As Suzuki gets set to offer its new Liana -- an acronym of 'Life In A New Age' -- Matthew Beecham wonders how it will measure up against some dazzling rivals.

Tourists and locals moseying down the sun-drenched streets of Stresa, Italy last week were bemused at the sight of umpteen Suzuki Lianas being driven through the town. The more observant amongst them may have noticed the redesigned 'S" badge on the grille of the new car, symbolising the carmaker's 'dynamic approach to next-generation mobility.'

From July 2001, two models will be offered in the UK: the GL and GLX. Both units are powered by 1.6-litre, DOHC, 16-valve all-alloy engine developing 101.9bhp at 5,500 rpm and 106.1 lb ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. A four-speed automatic and a five-speed manual transmission will be offered.

At the front, body coloured bumpers follow the line of the headlamp clusters and wings. The triangular-shaped headlamp housing includes the indicators, parking and driving lamps set behind a plastic cover. The nose is tapered to improve manoeuvrability in tight spaces and is swept upward to give an impression of lightness. Move to the back of the car and you'll notice how the triangular design theme is continued in the tailgate and rear combination lamps.

Once seated, the triangle motif is continued in the cabin, most visibly in the steering wheel and in the rear speakers. Renault says the Liana's digital speedometer 'help create a sense of uncluttered spaciousness.' Suzuki's cabin design plays up to the MPV theme. The A pillars are positioned as far forward as possible, improving aerodynamics but giving a greater sense of cabin space. The deep, sloping dashboard is flanked by tiny side quarter glass windows.

Rear seat passengers should appreciate the generous leg and head room. With an overall height of 1,550mm, the Liana is taller than its rivals. Space for oddments include a glove box, slide storage try under the front passenger seat, narrow but deep door pockets, rear storage compartment and, of course, two cup holders.

In the suspension department, each damper has layered metal valves that control the damping force under a wide range of loading conditions whilst the rear suspension arms are attached to a rubber-mounted subframe to isolate the passenger compartment from road noise, vibration and harshness

In an effort to minimise engine noise and vibration, Suzuki engineers introduced a number of new features, including a silent cam chain; a semi-ladder-type crankshaft-bearing cap (made of an iron-based sintered alloy); a fully floating cylinder-head cover (this helps to prevent valve-system noise from being emitted through the cylinder-head cover); specially-tuned engine mountings (one of these is liquid filled); two-speed radiator-fan operation and maximised mounting rigidity between the engine and transmission. Other features include semi-wet cylinder liners to allow effective cooling and improve efficiency; a new machining method that yields near-perfect roundness in the cylinder bores thus minimising blowby gases and allowing the use of lower tension piston rings; and a new crankcase ventilation system.

A few hours at the wheel confirmed Suzuki's efforts to reduce road noise. It grips well, too. The nippy 1.6-litre unit with power-assisted steering, high driving position and good all-round visibility feels sure-footed when manoeuvring around hair-pin bends and like a 5-door hatchback on steroids while zipping along open highways.

From a safety standpoint, the Liana's structure protects occupants from impact by crumpling progressively around a rigid central cell that includes an impact beam in each door. The front doors and B-pillars incorporate impact-absorbing pads and various plastic trim parts have impact-absorbing structures.

For £9,995 on the road, the GL includes driver and front passenger airbags, power steering, mirrors and windows and even a radio/cassette player incorporating a clock updated via satellite as standard equipment. For £11,495, the GLX adds front side airbags, ABS with EBD, air conditioning, alloy wheels and a CD player.

Suzuki expects to sell about 1,500 units this year in the UK, rising to around 3,500 next year. Suzuki says that any fleet business will go through the dealer network. "We do so little fleet business," says David Seward, sales and marketing director for Suzuki GB plc, "this car is very much a retail product. The most likely thing is that we will get more requests from dealers. If it's financially sustainable, then we would wish to go that route."

Entering the C segment, Liana will compete with the likes of the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Opel Astra and Peugeot 307. "From that point of view, it stacks up nicely," says Seward. "If you look at the C sector, 58% of it is 5-door hatch. We were never actually represented in the segment until now. Which should mean good news for the dealers. By 2005, we expect to get a 2% share of the UK market. That's about 40,000 of the total 2m cars sold in the UK"

In the meantime, anyone looking for a roomy, quiet and fine-handling car should consider the Liana. It may not be as stylish as its rivals, but Suzuki's trump card is that it offers great value for the price conscious new age family.


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