We've got some nice little Zukes over here, but we also have a darn nice big one.
With the SUV lineup gearing up for major changes, I've been driving the cars as much, and as often, as I can. I've waxed poetic on what I think the strong points of the '05 Aerio and the '05 Reno, but I haven't gone into any detail about the '05 Verona. Though only a few changes have been made since the ’04, opinions on the Verona are still relatively scarce. This opinion is mine.
On an enthusiast site like GMI, I'm not sure that the regular readers really care, but I hope you enjoy reading my stuff enough to check out this review. On the other hand, the 2005 Suzuki Verona addresses the needs of far more people than do the C6/Z06 or a future Buick's interior. Hopefully the people who are looking for opinions will find this one, and appreciate it.
As you all know, the Verona competes in the cut-throat bread-and-butter family sedan market. And, as you all know, she comes to the table with a lot of equipment, a low price, and a huge warranty in order to sway the minds of those individuals who know that vehicles other than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord even exist.
Features and equipment are only part of the game. Nissan has gulped in market share with its sporty-styled Altima, and Chevrolet has countered with a 200 hp Malibu that sips 87-octane gas like a four-cylinder. The Verona trades a lot to even these two competitors, and, while I haven't driven an Accord lately, the Camry is not without appeal.
Least tangible is the Verona's styling. I've spent hours pondering the design, and while I never thought the Verona's styling was a weak point, just exactly how to describe its appeal beyond such cliche's as "subtle" (bland), "understated" (generic), and "elegant" (chrome-trimmed) has escaped me. In the face of the comparably brash wedge-shaped Altima, and the completely brash 300C, the appreciable details of the Verona's shape will likely escape many others.
That’s not entirely a good thing, because I think the vast majority of the Verona’s styling cues scream of good taste, but good taste rarely screams. Starting at the front, the low hoodline emphasizes the Verona’s width, and the good-looking projector-beam headlamp clusters, fog lamps, and lower fascia add winks of sport. The 16” aluminum alloy wheels on the EX look fine, but could benefit from being moved outward so that they don’t hide under the fenders as much. The chrome-trimmed grille is the only negative element, with its grey mesh and rounded contours. Sharp is in, and the impact of the Verona’s nicely pressed Italian duds is reduced by the grille.
From the side, though, I think the Verona cuts a dashing profile that belies its low price, especially in the more formal darker colors. Here is where the Verona’s ItalDesign styling plays its hand. The low angle of the windshield, and the swept roof and D-pillars emphasize the car’s length, and with the wind-creased fenders, the side-view might even recall proportions of Maseratis past. The chrome door handles and chrome-trimmed body-color side moldings add the premium look of a more expensive car.
The rear is as tidy as the rest of the car, and it benefits from the sharp edges lacking in the grille. Unfortunately, the rear tries to say “Mercedes,” but ends up saying “Camry.” That’s okay, since it remains a statement of value. It’s just not a value statement that many people will notice.
The inside also makes feints at late-model Mercedes, partially due to the quality-image connection, and partially due to the fact that late-model Mercedes interiors are pretty easy to imitate on the Verona’s budget.
The Verona uses a two-tone dark grey/light grey trim, with fake wood accents in the doors and the center stack. It all looks good, if not exactly post-modern. The center stack does not integrate into the dash, and the radio has a black face rather than a matching face, and thus some reviewers will deduct points in the “perceived quality” department.
The leather looks good, with a feel that’s more “durable” than “glove-like.” My butt gets comfortable there pretty easily, especially with the EX’s standard seat heaters. The driver’s seat is 8-way power adjustable, though the budget line is held with a manual passenger seat. The EX comes with all the other power things that you’d expect, and it has automatic climate control and a power sunroof. From my inspections of numerous Veronas, the interior fit is highly uniform, and while not as strong in the materials department as the luxury sedans it seeks to emulate, it’s more than you’d expect for less cash than a cloth-equipped 4-cylinder Camry LE.
