mirrors and keyless entry on top of that, and the Aerio SX looks less funky all the time, and more like a starter's kit.
Overhaulin' Hits The Airwaves
Maybe you've seen the hot babes and very sensitive gentlemen on TLC's Trading Spaces take their stylistic wrecking ball to people's houses and walk away scot-free after carpeting the ceiling in shag. Who knew Astroturf isn't easy to sleep on? Now the same network is conspiring against us with Overhaulin', where they'll get your car away for a week and do everything needed to turn a high-mileage clunker into a sleek, performance-minded machine. Stylist Chip Foose will guide a team of mechanics through the transformation. See www.discovery.com for more on the show, or just wait until early next year to watch the actual bloodletting.
Betsy Most Popular Car Name
Ever wonder what other people call their cars? Well, you and "Tuner Surprise" can sit back and enjoy the results of Precision Tune's contest to pick the best car names. Out of more than 400 people who entered online or in Precision Tune shops, 21 percent of the cars were tagged with human names like Betsy or Bessie or some other name women stopped using in the 1940s. Some 14 percent of people named their cars some clever way after a color. Some of the best names included Holy Roller, a 1998 Mercury Sable owned by an Oklahoma pastor, Blue Flame, a pizza delivery truck in Gulf Breeze, Fla. and Connie Celica, of Herndon, Va. Read more on the funny cars at www.precisiontune.com and prepare to re-suture your sides together.
Endeavor: All the Road Rage
Maybe you've seen SpongeBob SquarePants on TV, soiling the interior of Mitsubishi's new Endeavor crossover wagon with his spooky, preternatural wetness. Well he's not the only one - rest assured you too can get just as damp over the Endeavor as America's most waterlogged superhero. Because, dear reader, here we have the first Mitsu SUV that acts like it has some manners on pavement, with enough turf-trodding skills to extract you from the occasional off-ramp off-road excursion.
The Endeavor is a basic, low-frills wagon with a big V6 heart and front- or all-wheel drive. Now, ten years ago, the notion of front-drive in this class would have seemed as silly as Prada cowboy boots. Then along came the Toyota RAV4 and, well, Prada cowboy boots. No one here at 2NR has been quite the same since on either front.
Maybe the most effective bit of the Endeavor's mechanical package is its stout 215-hp, 3.5-liter V6. With a growl and a smack on your back, it jerks the Endeavor to life. It's a transverse powerplant teamed with a four-speed automatic-short a gear of state of the art, to be sure, but pretty well suited to the V6's hefty torque. Sportronic controls come grafted to the side gate of the shift pattern, in case you want to play Speed Racer and can't get to your Nintendo 64 in time, otherwise this and similar semi-manual toys are just that.
Choose four-wheel drive and you get a transfer case engaged all the time; choose front-wheel drive and you'll immediately be classified as a poser, with the potential upside of saving a few thousand dollars off the Endeavor's $25,000 estimated base price. Either way you get a strut suspension in front and a multi-link rear end and not a live axle to be found. Steering is pretty clean for something with all-weather pretension, and the ride control proves why car platforms make better city wagons than nasty ol' trucks. It's just hard to upset the Endeavor's composure, short of cranking all the steering and power into the same corner at the worst possible moment. Say, during conception.
In and out, the Endeavor's styling is bound to cause a stir in households more used to the sedate trappings of a Ford Explorer. The body's liberally dosed with crests and slits and facets, so much so you'll swear the designers got extra points for them. Inside the center stack is arranged in a Gobot shape, with warning-light eyes and a metallic silver paint-altogether weird in execution but usefully arranged-and the instruments are big and lit blue at night, a classy touch in an otherwise angular, overly-styled affair.
The Endeavor comes in base LS, mid-range ES and the most expensive Limited flavors. None of them comes with a third-row seat, but they all get the same big V6 engine and comfortable five-adult seating. For between $25,000 and $35,000, they've built a fair competitor that out-flashes the vanilla Toyota Highlander, for sure. Also to the entire range of Transformer toys, and several high-priced companions we know.
The most feared machine in London is not a dentist's drill-yes, they have them and running water, too, despite evidence to the contrary. Said machine is the ubiquitous city taxi, ready to take a foot off at the ankle if you should step into roundabout traffic just a fraction of a second too soon. Now the famed tall-roof London taxi is coming to America, where no doubt some East L.A. outfit is sizing them up for lowrider competition. London Taxis North America, Inc. (LTNA) says it will start importing the British-made sedans and has already sold a handful in big cities like Detroit, Boston and L.A. To get them in through customs easily, the importers did two things: first they federalized them for safety and emissions and installed Ford diesel engines in them, and second, they applied for student visas. Two models are being offered: the "Civilized Taxi," designed for the commercial taxi market; and the "London Executive Sedan," designed for private livery markets and British Girls Gone Wild! video shoots. The Ford turbodiesel gets 24mpg in the city, 28 highway; the interior provides enough room for five adults. Check out www.LTNA.com before you run and get Danny DeVito out of cold storage.
