On the British automotive TV show "Top Gear," celebrities get the chance to bomb around a track in a "reasonably priced car" to see who can achieve the best lap time. Watching Simon Cowell or Helen Mirren taking high-speed corners in a car so dreadfully unsuited for such an environment is quite hilarious and hardly a ringing endorsement for the car chosen for its inherent comic appeal as a cheap penalty box. The "reasonably priced car" in question is essentially the 2008 Suzuki Forenza, a Korean-made sedan that is also sold around the world as a Chevrolet or a Daewoo. Although we know you'll never take the reasonably priced Forenza to a track (we hope), we're not sure you'd want to take one home either.
Introduced in 2004 into the highly competitive economy car market, the Suzuki Forenza sedan and wagon are value-oriented alternatives intended for buyers on the margin, with a somewhat responsive four-cylinder engine, a roomy interior and a low price of entry. Further sweetening the deal, Suzuki tries hard to set the Forenza apart with a host of standard features, a seven-year, 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty and styling by Pininfarina. However, just one look at the Forenza will make you wonder if that's Al Pininfarina, and not the famed Italian design house that has penned such beauties as the Maserati Gran Turismo and countless classic Ferraris.
Under the hood of the 2008 Suzuki Forenza rests a 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 127 horsepower -- less motivation than in its similarly priced SX4 sibling or other competitors. Despite the power deficit, we find the Forenza manages satisfactorily when shifted with the manual transmission, but feels burdened and underpowered when saddled with the four-speed automatic. Unfortunately, it's not particularly fuel efficient or refined either. With mileage ranging from 19 mpg city to 28 mpg highway, the Forenza is one of the least economical economy cars on the market.
Over-the-road manners and overall refinement are other weak areas -- the Forenza exhibits soft, rubbery handling and poorer ride quality than many of its competitors, as well as excessive wind noise at times on the highway. Inside, more disappointments await. Although even the standard Forenza is equipped with most of what you want and its attractive cockpit is among the roomiest in this class, it loses points with inconsistent/poor-quality materials that detract from an otherwise inviting environment.
On paper, the well-equipped 2008 Suzuki Forenza appears to offer rewarding value. Unfortunately, its unrefined nature, labored automatic-equipped acceleration, poor fuel economy and sloppy handling dynamics place it far behind the leaders in the compact segment like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3. Even if you really need the extra space of its available wagon body style, we recommend that you instead shop one of its more worthy competitors such as the Mazda 3, Pontiac Vibe or Scion xB. The Forenza may be reasonably priced, but it's not much of a car.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Suzuki Forenza is a compact car available as a sedan or wagon. It comes in a single trim level with available packages of grouped extras. Standard on all Forenzas are 15-inch steel wheels, a height-adjustable driver seat, air-conditioning, powered accessories and an eight-speaker stereo with CD player. The optional Convenience Package adds cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls and remote keyless entry. The Popular Package adds those items plus foglamps and a sunroof. Bluetooth is a dealer-installed accessory.
Powertrains and Performance
The Suzuki Forenza is powered by a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder with 127 hp and 131 pound-feet of torque. It performs reasonably well when mated to the standard five-speed manual transmission, but the optional four-speed automatic slows things down a bit. EPA-estimated fuel economy is below average for such a modestly powered compact, too, returning just 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway for an automatic-equipped sedan.
The Suzuki Forenza offers standard front side-impact airbags and the stopping power of four-wheel disc brakes. For added security, ABS is optional with Convenience Package-equipped Forenzas. In government frontal-impact crash tests, the 2008 Suzuki Forenza earned four stars out of five. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a second-best "Acceptable" rating for frontal-offset protection and a "Poor" rating for side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The cabin of the Suzuki Forenza is compromised by inconsistent materials quality and an overall lack of refinement and execution compared with the leaders in its class. There's better news out back, though, with lots of rear legroom for adults and a 60/40-split-folding seatback for extra utility. The Forenza sedan's trunk capacity is a reasonable 12.4 cubic feet, and the wagon offers a useful 62 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat folded.
The standard 2008 Suzuki Forenza has little difficulty keeping up with traffic unless it's equipped with the optional automatic transmission -- in which case acceleration weakens and highway maneuvers take a little planning. Compared with other compact/economy cars, the Forenza's suspension and ride quality are also unimpressive -- although somewhat soft and compliant, we found there's little control over bumps and ruts. Handling around corners is loose and unsure too, as the hardware allows excessive body roll and cheap tires exert minimal grip. Overall, we find the Suzuki Forenza to be a compromised, marginal player struggling too much to keep up with better-bred rivals.