Dinghy Towing: Aerio GS

Suzuki’s Vitara and Grand Vitara SUVs have long been popular choices with motorhome owners
because they are fun, lightweight and practical vehicles that can easily be dinghy-towed
behind a motorhome. Recently, the company added another towable to its lineup: the Suzuki
Aerio, a compact car that lives up to the Suzuki reputation of quality. Available as either
a sedan (S and GS models) or a wagon-like crossover vehicle called the SX, the Aerio is
powered by an all-aluminum 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine generating an impressive 145
hp at 5,700 rpm and 136 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. Although automatic transmissions are
available, only the manual-transmission models may be towed without drivetrain
modifications. Suzuki states that the maximum towing speed of the Aerio is 55 mph, but
acknowledges that the limit was established for reasons of avoiding liability rather than
to prevent mechanical problems. However, the vehicle does require that you stop every 200
miles to run the engine and re-circulate the transmission oil. If this limitation is not a
concern to you, then you will likely enjoy the Aerio. For a car in the subcompact category,
it has very brisk acceleration, and with McPherson strut independent suspension front and
rear, it rides well and exhibits decent handing characteristics. Rack-and-pinion steering
makes it responsive to driver input, and the disc/drum brakes (ABS optional) feel
adequately strong. Unlike other manufacturers that offer several trim levels for a given
model, Suzuki makes it simple by offering its vehicles well equipped in base form. The
Aerio S sedan comes standard with air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, an in-dash
CD player with six speakers, a tilt steering column, intermittent wipers and split-folding
rear-seat backs. Select the GSsedan or the SX wagon (the SX only comes one way), and you’ll
get 15-inch aluminum wheels, power door locks, cruise control, keyless remote entry, fog
lamps, a rear spoiler and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. For the purposes of our
testing, we opted for a GS sedan ($14,699), which came to us in Catseye Blue metallic
paint. The Aerio’s styling is quirky, but it does offer some benefits. It has a seat height
that is 3- to 4-inches higher than most cars in its class, and its tall roofline and large
doors make it easy to get into and out of. There’s plenty of headroom inside, and the large
windows provide excellent visibility. Suzuki chose to go 1980s retro with its dash
instruments, which are all digital and are housed in a sort of triangulated binnacle.
Viewing your speed is easy, courtesy of the large numbers, but other information, such as
engine rpm and fuel level, is a bit harder to discern at a glance. This can become more
difficult on days when the sun is low and behind you. The same is true for the digital
radio readout, which is almost impossible to see on bright days. Moreover, the car’s
interior ergonomics are hit-or-miss. Most of the controls are where they should be and are
easy to operate, and the switches have a substantial feel. But smaller, less-often-used
switches are located in odd areas. For example, rather than have all of the cruise-control
switches on one stalk, the button to activate the cruise control is on the center console,
but the rest of the controls are on a right-mounted stalk. The switch for the fog lights is
located either just above or below the driver’s left kneecap, depending on how long your
legs are. And the side-view mirror controls are hidden behind the turn-signal stalk. Our
biggest complaint with the Aerio, however, is its seats. Just looking at them tells you
they won’t be comfortable, and you won’t be mistaken in that assumption. They’re flat and
firm and don’t offer much support, and we found it very difficult to adjust them to a point
where they were acceptable, let alone comfortable. The rear seats are a mixed blessing;
they fold down to make a pass through into the trunk for large items, and we very much
liked that feature. We also liked the small armrest with cup holder that divides the two
rear-seat passengers. Fold that armrest up, and technically there is a seat for a third
passenger in the middle, but – trust us – that passenger won’t be happy. Our advice is to
invite no more than three guests, and keep the trip short. Despite these shortcomings, we
found ourselves growing to like the Aerio more and more with each passing day. The fact of
the matter is, it’s fun not to mention functional, practical and very easy to maneuver. The
145-hp engine, while a bit buzzy at times, provides surprising punch, and the transmission
shifts smoothly. The clutch is light to the foot, but engages very positively with
excellent take-up. When you consider that the Aerio is still a new effort for Suzuki, it is
a good economy-car choice that is likely to become better and more refined in the years to
come. If you’ve been looking for a fun, inexpensive car with good power and lots of
standard features, the Suzuki Aerio is one new dinghy-towable vehicle you should consider.
As far as dinghy towing is concerned, the lightweight (2,660-pound) Aerio really couldn’t
be easier. You simply turn the key to the ACCESSORY position, put the transmission in
NEUTRAL and release the parking brake. The ACCESSORY position unlocks the steering wheel
and lights the digital numbers on the radio, but no dash lights illuminate. The minimal
current draw from the radio should not create any low-battery issues, especially
considering that the engine will be started and run for a few minutes every 200 miles.
Roadmaster currently offers a bracket kit, part no. 1015-1, that retails for $309 and will
work with any of its tow bars (or competitive tow bars with a Roadmaster adapter). Our
bracket was expertly installed at Bill’s RV Service in Ventura, California, (805) 339-0882,
and the installer reported the car’s front end requires a lot of disassembly to finish the
job. Allow some extra time when scheduling the project with your local shop. For our
testing, we used Roadmaster’s new Falcon 2 folding tow bar, which is an upgraded version of
the company’s best selling tow bar. Like the original, the Falcon 2 features
stainless-steel inner bars and a locking mechanism, plus powder-coated mild steel outer
bars. The Falcon 2 differs in that it features more reinforcement for a 6,000-pound rating
(5,000 pounds previously) and also uses a new release-latch mechanism that makes deploying
and storing the bar easier. (The original Falcon was secured with a keyway and lockingpin
arrangement.) The release latch automatically secures the bar for storage when it is pushed
up into place, and it is easily released by pushing the latch forward and pulling the bar
down. Roadmaster Inc., (800) 669-9690, roadmstr.com


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