Suzuki Verona scores on value

Friday, June 18, 2004

STEVE ROBERTSON * srobertson@semissourian.com

This 2004 Suzuki Verona was photographed in front of Southeast Hospital, and would make an excellent commuter, with its six-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. Engineered to compete against the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Suzuki offers more features for less money.srobertson

This car scores high on value and comfort

I'll admit it. I love anything with an engine. It doesn't matter if it rolls on two wheels or 18, floats or flies -- if it makes an engine sound I will probably like it. At one time I counted 13 motorized machines in my garage, and several more parked outside. For years my garage was home to two Suzuki motorcycles, and one still resides there, so you could say that I am biased. But I'm not alone: the latest Cycle World magazine declared two Suzuki models among the 10 best motorcycles in the world, and gave two other Suzukis honorable mention -- more awards than any other manufacturer in the world. That's not bad for a little Japanese company up against the best from Germany, Japan, Austria, Italy and the USA.

With that said, I'll share a little secret with you: the Suzuki Verona I tested last week is not a Japanese car at all -- it's a Korean car that is marketed in other parts of the world as a Daewoo Magnus. But that doesn't detract from Suzuki's reputation for value and quality one bit. This upstart challenger to Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and other mid-size sedans is going to give its better known competitors a run for the money.

Just don't bet your money on the Verona at a racetrack -- you'll lose. Although Suzuki motorcycles are known for speed and handling, this Suzuki won't be winning any awards in those departments. Instead, the Verona scores high on value, comfort, convenience features and luxury appointments. Suzuki is spending big advertising bucks to convince would-be Honda and Toyota buyers to take a look. That's exactly what I did last week.

The Verona is offered in three versions: the base S model, the mid-level LX and the top-of-the-line EX, which I drove. The S has power windows and door locks, heated power mirrors, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, remote keyless entry, a tilt steering wheel, a six-way adjustable driver seat, air conditioning, an in-dash CD/cassette player and floor mats. The LX gives you automatic climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels and antilock brakes. The EX sports a power sunroof, heated leather seats and door panels, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an eight-way power driver seat, and lists for $19,995 delivered.

The price alone should get your attention, especially if you have been kicking tires lately. There's a lot of car for the money. But is the Verona any good? Suzuki is betting its reputation and fortune on it, because the car includes a 7-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which, unlike some competitors, is transferable to the next owner. That feature should help resale values, because used car buyers are willing to pay extra for a car under warranty.

All trim levels come with an unusual, smooth-running inline six-cylinder engine -- not usually seen at this price point. The all-aluminum, dual-overhead cam 24-valve power plant is mounted cross-wise under the hood, just like the four-cylinder engines that come standard in the Accord and Camry, and necessitates a wide front wheel track of 61 inches. Stability and handling are thus enhanced, and interior space is maximized. The cabin dimensions are nearly exactly that of the Camry. But the engine is on the smallish side -- 2.5 liters, about the same as the 4-cylinder engines of the competition, and it generates just 155 horsepower. But torque is what gets you moving, and the Verona's engine serves up plenty -- 177 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm for strong acceleration at low speeds. The front-wheel-drive Verona uses a computer-controlled four-speed automatic transmission that adapts to suit the driver's particular driving style, and helps the vehicle get 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

As mentioned, the Verona's interior compares favorably with the best-selling Camry in nearly every dimension, and the vehicle is well equipped for the money. The interior is handsomely trimmed with quality materials, and I appreciated the black pebbled dash, which kept glare at bay. The deeply recessed instruments have high-contrast white faces, and the steering wheel, shifter and door panels are covered in leather. The plastics are of high quality, the grab handles and storage doors are damped, and cup holders are provided in the front console and the fold-down rear seat arm rest. The dark woodgrain panels on the center panel and doors are a luxurious touch and the chrome plate around the shift knob is another nice feature. The sound system not only offers an in-dash six-disc CD changer and steering-wheel-mounted controls, but also a tape player that enables you to get your cassettes out of storage.

Verona's ride is as plush as the competition, and the handling is acceptable. On a test run up to Perryville, the car tracked well down the interstate despite a stiff crosswind. Braking was smooth and powerful, and the six-cylinder engine was quiet and extremely smooth.

If your wallet tells you to look at economy cars, but your passions are steering you toward more luxurious vehicles, take at look at the Verona. It's making its mark in this competitive market.

Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a car enthusiast and former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at srobertson@semissourian.com.

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