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Automakers take note from my experience with Suzuki

Sometimes test driving cars requires a sense of humor -- and a back brace.

For me, Monday night was no exception.

As Ford Motor Co. and other automakers look to offer more variants off compact car platforms, they should pay attention to this tale.

Our office manager wanted me to drive a vehicle that he thought might replace my beloved Volvo C30 hatchback someday.

He handed me the keys to a red 2011 Suzuki SX4 crossover with all-wheel drive.

Cute as a button, it looked like fun. I had a 30-mile trek to the dentist and another 18-mile drive home. Suzuki and I would have plenty of quality time together.

I squeezed my 5-foot, 10-inch frame inside and reached under the seat to make more room for my 34-inch legs. All I got was about an inch and a half of extra legroom. The steering wheel rested on my knees. I tilted it to the highest position to gain about a quarter inch more space. I removed my shoes to get another half-inch of leg length.

At this point, good sense should have prevailed. I should have handed back the keys and made the 48-mile journey in the comfort of my own car.

But I refused to succumb to defeat so easily.

So off I went, carefully. I was driving fine, but by mile 10 my awkward driving position caused my legs to cramp. I periodically lifted my foot off the throttle to stretch my leg and ease the cramps. I fiddled with all the seat handles to get just a hair more length.

By mile 15 my back ached.

By mile 18 I felt only frustration -- and dread at the thought of driving another 30 feet, much less another 30 miles.

I asked myself: Don’t they design it knowing that many Americans are taller and bigger than many folks in other regions of the world?

This is not the first time I’ve been in a vehicle where I did not fit comfortably. And in fairness to Suzuki, the SX4 is a nice vehicle otherwise. It has a snappy engine, generous cargo space and earns 30 mpg highway fuel economy. The vehicle I drove was priced at around $19,000.

Despite those attributes, I would not buy it because I don’t fit in it.

Ford Motor Co. has engineers who study ways to make Ford’s vehicles accommodate drivers from 4 to 7 feet tall. That’s good because as Ford introduces more variants off its global compact car platform, it and other manufacturers should take a lesson from my experience with Suzuki -- allow for enough legroom and comfort.

Otherwise, fuel economy be damned! I’ll walk home.

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