Suzuki's new-for-2005 Reno might be the biggest little car in the world.

Well, you might feel that way after driving it. It drives bigger and better than it costs. Much bigger and better.

Take performance, for example.

When I saw a 126 horsepower rating on the sticker of the tested Reno LX model - the middle version among three trim levels - I laughed out loud. "This thing won't get out of the parking lot," I thought.

Not only did the 2-liter, 16-valve, in-line 4 engine get the Reno out into traffic, it zipped the nearly 2,800-pound car around in downright saucy fashion. I was spanking surface street slowpokes left and right. On-ramp accelerations were brisk, and the little LX flowed easily among bigger vehicles armed with higher horsepower numbers.

Good feelings about Reno's peppy performance were tempered somewhat by the high level of noise wafting through the interior cabin. And the steering felt a touch mushy. But I felt a little better given the admirable fuel economy ratings of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the open road, which perfectly matched my calculations.

Reno's surprises went beyond performance.

The manufacturer's suggested retail price on the tester was $16,249. That usually translates to having your lap serve as a cupholder and bringing your own radio if you want to hear some tunes.

Not so with Reno.

The standard list of features included cruise control, an eight-speaker CD/AM-FM/MP3 audio system, power windows/door locks, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob, fog lamps, power/heated mirrors and a power tilt/slide sunroof. A 100,000-mile/seven-year transferable powertrain warranty was also part of the deal. Incredible!

So, with all this, why was the anti-lock brake system a $500 option?

Bad move. Just for appearances alone, I would have tossed ABS onto the standard list if I were the king of Suzuki. Likewise, I would have made side-curtain air bags available.

To be honest, the option package on the tested Reno - known as the Suzuki Works Techno (SWT for short) - certainly influenced my ardor. Suzuki crowed that its SWT package "allows style-savvy consumers to personalize their Reno - for not a lot of cash."

Uh, I'm not sure about that last part. The SWT accessories on the tested LX came to $1,965 on the sticker's bottom line.

Pricey, but still pretty cool. The LX that I drove was decked out with a rear spoiler, body stripes, a rear bumper protector, a stainless steel exhaust tip, SWT-branded chrome wheels, floor mats and license plate frame, plus interior floor lighting that cast an attention-grabbing red glow in the footwells.

In fairness, the chrome wheels accounted for more than half the cost of the SWT extras ($1,020).

The SWT accessories do not come close to competing with some of the eye-popping, aftermarket bling you might see on, say, a seriously tricked Cadillac Escalade. But they amount to a nice effort by Suzuki to add some spice to a compact, five-passenger, front-drive sedan with a hatchback.

Three adults will find Reno's 60/40 split-folding rear seat cramped, but cargo-carrying space under the hatch is surprisingly roomy. With the rear seats folded, capacity is a comparatively generous 45 cubic feet.

There are folks who do not want anything to do with a hatchback, but Reno's aerodynamic styling bespeaks sedan more than hatchback. No wonder Suzuki insists on calling its Reno a crossover.

Bottom line: Before you discount the Reno as an evolved version of a Datsun B210 hatchback from the 1970s, you might want to take a look in person.

Please understand, the Suzuki Reno is no where near a mini-Corvette or even a dressed-up Mustang. Driving a Reno up into the Sierra Nevada, for example, probably would involve prolonged maneuvers to get out of the way of bigger, more powerful motor vehicles. And taking the Reno on a cross-country trip probably would be tiring for anyone 40 and older.

But even without the SWT dressing, the Reno would be a nearly ideal first car for that young driver in your household.

The Reno has substance beyond its starting price and gives you the option of dolling it up at a sticker price that still falls below the $20,000 plateau.

Compact car; big ambitions. Welcome to Reno.

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Suzuki Reno at a glance

Make/model: 2005 Suzuki Reno LX.

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, front-drive, four-door, compact, hatchback sedan.

Base price: $16,249 (as tested, $19,259).

Engine: 2-liter in-line 4 with 126 horsepower at 5,400 revolutions per minute and 131 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.

EPA fuel economy: 22 miles per gallon city; 30 mpg highway.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic with overdrive.

Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion.

Brakes: Power-assisted four-wheel discs with anti-lock.

Suspension: Independent front and rear.

Interior volume: 112.4 cubic feet.

Fuel tank: 14.5 gallons.

Curb weight: 2,783 pounds.

Track: 58.3 inches front and rear.

Height: 56.9 inches.

Length: 169.1 inches.

Wheelbase: 102.4 inches.

Width: 67.9 inches.

Tires: P195/55R15 radials.

Final assembly point: Gunsan, South Korea.

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About the writer: The Bee's Mark Glover can be reached at (916) 321-1184 or