Some myths just will not die.
In the automotive world, there's a false perception that all imported cars, especially Japanese cars, are superior to American cars. This is not the case.
Just try on a Suzuki Aerio SX for a week.
This car looks like a good deal on paper.
The Aerio SX is a 5-door hatchback version of the Aerio sedan. The car receives a fresh face for 2005, along with a new interior. The least-expensive versions come standard with front-wheel-drive and a choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed-automatic transmission. Opting for the top trim level, LX on the sedan, SX on the hatchback, gives you the choice of front- or all-wheel-drive, although the all-wheel-drive drivetrain comes only with an automatic transmission.
Suzuki provided an all-wheel-drive SX for testing.
When I got the car, I was impressed.
For a test price of about $17,000, here was a car with all-wheel-drive, anti-lock brakes, power locks/windows/mirrors, a tilt steering wheel, automatic climate control, AM/FM/audio system with in-dash, six-CD changer, height-adjustable driver's seat, two 12-volt outlets, heated exterior mirrors and steering-wheel-mounted radio controls.
Despite the car's short length, there's a lot more room than you'd expect, both front and rear. The car's tall roof and low beltline give it an open, airy feel. The new instrument panel is a big improvement over last year's. The gauges are easier to read than the old digital ones. The heater warmed up quickly, despite arctic-level temperatures.
In short, this car offers an awful lot for not a lot of money. It allows the average working guy to indulge in the kind of features found on more expensive models.
But using the car day-to-day revealed that there's a price to pay for getting all those features at a bargain-basement price.
The car's drivetrain is peppy enough. Its 2.3-liter four-cylinder is significantly more powerful than a Toyota Matrix AWD, but less so than a Subaru Impreza. The engine is quite boisterous, its vibrations resonating throughout the car's body structure. The car's door panels, steering wheel and seats vibrate while idling. It's enough to make you search for the slot to insert quarters for a vibrating bed.
The transmission was fuss-free, downshifting promptly. The brakes are fair, with a spongy-feeling brake pedal that doesn't inspire confidence. Grip is quite good in corners, but there's a lot of body lean. The suspension is punishingly firm, kicking hard over Pennsylvania's rippled road surfaces and producing a symphony of plastic rattles.
But the most surprising part of the car was its behavior in exactly the type of weather that most people buy an all-wheel-drive car for: lots of snow, ice and muck.
The Aerio's all-wheel-drive system is called QuadGrip. Like many all-wheel-drive systems, it works mostly in front-wheel-drive until slippage is detected. Then, up to 50 percent of the vehicle's power can be transferred rearward.
On a partially plowed road, the car started to fishtail lightly, first one direction, then another. Any corrections I attempted to make didn't seem to matter as the vehicle struggled to maintain grip. Personally, I would have preferred front-wheel-drive for its predictability in such situations. The all-wheel-drive system did little to inspire confidence.
This behavior contrasts with the Subaru Impreza and Toyota Matrix AWD, neither of which have had issues when driven in slippery conditions. All-wheel-drive is usually invisible in its operation and performance. That wasn't the case here.
The light body structure, unpredictable all-wheel-drive, harsh ride and noisy engine all make me question whether getting features like automatic climate control is worth putting up with.
While Aerio SX looks good in theory, it's not that great in fact.
And with that, another myth has been laid to rest.