There's more to the story of the Suzuki Forenza -- a competent, attractive little sedan at a very affordable price -- than you might think.
You know Suzuki as a Japanese company, but you might not know that it's a partner of General Motors. And you likely remember Daewoo as a Korean company that went bankrupt. General Motors rescued Daewoo, and the company still builds cars in Korea, but they are sold here under different names, such as the Chevrolet Aveo. But since Chevrolet couldn't take all of Daewoo's production, GM leaned on Suzuki to take the compact Forenza, the larger Verona and the smaller Reno, which is sort of a hatchback version of the Forenza. The Verona is gone, but the Forenza remains.
That isn't quite all: The Forenza's Italian name isn't that much of a stretch, as well-regarded Italian design company Pininfaria did most of the Forenza's styling.
So we have a Korean car, with an Italian name, built by a company controlled by General Motors, sold by a Japanese brand. And did I mention the engine is from Australia?
Though the Forenza's passport may be more interesting than the Forenza itself, this is a nicely executed car, as it has been since it was introduced as a 2004 model. It received a mild update in 2006, though only members of the Forenza Fan Club could tell the difference, assuming there even is a Forenza Fan Club.
The test model was the Forenza sedan -- a wagon has been offered since 2005 -- with quite a bit of equipment, considering the sub-$16,000 sticker price. Standard features included air conditioning, disc brakes, side air bags, a good eight-speaker stereo with a CD player, a tilt steering wheel, heated mirrors, and power windows and locks. Remote keyless entry added $150, and cruise control cost $200. The transmission was a four-speed automatic.
The Forenza's only engine choice is a 2.0-liter, 127-horsepower four-cylinder, EPA-rated at 22 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg on the highway. If you are willing to shift for yourself, the Forenza is offered with a five-speed manual transmission for $1,000 less. With the automatic, cruise control, remote entry and shipping, the test Forenza listed for $15,944. Suzuki sweetens the deal with a limited seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty that is transferable, as well as roadside assistance and a loaner-car program.
The real appeal of the Forenza is the packaging. The cloth-covered front seats are more comfortable and supportive than you would expect in an inexpensive car. Rear seats are very roomy for a car this size -- four 6-foot adults fit pretty well in a Forenza, and taller rear-seat passengers will run out of headroom before they run out of legroom. The trunk is plenty big, too.
On the road, the Forenza's ride isn't as quiet as a Toyota Corolla's, but it's comparably smooth. Handling is limited by the smallish 15-inch tires. The engine and transmission aren't up to the best Japanese standards, but they aren't bad at all.
Given the price, and the likelihood that a Suzuki dealer might be more willing to deal on a Forenza than a Honda dealer will on a Civic, this is a nice car for a single person or a small family. It's large enough to feel like a real car on the highway, but they're small enough to get good fuel mileage. You could do much worse.