Suzuki’s 2004 Verona is value packed with extras thanks to GM

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Suzuki has ripped a page from the South Korean automotive playbook.

The Japanese company, with ties to General Motors, has introduced for 2004 a feature-laden mid-sized sedan with an inline 6-cylinder engine for under $20,000.

South Korea’s Hyundai and Kia have increased sales in recent years with similar tactics. But Suzuki is the first Japanese company to market a family sedan with such standard features for under $20,000 as leather interior, air conditioning with climate control, heated front seats, six-speaker stereo system with CD and cassette player, tilt steering wheel with remote stereo controls, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, eight-way power driver’s seat, 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, power  windows and doorlocks and cruise control.

Add the Koreans’ favorite clincher, a long-term warranty, this one a 100,000-mile, seven-year powertrain warranty (Hyundai and Kia have a 10-year time limit), and the new Suzuki Verona will have you saying, are you sure this isn’t a mistake?

And throw in another incentive, no destination and handling charges, and you can drive off in a leather-adorned 6-cylinder mid-sized sedan for $19,499.

That’s the price for the Verona EX, the top of Suzuki’s three trim levels. It’s possible to get behind the wheel of the Verona for as little as $16,499 in S trim and $17,799 for the mid-level LX. And both come with the 6-cylinder as standard equipment.

If you are wondering - this is no bucket of bolts. A week behind the wheel of a Verona EX left us shaking our heads in admiration. This sedan is well screwed together with surprisingly impeccable fit and finish.

Suzuki, which plans to add nine new vehicles in the U.S. in the next five years, has done a remarkable job with its first mid-sized sedan.

The Verona is actually what might have been the next-generation Daewoo Leganza. Daewoo is the bankrupt Korean automobile company that tried to market some rather inferior products in the U.S. for several years before
it was broken up and the best parts picked off by General Motors.

The Leganza was the best of the Daewoo lot, and although the Verona shares some DNA with the Leganza and is built in South Korea, it’s a giant leap from the recently departed Daewoo as we knew it.

The Verona is about the same size as the sedans it considers competitors - the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Mazda6. With a wheelbase of 106 inches and a length of 188 inches, it falls solidly into mid-sized territory.

Front-seat space is comfortable and those riding in the rear-seats will find excellent leg and hip room, a full inch more than in the Honda Accord, for instance. The interior is conservative but handsome, particularly in EX trim where leather, high-quality plastics and simulated wood accents are weaved into a tasteful mix.
The gauges, with black numbers on a white background, are uncluttered and easy to read. The switchgear is standard Japanese fare with lights and wiper controls on twin stalks.

The good news is that all Veronas come with an inline 6. The not-so-good-news is that it’s one of the smallest 6-cylinders in the business, at 2.5 liters of displacement, 155 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.

The inline engine idles smoothly and is pleasingly quiet in city traffic situations, issuing a more pleasant sound than most 4-cylinder engines. But the 4-cylinder offerings in the Accord and Camry offer more horsepower and  just slightly less torque than the Suzuki engine. Mated to a 4-speed automatic (a manual transmission is not available) and lugging nearly 3,400 pounds, the Verona engine has all it can handle.

That being said, we never felt it inadequate in several driving situations including freeway merging, passing in that pesky 40-to-50-mph range and getting off the line from a stoplight. We did have to put the pedal to the metal on a couple of occasions to get the desired results, however.

The Verona has a published 0 to 60 time of a rather sedate 10.7 seconds and a quarter mile time of 17.9 seconds at 78 miles per hour. Both the Accord and Camry is at least a second faster to 60 and sprightlier in mid-range passing.

The engine delivers good gas mileage from 87-octane, 20 miles to the gallon in city driving and 28 on the highway.

The driving experience is pleasant although steering feel is on the light side and not particularly quick.

The suspension is tuned toward the soft side for a comfortable ride that will probably suit most people. This does not compromise handling and cornering, which we found acceptable.

Suzuki officials say the transverse mounting of the engine allows a wider track - 61 inches in front and 60 inches in back - that provides for better handling but Verona is still a long way from a sports sedan.

The Verona has good brake feel and stopped in a straight line under hard braking.

One nitpick - it was difficult to set the cruise control on a desired speed. Several times it registered a couple miles per hour lower than intended. And under hard acceleration to pass a car, the cruise would inexplicably cut off.

Our test car had one of the few options available on the EX, traction control for $500. That brought the bottom line to $19,999.

Overall, Suzuki has done a creditable job bringing to market the company’s first mid-sized sedan for a price that will be hard to beat. How the Verona stands up at trade-in time remains to be seen.

But it should provide several comfortable years of driving without breaking the bank before that bridge need be crossed. It really seems like a blockbuster of a value

What’s the catch? There is none.