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Suzuki Verona is a well-traveled sedan

April 24, 2004|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

Is Suzuki being too ambitious if it wants you to consider a new Verona over a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, two of the industry's long-haul heavy hitters?

And what about the challenges of dropping a car into a league of established contenders that offer power, more power and options, options and more options?

Ambition? Challenges? You don't know the half of it.

The Verona, Suzuki's primary attempt to go a little more upscale in North America, is actually so well traveled it should probably have a passport.

New to this market, it's an Italian-designed car - with a name to match - that's already sold as the Daewoo Magnus in other parts of the world. And that's Daewoo, from South Korea, the same Daewoo that floundered on these shores not long ago. And that's Daewoo, now partly owned by General Motors.

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Since Suzuki also falls under the GM banner, this new family four-door is an interesting Japanese-Italian-Korean-American mix, a vehicle that all parties hope will deliver added depth in a segment dominated by brand loyalty and diversity.

It's an interesting change in direction for Suzuki, which has been content to build and sell compact sport-utility vehicles and compact runabout cars. Note the repeated use of the word "compact." By contrast, the Verona is much, much bigger than any other car Suzuki has dreamed up. In fact, it's being marketed as a less-expensive alternative (as in thousands less) to established bedrock sedans such as the Camry and Accord.

Of course, "economical" is one thing, but you don't want to be regarded as cheap. If "value" wasn't such an overused word these days, it's a title that would probably stick like glue to this newcomer. That's where the Verona wants to leave its (international) calling card.

On the inside, it's virtually equal to the Camry, inch-for-inch, offering plenty of room for five passengers. It can also swallow a few golf bags or extra luggage with its split-folding rear seat.

From the outside, the look is smooth and uncluttered, and somewhere between subtle and distinct.

If it looks the part of mid-size prize fighter, Suzuki hopes it can also act like it. One way will be through its standard 155-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine. That's right, not a four-cylinder, but a six with all its pistons lined up in a row. Of course, to save space, the double-overhead-cam engine is sideways-mounted between the front fenders. It's also mated to a four-speed automatic transmission that adapts to your driving style.

While you get what you get when it comes to the powertrain (which almost certainly streamlines production and cuts some fat off the bottom line), Verona does offer three trim levels: base S; mid-level LX; and the top-of-the-line EX. You can't deck out this Suzuki the way you can a Camry or Accord, but the standard-features list is formidable, especially when your eyes eventually find the paltry $17,000 base price. Loading up even the entry-level cars is a move that really put Hyundai on the map and should work well for Suzuki.

The base S gets four-wheel disc brakes, CD-equipped stereo with steering-wheel-mounted controls, speed-sensitive steering (reduces the power assist as you drive faster), power windows and door locks, air conditioning, tilt steering, wood-grain trim and some chrome interior touches.

At the other end of the spectrum, you'll either get or can specify automatic climate control, cruise control, leather seating surfaces, eight-way power driver's chair and aluminum wheels.

Anti-lock brakes are optional across the board while side-impact air bags are not offered.

When compared to the other players in the category, it might not be as eye-catching or as muscular but the Verona does offer good bang (room, features and power) for your basic entry fee. It truly appears to deliver on the value promise no matter where your brand loyalty resides or how many stamps dot its passport.

Copyright 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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