Taking a gamble on the Suzuki Reno
When it comes to launching a new vehicle, the process of actually naming the car can be the most difficult part of the battle, especially for foreign auto-makers. Many try to add brand friendliness and cultural insight by dubbing their vehicles with monickers apparently pulled out of the Southwest section of the Rand-McNally road atlas – witness the entire Hyundai sport-utility vehicle line, for instance.Japanese compact craftsman Suzuki have followed suit with the new five-door they call the Reno. And while I’m not exactly sure what sort of automotive image the northern Nevada gambling mecca is supposed to conjure in the minds of U.S. car buyers (for me, it’s all-you-can-eat buffets and quarter slots at some casino in America’s “Biggest Little City”), I guess we can be thankful that it wasn’t called the Suzuki Tulsa, the Fresno or the Toledo.Despite the tagline, the Reno is in fact a reasonably comfortable, attractive and peppy urban runabout that offers a load of features, for just over $17,000. Alloy wheels, power locks and windows, a power sunroof, a leather interior and a pleasantly punchy stereo system all come standard, wrapped up in a breezy design that blends European and Japanese body design.
Add Suzuki’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty and a roadside assistance program and you get a lot of perks for few bucks. Manufactured in Korea by Daewoo, the Reno owes a lot of its looks to slightly more well-defined vehicles such as the Honda Civic and the Mazda3. Imitation being the purest form of flattery, the Reno’s mix of international inspiration (created by the Italdesign studio) has produced a vehicle that’s still very attractive and distinctive.Unfortunately, the Reno’s Korean manufacturing heritage is not so subtle – this is a car that’s nearly as well defined as its Japanese-made cousins but still comes up a bit short in terms of finishing details. Plastic plays an oversly big part in the interior finish, especially the center console, and there’s excessive looseness when trying to find a gear in the five-speed manual transmission (reverse can be equally tricky, requiring you to lift a ring on the shift lever and dig around to the left).Clutch pedal weight is practically nonexistent; the 2.0 liter DOHC 16-valve, four-cylinder engine ain’t exactly a barn-burner but with 128 horsepower, you’ll still be able to make it up the hills with plenty of juice.
Wind things up a bit and the Reno has got loads of oomph for a teeny car, with good take-offs and relatively quiet freeway cruising power – just don’t get too crazy on the corners or you’ll outrun the petite Hankook P195/55 R15 all-season tires. Braking is also pretty good, with four-wheel disc brakes standard (and ABS a worthwhile $500 option).Speed-sensitive power steering requires a bit of strong-arm work in parking mode but made for easy and agile handling when underway on the road.The Reno’s short, rounded and thrust-forward nose is accentuated by attractive lamp clusters and large fog lamps, plus plastic mesh on the grille, and body-colored side lamps add to the sporty look. In the rear, there’s an aerodynamic spoiler over the rear hatch.Inside, the Reno features leather seats and door inserts, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and even more leather on the armrest, gear shifter and emergency brake shroud. Seating is comfortable and features both manual lumbar and seat angle adjustment knobs; the front seat will roll back what seems like an entire yard for very long-legged drivers.
A cool, contemporary dash is topped with leather-styled stippled plastic and highlighted with aluminum-colored accents and circular air vents. Instruments are extremely straight-forward with white-on-black faces; a good, manual air conditioning and heating system warmed things up in a flash and provided good circulation.Everything else is power, from the doors and locks to side mirrors and even the sunroofI was particularly impressed by the eight-speaker sound system – tiny tweeters located in each door-handle assembly – connected to an MP3-ready, single CD-playing deck that produced great sound. Sound controls are also repeated on the steering wheel for easy access.Rear seating was also surprisingly comfortable, with adequate leg-room and 60/40 split access to a small cargo area in the back hatch. Coax a third passenger into the back seat and you even get a small headrest.Combined with keyless entry (producing a bird-like chirp on arming), the whole package is fresh and fun – it just needs a little refinement to match the quality of similarly priced competitors. Those looking for an affordable starter vehicle might be willing to overlook those shortcomings and focus on the many standard features.
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