Based on a new platform, the monospace car provides substantially greater room for passengers and luggage than the traditional-styled range of Baleno three-box saloon and estate models it replaces. A larger rendition of the 'tall box' theme used in the Wagon R+ and Ignis models, the car's appearance is aerodynamic but not as clean as the Focus and more fussy than the Golf. But the interior scores highly, providing sufficient room for five adults, with particularly good legroom.
A new alloy 1.6-litre 16-valve engine drives both the UK market GL and GLX versions and there is a choice of manual or automatic transmission. With power steering and electric control for mirrors and windows, the base model has a good spread of standard equipment and is well finished.
In brief test sessions, both manual and automatic models proved to be refined when driven briskly, with tidy handling and a quiet demeanour during motorway cruising. Feeling bigger inside than it looks from the outside, the Liana has higher quality build and trim standards than usual for the price. Doors close with a reassuring clunk, instrumentation is in digital form and detailing includes front and rear cupholders, a sliding storage tray under the front passenger seat and a driver's seat ticket holder.
But the model being trumpeted by Suzuki as putting a dramatic fresh slant on mid-size motoring is set to remain a rarity in British showrooms. As the new Liana range was being launched in Italy, Suzuki GB officials admitted that only 1,500 examples are due to reach the UK market this year.
David Seward, Suzuki GB sales and marketing director, said: 'Our supply for the whole of 2002 adds up to no more than 4,000 units and this really is a big disappointment. Annual production of this range has been set at only 100,000 and we feel that figure is going to be insufficient to meet demand across world markets.
'But the upside is that we'd rather have too few cars in our showrooms than have the problem of finding customers for too many. This is a significant development. The Liana is not one of those simple, Korean-type low-cost niche products. We believe it to be the full equal of the market leaders - but while it matches its rivals in dynamics, quality and driver appeal, it also costs a lot less,' said Seward.
He added: 'We're pleased to be joining the mainstream C sector with a car that has been benchmarked against the class leaders and stacks up well against them. It's a worthy competitor that has a big price advantage and is set to play a key role in our long term plans for growth.