The video presentation that accompanied the unveiling of Suzuki's compact sport hatchback at the 2004 North American International Auto Show in Detroit hinted that youthful buyers are the prime target. "Like Jack Kerouac," said one of the 20-something characters in a reference to the author who chronicled beat-generation highway journeys, "I'm on the road, baby." One difference: This fictional 21st-century traveler sat behind the wheel of a new Suzuki Reno, and not a 1949 Hudson.
Video aside, Suzuki insists that its new "crossover" hatchback aims at "versatility-seeking buyers of all ages." Suzuki claims the Reno offers "the style and sportiness of a European sedan," along with the functionality of a five-door hatchback.
Available in three trim levels — S, LX and EX — the five-door front-wheel-drive hatchback was designed by Italdesign in Italy. It joins the automaker's premium compact Forenza and midsize Verona sedans, which were introduced for 2004. Suzuki also offers an Aerio sedan and Aerio SX hatchback.
Competitors of the Reno include the Hyundai Elantra, Mazda Mazda3 and Toyota Matrix. Suzuki also stresses the customization potential of its new Reno. In fact, a Reno Tuner Concept featuring Chameleon Color Shift paint also debuted at the Detroit show.
Compact in size, the Reno hatchback has almond-shaped headlights that flank a grille sporting the Suzuki logo. What Suzuki calls "muscular" wheel arches surround 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. Fog lamps are standard on the LX and EX editions, and wraparound taillights bring up the rear.
Suzuki refers to the Reno's "gracefully rising style lines" and "athletically refined side profile." The roof can accept equipment racks for carrying skis and mountain bikes. The door handles are color keyed, and the car has protective bodyside moldings. Heated power mirrors are standard, and a power sunroof is included on the LX and EX.
MacPherson struts are installed up front, and a dual-link suspension setup is used in the rear. Built on a 102.4-inch wheelbase, the Reno is 169.1 inches long overall and 56.9 inches tall.
Five occupants fit inside the Reno. Suzuki claims the Reno has more front and rear legroom than the Mazda3 or Matrix. Three head restraints are fitted to a 60/40-split, folding rear seat. Standard seating surfaces in the two-tone interior are cloth, but leather is available in the top-level model.
Speed-sensitive power steering is standard. A storage bin sits beneath the driver's seat, and the center console has dual cupholders. Cargo capacity when the backseat is upright measures 8.8 cubic feet.
Standard equipment includes power locks, floormats, vanity mirrors and a rear-window defroster. Air conditioning and a tilt steering wheel are also included. The eight-speaker stereo plays cassettes and CDs. The driver's seat has height and lumbar adjustments. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and cruise control are included in the LX and EX.
Under the Hood
Suzuki's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 126 horsepower and 131 pounds-feet of torque. Either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission may be installed.
All-disc brakes are standard, and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are optional. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are standard.
The Reno's well-matched gear ratios and mannerly clutch make smooth takeoffs easy. The manual versions of this car provide spirited performance.
The ride is surprisingly pleasant even on lumpy city streets. The Reno is nimble around town, and it zips around corners with zest. Other than very slight engine buzz when accelerating at low speeds, the Reno is quiet. The brakes have a spongy feel, and the gearshift is a bit rubbery.
Front-seat space is abundant. The outer rear seats are adequate but snug, and the center rear position is a high, hard perch — though it's not the worst in a small car. The gauges are simple but adequate, and the radio controls are hard to decipher. The head restraints partially block the rearward view. Cargo space is essentially a covered well.