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New models - Suzuki - Liana - range

First Oz drive: Suzuki looks for Liana lift

One size fits all: The Liana range is simple one body style and virtually no options.

Suzuki's new hatchback is priced to please at $19,990

31 Oct 2001

SUZUKI has made it very simple for small-medium car buyers. Out goes the aged Baleno with its multiple body, engine and specification choices. From today it's in with Liana - one five-door body style, one 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and one specification grade.

And perhaps most significantly, a $19,990 recommended retail price.

That means Liana's the only Japanese-built car in the booming C-segment - and that includes the Ford Laser, Mazda 323, Nissan Pulsar and Toyota Corolla - to still offer an rrp below $20,000.

Of course, you can still buy any one of the above for $19,990, just check the Saturday papers for confirmation. But according to the official price lists they have all crept up above $20K. Just the Koreans - and now the Liana - remain at or below one of the hottest price flashpoints around.

Suzuki Australia says this price will hold until at least mid-2002 despite the soggy Aussie dollar, thanks to head office's willingness to take the risk on currency and its lean manufacturing processes - which are legendary in the car game.

The Liana first broke cover at the Geneva Motor Show back in March and was presented by Suzuki as new from the ground up. In the flesh it retains a freshness and style that was apparent in those first photographs, although it's perhaps a bit heavy around the bottom. But its tallboy look is pleasingly reminiscent of the Honda Civic hatch and a far-cry from its utilitarian little brother, the Ignis.

Same applies to the interior, which presents the driver with a geometric dash area complete with digital speedometer, and comforts all passengers with a pleasant cloth trim. Again like the Civic, there's an almost flat floor and a reasonable amount of rear seat space, which should accommodate two adults in reasonable comfort, although they do sit very upright.

Suzuki is pushing the equipment level hard, saying it is the only sub-$20,000 C-segment car with dual airbags. However, it's also let down by having only a lap-belt in the centre rear seating position and that passenger also misses out on a headrest.

Other standard equipment includes air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and mirrors, a CD audio system and split-fold rear seats.

The mechanical side of the equation is handled by an all-aluminium 1.6-litre, twin-cam, four-cylinder engine, producing 76kW at 5500rpm and 144Nm of torque at 4000rpm, mounted transversely and driving the front wheels.

Fuel consumption is claimed at 7.2L/100km on the city cycle and 5.2L/100km on the highway cycle for the five-speed manual. The $1990 optional four-speed automatic achieves 7.8L/100km and 5.4L/100km on the two cycles.

This is where the value equation suffers a little, because the Liana does have a smaller engine than most of its rivals and therefore less power and torque. Its 1.6-litre rivals from Ford, Mazda and Nissan also outdo it, albeit marginally.

The underpinnings are standard fare with MacPherson strut suspension all-round, disc brakes up-front and drums at the rear and 14-inch wheels. In measurement terms compared to the class-leading and soon-to-be replaced Corolla, it is a little shorter at 4230mm, as wide and substantially taller. Its 2480mm wheelbase is just a tad longer than the Corolla.

DRIVE IMPRESSION

A Japanese car at a Korean price comparison is particularly apt in the case of the Liana. Tape over the badges and you'd think you were driving something that came from South Korea, and not necessarily in the last year or so.

The concern here is a certain lightness and tinniness that expresses itself in the dissatisfying hollowness when closing doors and the amount of outside noise that penetrates the cabin from the engine and road, a reliable indicator of skimping on sound deadening material.

The Laser/323 twins, Pulsar, Corolla and Hyundai's latest Elantra are all a step ahead here in terms of solidity and quietness, while the excellent Holden Astra is another step ahead again.

On the road a performance gap is also noticeable, particularly with the optional auto mated up to the engine. It's willing and smooth enough, but considering the Liana weighs in at 1140kg - about the same as its 1.8-litre competitors - it does feel somewhat breathless.

There's a lack of finesse to the ride over rougher surfaces like railway crossings and potholes too, but the handling side of the equation seems adequate and appropriate enough, with light steering that will make city and suburban manoeuvres simple.

Excellent visibility from a high seating position helps here, although the seats themselves seem too short and too lacking in side support to hold occupants in place when cornering.

The interior is pleasantly presented and with a sense of originality missing in many small-medium cars. The digital speedo, triangulated instrument pod, and use of brushed aluminium-look plastic on the steering wheel, air-conditioning controls and around the auto gear lever offset the inevitable swathes of plastics done in a variety of greys.

The downer here is the hardness of those plastics which in this age of "slush moulding" emphasises cheapness, and the stereo head unit which bears no relation to the rest of a homogenous dashboard design.

The split-fold seat design ensures a fair degree of flexibility, opening to reveal a fairly large boot and a hatch that swings open to a reachable height - an important point considering many buyers will be women.

Speaking of which - buyers that is - Suzuki Australia is keeping its sales estimates conservative for Liana, expecting just 2000 to find homes in Australia by the end of 2002.

Considering the price and equipment equation and its attractive styling there's no reason to expect Liana to fall short of that goal.

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