Power: Quality Getting Better
Japan's automakers still build the most reliable cars and trucks, according to the latest J.D. Power survey of three-year quality. "Duh," you say? What you don't know is that American car companies have passed the European brands, though they're still not in the same quality area code as Toyota and Honda. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study, the one that tracks consumer complaints over three years, put Lexus at the top of all brands, with only 163 problems reported per 100 vehicles after three years of ownership. Falling fast: Mercedes-Benz, which ranked 25th and had about twice as many problems as the average Lexus. General Motors scored above average, Ford slipped somewhat and in last place was Kia, with more than 500 problems for every car surveyed.
Accomplishment & Tragedy
Subaru Rally Team USA's Mark Lovell and his co-driver Roger Freeman finished first overall in the SCCA ProRally class during June's running of the 2003 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in their WRX (see page 144). It's just the sort of accomplishment everyone at Subaru and everyone on the team could cherish.
But two weeks later, at the Oregon Trail SCCA ProRally, both Lovell, 43, and Freeman, 52, were killed when their car hit a tree moments into the first special stage of the event. Lovell and Freeman had been rallying together for 20 years with significant success, including the 2001 Overall Drivers Championship for 2001. Both British subjects, Lovell is survived by his wife Julie, and sons, Oliver and Thomas, while Freeman leaves his wife Alison, daughter Becky, and son John, behind.
In the close-knit world of rallying, this tragedy is a deeply felt one. Our heart goes out to everyone at Subaru, its Rally Team and the rallying community at large. We will, as we hope everyone will, strive to remember these two men for the full lives they led.
High Octane USA and High Octane 2New Zealanders are pretty much Australians with speech impediments. They also, obviously, are fairly well nuts for cars.
The High Octane series is produced by New Zealanders and has a distinctly Kiwi flavoring. They like masturbation jokes and aren't afraid to include them, along with some gratuitous cussing in their DVDs. They also like goofy humor, but it would be better if their humor included something funny.
The High Octane USA DVD was shot primarily in California and includes a look at the Import Auto Salon and, more obsessively, a lot of looks at the breasts of women at the IAS. There are also some mostly yawn-worthy shots of track day at Willow Springs that includes some decent drifting. By far, the highlight is a comparison between a Ferrari F355 and a Dodge Viper GT-S that includes the Viper going clean off a mountain road and down a 100-foot cliff. It's so unexpected, you have to back up the DVD to make sure that what you saw really happened.
High Octane 2 takes place completely in New Zealand and dang if we can understand a third of what they're saying. Still there's some Skyline racing that's worthwhile and a New Zealand bikini contest in which no one entered.
These are two-hour DVDs with about 30 minutes of decent and worthwhile footage in each of them. We found ourselves using the fast forward button almost as frequently as we hit the pause switch for the bikini contests. Each of the DVDs is $19.95 through 247Motoring.com.
In case you hadn't heard by now, Import Tuner is teaming up with Hankook Tire and a handful of respected aftermarket tuners to build the ultimate Civic Si hatch. You can view the project in progress at www.winhankooktires.com, as well as enter to win a set of high-performance Hankook Ventus tires. Best of all, you can actually enter to win the car, which will be given away to a very lucky winner early in 2004. Why wait? Enter now!
Scion Counting on 100K
Toyota's snappy Scion cars could be selling in the 100,000-unit range within two years, if the brand's evil plan for cheap-car domination succeeds. Scion started selling the five-door hatchbacks in California this summer, but won't be in every state until the end of next year. By then, the Toyota mothership expects Scion to sell 100,000 vehicles a year. The two current models are to be joined by at least one more unnamed Scion model-maybe an xC, to go with the xA and xB? More important to Toyota, the average Scion buyer is topping off their sub-$15,000 car with about a grand worth of accessories, about three times as much as they'd normally sell with a Toyota-brand car.
Honda Looks On in Envy?
Scions early success has Honda thinking, "Gee, should we have given the Element its own store?" That's the word from Detroit and L.A that has Honda studying the possibility of setting up its own brand, skewed right at the under-25 market they wanted to hit with the extremely wacky Element SUV. That trucklet is attracting more old folks than Honda would have liked, but the company is said to be working on more inexpensive vehicles-one a light-duty pickup derived from the CR-V like the Element-that would bring in the younger buyers like fake tattooes and, well, real tattooes.
Toyota Going with More Hybrids
The mad rush to hybridize is hitting Toyota's trucks next. Sources say the company that brought Cameron Diaz her Prius gas-electric sedan will bring out more hybrids for a total of six in its fleet in the next three years. Next up is a hybrid version of the Lexus RX 330 SUV, to be followed by gas-electric versions of the Highlander crossover and Sienna minivan. Most interestingly, Toyota may also be working on a V8 hybrid that would spin out power equivalent to a V12 powertrain and may be planning that very same conversion for a big Lexus sedan of the very near future.