I will forgive the Suzuki Verona for its rather mediocre styling. I will forgive it for not having the most aggressive six-cylinder on the block.

I will not forgive the Verona for what it did to me on a rather cold morning in January.

With its biggest sedan yet, Suzuki is trying to make a big move into the North American marketplace. But on that frosty morning not long ago, the Verona wouldn't move an inch. Wouldn't budge. Wouldn't start. Wouldn't go. It was the culmination of a seven-day test filled with sputtering stop-and-go starts that would sneak up each morning shortly after the engine would turn over.

Not good.

It was later explained away as a technical glitch with the Verona's internal computer. But with fewer than 400 miles on the odometer, it was not great news for a vehicle that is supposed to take a bite into the economy-priced family sedan market.

Suzuki is spearheading its attack with the Verona. But clearly there are still a few bugs to work out of the system.

In today's ultra-competitive auto climate, second chances are few and far between. But the Verona, unknowingly, already is looking for a reprieve.

Although it's new to the North American market, the Verona is an Italian-designed vehicle with a Japanese name already sold as the Daewoo Magnus in other parts of the world. And that's Daewoo, from South Korea, which floundered on these shores not long ago and now wants another crack. And that's Daewoo, partly owned by General Motors.

It is an odd Japanese-Italian-Korean-American cocktail.

(No wonder the car wouldn't start. It didn't know what time zone it was in.)

Whichever way they sell it, the Verona is the largest car in Suzuki's lineup and is being marketed as a less-expensive alternative (read: nearly $7,000 less) than more mainstream sedans like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. It is supposed to be the economy version of what's good in both segments.

The trouble is, with heavy incentives and low financing options, economy can't act too economical in today's climate or else it's classified as cheap.

On the surface, the Verona doesn't look cheap - but it doesn't convince you it's overly rich, either. It satisfies some parts of the economy equation but leaves you feeling too economy-minded in other areas. Kind of a half-start at something good, so to speak.

In terms of size, the Verona is virtually equal to the Camry, offering plenty of room for five (smallish) passengers and still able to swallow a few golf bags or extra luggage. There is plenty of storage room in small pockets and organized bins, and the interior is nicely appointed with white-faced gauges and loads of leather over the steering wheel and shifter.

From the outside, it is meant to come off as a smooth, uncluttered look that is somewhere between awkward and distinct. Or anonymous in a sea of sedans.

Under the hood, it doesn't overwhelm. One of the Verona's main selling points is a standard six-cylinder engine. But at 2.5 liters, it's a little on the small side - 155 horsepower that is more reminiscent of a four cylinder in an Accord or a Camry, not a 260-horse V-6 Accord. Its in-line setup is smooth enough off the stoplight, it just doesn't have the robust flavor of a six on the highway. There's a reason you buy a six - to avoid buying a four-cylinder engine. And that usually means gusto and the occasional rumble on the road. The Verona offers more volume than vroom.

A standard four-speed automatic transmission will win over the commuter crowd, but beware that downshifts are a little harsh and come slower than expected.

As a bonus, Suzuki says the transmission arrives with adaptive driver control that adjusts to the driver's style.

Standard four-wheel disc brakes provide good stopping power, but anti-lock brakes are only available as standard equipment on the upper trim levels. Side air bags, regrettably, are not available.

Unlike Honda and Toyota, the options are limited. The Verona is available in three packages - base S model, mid-level LX and the top-of-the-line EX - but without the option of a manual transmission or a smaller engine. Unlike Honda and Toyota, standard equipment is a laundry list right off the top.

In a move that made Hyundai famous, this is where the Verona really wants to make its mark. Base models get things like a CD player, full-power windows and door locks, tilt steering, cruise control and even wood grain. Step up into the higher end models and you'll get automatic climate control, power sunroof, seat heaters and leather seats. That's where the economy model goes upscale.

On the road, the handling package is acceptable, a mix of solid cornering with a little numb steering in everyday driving. Apparently, and regrettably, Suzuki softened the normally rigid suspension for American drivers. For those drivers not looking for the premium handling, no need to worry. There's confidence behind the wheel.

Mileage-wise, it comes in below the competition, but offers a certainly respectable 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway.

It might not be as eye-catching as the other brands. It might have the most powerful engine. But the Verona offers something: value. Where can you get all of that standard equipment, all of that cargo room, all of that leather for a price under $17,000 in a mid-size sedan?


For those looking for an alternative, consider it.

Just make sure you can drive it off the lot.

2004 Suzuki Verona

Rating: 1.5

High gear: Looking past the electrical failure in our tester (which was tough), the Verona still offers nice interior touches, generous features and a strong warranty. Suzuki takes a run at the midsize segment and nearly competes.

Low gear: Quality may be an issue for some buyers as well as the lack of side air bags, a generic look and a six-cylinder that revs more than it rolls.

Vehicle type: Front-wheel-drive, front-engine, four-door, five-passenger entry sedan

Key competition: Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Mazda 6

Base engine: 155 horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6

Transmission: Four-speed automatic transmission

Standard safety equipment: front air bags, four-wheel disc brakes, anti-theft system

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Length: 187.8 inches

MPG rating: 20 city/27 highway

Manufactured: South Korea

Warranty: Basic warranty is three years/36,000 miles, but the drivetrain is seven years/100,000 miles

Base price: $16,499 (S model)

Price as tested (including options, destination and delivery): $16,999