A small car with all-wheel-drive — that's an interesting combination and the main attraction of Suzuki's Aerio. The neat thing here is getting AWD in a vehicle priced under $20,000. The profile of the little Aerio hatchback reminds us of an early Honda Civic with its shaped-like-asneaker look. Push on the gas and you hear the distinctive buzz of a four-cylinder engine, in the Aerio's case a 2.3-liter DOHC unit that delivers 155 hp. The car is no barn burner. But, as one would expect, it accelerates better than a lot of subcompacts carrying the 1.8-liter powerplant that is more typical for this class of vehicle.

We were impressed that the Aerio offers several-features as standard that are rare to find in subcompacts.For example, the steering wheel and shift knob are both wrapped in leather. There are fog lamps, heated and powered outside mirrors, cruise control, side airbags for front seat occupants, and a six-disc CD/radio system that includes a subwoofer among its seven speakers. Indeed, the only option available for this car is ABS. The basic SX AWD carries a sticker price of $17,249. Suzuki offers lower priced versions of the Aerio that don't carry AWD, an automatic tranny, or as many as amenities.

The passenger compartment doesn't feel cheap. Designers textured many of the plastic parts to give them a more pleasing look. Climate controls use backlit dials with temperature settings, so the AC or heater kicks on to maintain the setting as needed. And the controls, as well as the radio, are easy to read and reach. Cargo room is a decent 14.6 ft 3 behind the rear seats. With seats down, there's 63.7 ft 3 available through the one-piece rear liftgate.

We particularly liked the legroom available to backseat occupants. The last small car we test drove had 1 in. of backseat legroom with the front seats adjusted for normal human beings. There is no such problem with the Aerio. Things only get a little cramped in back with the tallest of drivers. And headroom gets equally high marks, though the hatchback model we tried, thanks to its tall roofline, has more overhead room in back than the sedan. The Aerio, in fact, stands taller than many other subcompacts, which helps not just headroom but also road visibility.

The car drives well considering its small size and price range. You'll feel major potholes but no more so than in other vehicles with a limited amount of space available for wheel travel. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Aerio an overall rating of Good for frontal offset crashworthiness.

All in all, the Aerio should be an interesting option for those in northern climes where AWD comes in handy for an appreciable part of the year.

-Lee Teschler