When Bruce Springsteen sang "one step up and two steps back" for his song, "One Step Up," he could have been referring to the 2008 Suzuki Reno. That is, if he had the ability to see into the future and suddenly had an interest in crooning about a Suzuki economy car instead of cool rides like a '69 Chevy with a 396 or a Pink Cadillac.
On paper, the Reno looks competitive. Indeed, it boasts a generous standard features list, a long warranty and a 127-horsepower engine, the latter one of the most potent in the class. But when equipped with the automatic transmission -- which is how most folks are going to equip their Renos -- Suzuki's least-expensive car suffers the double humility of mediocre performance along with so-so fuel efficiency. In fact, the Reno posts mileage numbers that are among the lowest of cars in its price range. Go with the manual gearbox and performance is respectable, though fuel mileage still lags behind the others. The Reno's sloppy reflexes and less than composed ride, along with noticeable wind noise at freeway speeds, are nothing to brag about either.
Although entry-level shoppers may be tempted by the Reno's pricing, which is about a grand under rivals such as the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, we'd advise them to skip the 2008 Suzuki Reno and pony up for one of its superior competitors.
The 2008 Suzuki Reno is a four-door hatchback that essentially comes in one trim level. Standard Reno features include heated side mirrors, air-conditioning (with cabin air filtration), tilt steering wheel, full power accessories and a four-speaker CD/MP3 audio system.
An optional Convenience Package adds an automatic transmission, remote keyless entry, steering-wheel audio controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever, cruise control and security alarm.
In an effort to spice things up a bit inside, Reno designers installed an attractive set of gauges surrounded by metallic accents which extend to the rest of the dash and console areas. Unfortunately, there's still too much cheap gray plastic everywhere else. Folks with lots of stuff will enjoy a multitude of storage compartments, and drivers looking to get more comfortable will appreciate the Reno's highly adjustable driver seat. In back, passengers are treated to competitive leg- and shoulder room, along with a fold-down center armrest.
Cargo capacity is less than 9 cubic feet with the rear seat up, but thanks to the hatchback architecture, opens up to a much more accommodating 45 cubic feet with the seat folded.
The Reno comes with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder generating 127 hp and 131 pound-feet of torque. Paired with the standard five-speed manual transmission, it performs decently. The available four-speed automatic shifts smoothly, but its lackluster response dulls performance.
Adding insult to injury is less than average fuel efficiency. Manual Renos rate 20 mpg city and 28 highway, while the automatic rates 19/28, respectively. Most rivals achieve anywhere from 5 to 8 mpg better.
Equipped with the manual gearbox, the Reno has little difficulty merging or keeping up in traffic. However, when this little Suzuki is saddled with the available automatic transmission, acceleration weakens considerably and most maneuvers take some planning.
And compared with other budget-priced hatchbacks, the 2008 Suzuki Reno also comes up lacking in ride quality, as its soft suspension allows too much movement over bumps and ruts. Handling around corners is loose and unsure too, as there's excessive body roll while economy tires afford minimal grip. One bright spot is its four-wheel disc brakes, which provide short stopping distances despite a slightly spongy pedal.
Overall, however, we find the Suzuki Reno to be a compromised role player that struggles too much to keep up with more evolved, well-rounded competitors.
Front side-impact airbags and four-wheel disc brakes are standard. Antilock brakes are optional. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the 2008 Suzuki Reno earned an "Acceptable" (second-highest) rating for frontal-offset crash protection.
Other than the audio system being downgraded from eight speakers to four, the Suzuki Reno sees no changes for 2008.