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Suzuki Weekend – The Forgotten Cars of Suzuki Between the Swift, and the SX/4

Jim Brennan November 10, 2012 Weekend Edition 15 Comments

Continuing on with the Suzuki Weekend, where we celebrate the end of the Suzuki Branded cars here in the States. Suzuki produced some very interesting cars and only exported a few of them for the North American Market. Some were memorable (Like the Swift GTi), while others were regrettable (The Re-Badged Daewoos), but the ones between those bookends are somewhat forgettable, and were lost within the market place because of indifferent advertising, or better offerings from other manufacturers. So let’s take a look at the Suzuki Esteem, and the Aerio, a couple of cars that are yawn inducing at best.

The Esteem was an attempt to compete with larger compacts for a Company known for its diminutive offerings thus far. The Esteem was roughly Honda Civic sized, and was offered here in North America as either a 4-door Sedan, or a 5-Door Wagon, a market that was all but vacated by the mainstream Japanese brands by this time. Known in its home market as the Cultus Crescent, it was introduced in the global market in the first half of 1995 as Suzuki’s first attempt in the compact segment. As a North American replacement for the Suzuki Swift sedan, it was built on a slightly stretched Cultus platform for improved cabin room, but otherwise sharing most of internal components with the smaller model.

The Cultus Crescent was initially available as a three-door hatchback and four-door sedan. The North American Esteem was offered with the 1.6L SOHC 4-cylinder, basically the same engine as found in the Suzuki Escudo (Sidekick), with power raised to about 95HP in federalized form. The Esteem Wagon debuted later, after a 1998 facelift, featuring a 1.8L J18A chain-driven DOHC engine. This was Suzuki’s first station wagon (excluding kei cars). Both were discontinued after 2001.

The replacement to the Esteem/Cultus Crescent was the smaller Aerio for North America, which was called the Liana in the rest of the world. Models in North America got a larger and more powerful 2.0 L engine with 145 hp. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard with a 4-speed automatic optional. All-wheel-drive was available, but only with the automatic. American Aerios came in two trim levels: the S and GS (2002–2004), S and LX (2005), and Base and Premium (2006–2007). Key changes over the years included an upgrade to a new 2.3-liter 155 hp engine in 2004, a major styling and interior refresh in 2005 (replacing the digital instruments with conventional analog ones), and the standardization of antilock brakes in 2006. Only the Aerio sedan remained for 2007, as the hatchback had been shelved to make room for the new 2007 SX4 hatchback. Throughout its run, the Aerio was distinct for being the most affordable car in America to offer all-wheel-drive.

Fans of Top Gear UK will recognize the Suzuki Liana as one of the cars selected for the segment “Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car”. What is truly bizarre is the fact that the Chevrolet Lacetti (Marketed as the Suzuki Forenza in the US) was the Lianas replacement. The US version selected the Suzuki SX/4. Anyway, what does this have to do with these regrettably forgettable Suzukis? Why nothing at all, so why don’t you tell me what you think of these particular Suzuki Cars…

  • DemonXanth
  • Devin

    I actually like the Aerio, it was very nice to drive. Pleasant. I wouldn't call it exciting or anything, but I took it for a go during a high traffic time that normally frustrated me as I went from place to place but in that I was not frustrated, it was just a nice little drive.

    • wunno sev

      could that have been a low expectations thing?

      • Devin

        Nope, it was just really well suited to driving in a busy city, and my drive in one was very nice as a result, since that's where I drove it.

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    Ah… This was perfect, thanks. Time to get some sleep.

  • jtk2

    A lady that works in the same building I do has an Esteem. She has to have it towed away approximately once every 4 months. But I get the impression that this is because of lack of maintenance rather than lack of quality.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    The only reason I ever remember the Esteem's existence is because of a tale I heard of one bearing the license plate 'LOWSELF'.

    I suppose the wagons were okay, sort of a miniature FWD Outback, but I'd rather have an Aerio. Pity you could never get a manual AWD example, particularly as a five-door.

  • Sjalabais

    A pity that they blew up all their creativeness on finding crazy names.

    What is known as the Suzuki Baleno is the poor man's car in Norway. Only expensive repair is rusted out traverses.

  • spokenoise

    The Liana showed reliability if nothing else after being flogged around their track for a season!

  • Certain, if not all models of Liana had a digital dashboard that seemed totally out of keeping with the rest of the car, as if instrument design was farmed out to the Superbike division. Also, if it was ever offered over here with the engines it got in the US, you might imaginethe Top Gear lap times to have dropped somewhat.

  • Van_Sarockin

    They seem like decent little transportation modules. And it sounds like they shipped some of the best engine/drivetrain/body style versions to the US. Chain drive DOHC, you say? A shame since I think the perception was that these cars slotted in beneath Hyundai, if they were noticed at all.

  • Ripituc

    Suzuki has always been a strong brand here in Chile. Balenos were very popular back in around 1998. Most of the time in dark green.

    The Aerio was sold here too. It was not as popular but still quite common. Actually, both Liana and Aerio made it here. First the Liana hatchback and then the name was changed to Aerio and the sedan also offered (including its heavier-looking square US-market bumpers which I think ruined its looks).

    Liana was supposed to mean "Life In A New Age", but it always sounded weird because "liana" in Spanish is the sort of vine Tarzan would use as transport in the jungle.

  • JayP2112

    I'd visit the local Suzuki dealer about twice a year- for the interesting used cars. The new Suzukis were almost always tarted up with aftermarket alloy wheels (same size as stock) adding $2k to the price. This dealer in particular was just a shade above the "buy here, pay here" lots.

  • NothingHappens

    Test drove an Esteem wagon in 2000(?). Thin metal, harsh, crap can.

  • Foolish

    My mother-in-law has an Aerio wagon. Loves it! It replaced her Dodge Shadow, which she also LOVED, and never thought she'd find an acceptable replacement for.

    …My mother-in-law has terrible taste in cars…