Steve Schaefer, Sat, 18 Aug 2007 08:00:00 PDT
It holds my bass. That's only the first of many virtues of the 2007 Suzuki Forenza Wagon. Add to the package a very affordable price, elegant European styling inside and out, and a long list of standard equipment.
Suzuki's presence keeps growing in the U.S. market, thanks to cars like the Forenza. Its Italian name hints at its styling origins in the famous Pininfarina Design Studio, and you can see that its body is cleanly proportioned in a way not always a hallmark of Korean automobiles. Wagons, with their high, extended roofline, can sometimes look ungainly, but this one is smooth-almost like a baby Audi.
Inside, the materials and their assembly are about as good as it gets in the compact, economy transport segment. Assembled by the Daewoo folks, the cabin features plastics with pleasant graining, and metallic accents, which although they look a little subject to wear, are handsome. The seat cloth doesn't read budget, the levers work with reasonable precision, and the gauges don't look like toys. I wasn't keen on the black plastic interior door latches, which appeared unnecessarily cheap. Thanks to good sealing and also hydraulic mounts that keep engine and transmission vibration at bay, the inside of a Forenza is a restful place to ride.
There is one engine available with your Forenza-an Australia-built 2.0-liter four-cylinder driving the front wheels, attached to either the standard five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic. The automatic features a Hold button, which prevents gear hunting when you're driving on hills. My Cobalt Blue Metallic tester had the automatic, and although it worked just fine, I would have preferred the manual. The Forenza can keep up with freeway traffic with ease, but you don't want to attempt passing on an uphill. The manual, with its five gears, might have delivered a little more feeling of oomph.
This engine earns EPA ratings of 21 City, 30 Highway-good numbers if not class leading. But the Forenza is economical, not an econobox. With 121.6 cubic feet of space, it feels open and airy. The EPA's 2007 Green Vehicle Guide gives the Forenza Wagon with automatic transmission a 6 for the Air Pollution Score and a 6 for the Greenhouse Gas Score. If you opt for a manual, you can move that Air Pollution Score up to a 7.
There is just one trim level of Forenza Wagon available, and it has most of what buyers want, including power windows, locks, and heated mirrors. You also get air conditioning with filtration for comfort, an eight-speaker audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3 for amusement, and side-impact airbags and four-wheel disc brakes for safety. You can add the Convenience Package, which includes keyless entry and cruise control, or the Popular Package, which enhances the Convenience Package by adding a sunroof.
Driving the Forenza Wagon is not an exciting experience, but neither is it an unpleasant one. For the money, it feels like a great deal, and by the middle of my test week I had begun to appreciate its attractions, including the convenience of 60/40 fold down rear seats, the useful control of speed-sensitive power steering, and secure handling from front and rear stabilizer bars, among other things. A tire pressure monitoring system seems like a luxury car feature, but it's standard, too.
Price is a big factor in economy-oriented cars, and this one hits the right mark. The base Forenza Wagon starts at just $14,899 with the standard five-speed manual. My tester, with automatic and the Convenience Package, came to just $16,049. Delivery charges add $625. At this price, and with its 100,000 mile/seven-year warranty, the Forenza Wagon sounds almost unbeatable. And my bass fits in it, too.