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Suzuki Liana 1.8 GS

At AUD$19,990 the Liana 1.8 GS sedan is unbelievable value!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Excellent value
  • Generous cabin space
  • Gutsy performance
  • Lots of standard features
  • Poor engine NVH and notchy gearbox
  • Poor low-speed handling
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This is why we enjoy testing budget cars.

At AUD$19,990, the newly updated Suzuki Liana GS sedan is loaded with air conditioning, power windows, dual airbags, CD, sub-woofer, alloys, fog lights and more. Put all of this in a spacious body powered by a gutsy new 1.8 litre VVT engine and we’re amazed how Suzuki can provide so much for so little.

We first tested the Suzuki Liana hatch in mid-2002 (see New Car Test - Suzuki Liana) and it left us cold. However, the newly updated model addresses many of our criticisms and, with numerous added features, it emerges as one of the best value buys in this ultra-competitive category.

Scrap all memories of the original Liana – this one is miles better.

That amazing AUD$19,990 price gets you a choice of two body styles – a hatch or sedan (as tested here). Cosmetically, the sedan is more attractive than the hatch but keep in mind that it sacrifices some cargo capacity.

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The Liana’s cabin is spacious and provides excellent all-round headroom, width and legroom. Rear passenger legroom is comparable to a full size family car, but the Liana is better suited to being a 4-seater. The Suzuki’s revised seats are comfortable and the dark trim looks great. We initially thought our test vehicle had an optional sports trim package, but that’s how they all come!

The sedan’s boot space is adequate rather than cavernous. Unfortunately, the useable boot space is also compromised by the strut-type rear suspension and obtrusive rear seat-back frame. For bulky cargo, the split rear backrest can be easily folded forward. A full size (steel) spare wheel can be found under the false floor.

The Liana is an easy vehicle to step in and drive.

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The driving position is relatively high, there’s excellent all-round visibility, large mirrors and all controls fall nicely to hand. Suzuki copped some flack over the digital dashboard in the original Liana and reverted to a conventional gauge cluster for the updated model. It’s utterly unspectacular but at least everything is easy to read – though the fuel level and coolant temperature gauges are small. A central display pod contains a digital clock and ambient temperature read-out.

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An easy-to-use single CD/tuner comes as standard. The system – which includes a compact amplified subwoofer - sounds fine at normal levels but the speakers distort when you turn it up. The rear speakers also sound horribly muddy. Steering wheel mounted audio controls are also included, but some of these buttons are fiddly to operate.

Immediately below the audio head unit are three simple rotary controls for the heating, ventilation and cooling. It’s all very intuitive.

And there are plenty of other interior appointments.

Your hard-earned AUD$19,990 buys power windows and mirrors, map lights, dual vanity mirrors (non illuminated), remote central locking, a sunglass holder and plenty of storage facilities. The new interior is prettied-up with silver finish door locks, dashboard, console and door highlights. The instruments are also illuminated in an eye-catching red.

Safety is addressed with standard dual airbags and five adjustable height head restraints.

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The first thing that hits you in the new Liana is the amount of poke from its 1.8 litre VVT engine. The Suzuki engine gives sharp throttle response and pulls strongly from about 3500 rpm. In fact, the first time we made a getaway from a standing start on a greasy road we had to ease off the throttle to quell the rampant wheel spin!

This is not an underpowered car.

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Suzuki has abandoned the struggling 1.6 litre engine of the original Liana and switched to a 1.8 litre version featuring variable inlet valve timing (VVT). Coded M18A, the all-alloy, DOHC, 16 valve four-cylinder outputs 92kW at 5500 rpm and 170Nm at 4200 rpm. That’s a 21 percent power and 18 percent torque increase over the original 1.6 Liana, so it’s no surprise the new model feels a whole lot quicker. Unfortunately, the Suzuki engine has poor NVH and can be jerky at times – it feels like more time should be spent mapping the engine computer.

Our test vehicle was fitted with the standard 5 speed manual gearbox which is fine except for its notchy feel and the unpleasant noise made by the shift mechanism. A 4 speed automatic transmission is available for an extra AUD$1900.

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The 5 speed Liana 1.8 is difficult to launch without wheel spin but we recorded an impressive 10 seconds flat for the sprint to 100 km/h. (Note that this was achieved by holding the engine close to its 6800 rpm limiter in second gear.) Top speed? A claimed 185 km/h.

Suzuki says fuel consumption of the updated Liana has not been compromised, despite use of the 200cc larger engine. We averaged 9.0 litres of unleaded per 100 km/h during our fairly hard-driven test. Fuel tank capacity is 50 litres – typical for a car of this type.

The biggest problem with the car is the front-wheel-drive chassis’ ability to cope with the extra grunt.

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In urban conditions, the Liana 1.8 really struggles to put its power down around corners or in wet conditions - the inside front wheel's behaviour frequently degenerates into massive wheel spin. Furthermore, there are simultaneous changes in steering weight and torque-steer that will unnerve the average driver. Suzuki should either spend more time on chassis development or include standard traction control.

With MacPherson struts and lower L-arms at the front and a trailing arm/transverse link independent rear, the 1180kg Liana sedan rides comfortably. The damping is slightly too firm at urban speeds but the soft springs allow plenty of absorption when needed. Impact harshness through the Yokohama A-460 195/55 15 series tyres is minimal.

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Using a power assisted rack and pinion arrangement, the Liana’s steering is light and well suited to everyday use. The 10 metre turning circle is also handy for tight manoeuvring. Unfortunately, the steering lacks weight and feel. As mentioned, you also need a tight grip on the steering wheel when accelerating hard from low speed.

Despite having only drums on the rear, the brakes performed well. ABS and EBD come as standard.

The Liana sedan is adventurously styled and, although many people laugh at the sight of it, we reckon its individuality is a drawcard.

This is a very slab-sided vehicle but Suzuki has successfully improved its appearance with a standard body kit comprising a rear spoiler, skirts, wheel arch flares and a sporty front bumper with fog lights. The kit distracts you from the visual weight of the Liana’s mid-section but does nothing to make the factory alloys look any bigger. They’re 15s that look like 13s...

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Build quality is competent but some of the criticisms of the original Liana remain – such as the cheap left-to-right switch for the power mirrors. The double-sealed doors now close with a quiet ‘thunk’, interior trim fit is neater and panel margins are very consistent - although comparatively wide. The most frequent reminders of the car’s humble origins are its noisy engine and notchy gearbox.

Warranty coverage and servicing costs are important at this end of the market and the Suzuki doesn’t lose any ground to its competitors. Buyers receive a 3 year/100,000km warranty and you’re backed by Suzuki’s roadside assist program. Only the Hyundai Elanta has a longer warranty period (5 years/130,000km), but the Suzuki combats this with 15,000km service intervals.

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After a week with the new Liana 1.8 GS sedan we were pleasantly surprised – it’s certainly a quantum leap over the old model. The chassis is in need of further development but at AUD$19,990, the Suzuki is excellent value.

The Liana GS sedan was provided for this test by Suzuki Australia.

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