The six-speaker stereo has some nice features, such as a standard CD and Cassette deck. The sound is very good, and the selectable equalizer settings work well. Some have complained that the redundant controls, mounted on the steering wheel, are easy to bump, and they’re right. A little practice, though, and you’ll get past it.
On the mid-level LX and EX trims, the sizeable four-wheel disc brakes gain anti-lock equipment, and electronic traction control becomes the only option. For 2005, all Suzuki passenger cars are equipped with standard side-impact airbags that deploy in a tall, square shape that adds head protection as well as torso protection. 2005 Veronas also add a tire-pressure monitoring system, a weight-sensing front passenger airbag, and they boast ULEV II (Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle) status.
I do have one major gripe with the interior: Why on earth does the otherwise upscale trim combine an attractive, leather-wrapped, chrome-gated shift lever with a tacky surround caughed out in black plastic?
All Veronas come with the same engine: a transverse 2.5L 24-valve DOHC inline six-cylinder engine that deserves to be experienced before the complaints are hedged. The Porsche-designed mill lacks some of the alphabet soup of its competitors (such as VVT), but it adds direct (distributorless) ignition, a chain-driven valvetrain, and a variable intake. It makes a modest 155 hp at 5800 rpm, and 177 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Yes, those are 4-cylinder numbers. Just remember that the Verona’s competitors that get all the buzz are 4-cylinder competitors.
Obviously, the Verona’s engine is not an American-style torque goopster, and many GMI members will discount the car for that reason alone. Similarly, Verona’s EPA estimated mileage is clearly in the 6-cylinder range: 20 city/28 highway on regular 87 gas, lagging behind both taller-geared pushrods and 4-cylinder imports.
Why then, would I advocate an engine that seemingly offers the worst of both worlds? Because it’s the heart of the Verona’s personality, and something lacking in the Camry, and many say the Accord. Other reviews balk at the 2.5L’s compatibility with the standard 4-speed automatic, and I’ll do my best to counter that.
Having read how the transaxle’s adaptive shift logic works, automatically selecting among “economy,” “normal,” and “sport” modes, I’ve figured out how to tell the powertrain what I want. Once you can talk to it in its own language, it responds nicely. Driving it softly lets the Verona register real-world economy numbers above its ratings, much to the appreciation of its owners. Similarly, punching it frequently yields a two-gear upshift, though there is no awkward lurch. The little six lands right in the sweet spot, and winds smoothly up to 6500 rpm before switching to third.
The 2.5 likes to sing, but it doesn’t do it very loudly. When asked to keep quiet, it’s almost silent. No matter what, I really appreciate just how smoothly it operates. The flavor, again, is almost Italian, but a practical everyday Italian, and the engine’s charcter is thus much in line with Verona’s persona.
In my final words about the drivetrain, I seriously doubt that 155 hp and 178 lb-ft are all this plant has in it, and I think its charm and appeal would certainly be enhanced with more of each.
Connecting these parts to the road is a well-tuned suspension, with MacPherson struts up front, an independent multilink coil-spring setup in back, and Hankook Optimo 205/55R16 tires. Certainly, better tires would help, but I really have no complaints about the stock car. It’s a sportier setup than what the Camry offers, and it really communicates the road well, while maintaining smoothness. I wouldn’t go pushing the Verona too hard, but at the level at which it will most likely be driven, drivers will appreciate its flat cornering, reasonably nimble response, and gentle feedback.
I’ve left pricing largely out of the equation until now. That’s because the 2005 Suzuki Verona EX will set you back a maximum of $20,994, before any discounts or rebates are applied. The mid-level LX (cloth seats) tops out at $19,794, while the base S model maxes at $17,994. However it’s equipped, the Verona measures up as a lot of car for the money.
The Verona is not American plush, nor is it Camry bland. I’d simply call it a genuine smoothie, and I think it’s a very enjoyable vehicle to drive, feel, experience, and appreciate. A sports car it’s not, but the 2005 still has the personality and character that bread-and-butter family haulers usually lack.