2005 Suzuki Forenza Wagon

Credit where credit's due

Give Suzuki credit. Not for them a "Sport Wagon," "Avant," "Sport Cross," or some other hoity-toity moniker for the extra cargo capacity formerly called a station wagon, the preferred transportation of the Norman Rockwell generation. Nope, none of that for Suzuki.

While Suzuki is indeed introducing a station wagon version of the Forenza sedan, new last year, it has tuned down the rhetoric. It's simply "Forenza Wagon." Admittedly they lost the "station" somewhere along the way, but really, it's been some time since resorts retrieved guests and their luggage from the train station in a "station wagon."

But back to the point, the new Forenza Wagon. It follows in the tradition of taking a family sedan and giving it a trunk with a view. Like the Forenza, styling is still fromItaly's Pininfarina studios, and the Forenza Wagon trim levels match those of the Forenza sedan.

The base level S is well equipped down to heated power outside mirrors and a standard audio system that plays CDs and also caters to those with an extensive collection of cassette tapes. Nope, no eight-track player, though it does have steering-wheel-mounted audio controls that admittedly look like J.C. Whitney add-ons but they do the trick.

The LX level adds fog lights, keyless remote entry, alloy wheels, and cruise control. Leather trim and upholstery distinguish the top of the line EX.

Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on all Forenza Wagons, while anti-lock braking is optional for all trim levels. The ABS includes electronic brake-force distribution to optimize the wagon's braking regardless of load.

Of course load is what a wagon is all about. The cargo area holds 24.4 cubic feet of stuff. With the rear seat that jumps to 61.4 cubic feet, compared to other wagons: the Focus (35.6), Jetta (49.3) or Impreza (61.6). The wide hatch makes the cargo area fully accessible for loading big stuff and tie down points to keep stuff from sliding around.

It a cliché, but the Forenza Wagon driving experience is noticeable only through the rearview mirror. There's no cargo area boom that many wagons have. Wind noise is also subdued for a vehicle in this price range. Even 80 mph produced no whistle or roar from the standard roof rack.

The '05 Wagon's NVH is significantly reduced from the '04 Forenza sedan's. The ride is cushy without being flaccid, and the engine is almost Honda-like in smoothness, even at higher revs. With 126 hp, it's no screaming bolide but it's stout enough for any reasonable load.

The S trim model tested was sufficiently well equipped for long highway jaunts, though one might miss the cruise control included only on the LX and EX. All in all, the Suzuki Forenza Wagon is a comfy and serviceable hauler. It's certainly a more economical choice than a compact SUV for those who don't need all-wheel drive, don't want the handling compromises, and do want better fuel mileage. All that, of course, requires the courage to drive something called a wagon. Who need the fancy labels?

2005 Suzuki Forenza Wagon

Base price: $13,949 (plus $545 delivery)

Engine: 2.0-liter in-line four, 126 hp/131 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic; front-wheel-drive

Length by width by height: 179.7 x 67.9 x 59.1 in

Wheelbase: 102.4 in

Curb weight: 2849 lb

Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 21/28 mpg manual; 20/26 automatic

Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags for front seat, seat belt pretensioners and shoulder height adjustment; anti-lock brakes with Brake Force Distribution optional

Major standard equipment: Air conditioning with micron air filtration, power doors and windows, AM/FM/CD with eight speakers, heated power outside review mirrors, tilt wheel, 12-volt auxiliary power outlets, variable intermittent wipers, rear window wiper/washer, driver manual seat height and lumbar adjustment, remote fuel door release

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles; seven years/100,000 miles transferable powertrain