Celebrating the unexceptional.
Much of what gets recorded is either data with no texture, or the exceptional. In between is where real life happens and it goes by undocumented. Today, an ordinary car on an ordinary street on an ordinary day.
The Suzuki Liana doesn’t strike one as …. well, it doesn’t strike one very much. So anonymous is the Liana that Top Gear used on as for their ‘Star In A Reasonably Priced Car’ feature. The Liana is very much the kind of car I see littering my part of town, and I usually ignore them. But, when I saw this one, I decided I could not resist the voice that told me to
take a few photos and see what came of my attempts to write it up.
I have to (again) apologise for the mediocrity of the images. Still, we see in the Liana a vehicle with an unusual package. It’s a bit tall but not quite an MPV and not quite an estate or a regular hatchback. Now that I come to think of it, this was Fiat’s formula for the Croma 2, which came out three years after the Liana (or Aerio, as it was known in other markets).
They have a special formula for design at Suzuki, at least for the cars outside Japan. That formula involves indistinctness. The boot has quite a well articulated conceit which is organised around the glass outline and the license plate panel -orderly, you could say. At the side, we might say it was a boring day at Pininfarina where ‘sturdy’ stood alone as the the word on the theme board. The front graphics could be labelled generic, though I think it could have been saved by the slightest of reworkings of the lamp graphics. I think a few of the radii are causing the noise (top of the headlamps, lower corners of the grille). It’s not as bland as a Croma 2, though. None of this styling matters because that’s not Suzuki’s USP.
Their USP is user-orientated ease-of-ownership and, most likely, servicing from a network of small garages that have nurtured a good relationship with their customers. Those customers had a blizzard of engines to choose from: nine engines across the markets and across the model years (1.3 to 2.0 via 1.6 and 1.8 and overshooting to 2.3 litres somewhere in the world.)
Ordinary, yes. Vague, sort of. Sexy? No, not even in a readers’ wives kind of way. Yet these cars are still on the road and in use. Suzuki has a knack of making what appear to be underwhelming cars that go on to endure in a way Renaults, for example, don’t. There’s no question that Renault has had gigabytes of brain power applied to ensure Renault design makes sense. It was so carefully considered (until Le Quement left). They don’t last past eight years though. Suzukis soldier on. What is the secret?
Suzuki, as far as I know, might have had nobody acting as head-of-design, to judge by the wholly inconsistent and randomly changing styles down the years. Yet whatever they do works. It’s a bit like the story some provocateurs like to tell about the lack of government in Italy not harming the country (untrue on every level), arguing that a lack of strategy can be a strategy.
The big S does have a strategy. Each Suzuki model gets the kind of design it needs, rather as if Suzuki sees each car as an individual and not part of a set of clones. This would not work for some other brands. For Suzuki, I think it’s devastatingly intelligent: why trip yourself up on homogeneity when the brand serves such peculiarly niche niches?
Now that I have considered the Liana, I realise that its goodness is non-obvious and I think this is becuase Suzuki treats its customers as intelligent people. They don’t need their one car to have a family resemblance to the other cars they didn’t buy. They don’t worry about Suzuki’s past. They want a car for them, for now, and they want it to work and to last.