The Suzuki SX4
Sport, introduced last year as a 2008 model, is the sedan counterpart to the SX4 Crossover hatchback, which made its debut a year earlier. The Crossover was well-received by the media and praised for its ride quality and excellent interior. The Sport retains those qualities and, although it loses some of the Crossover's versatility because it has a traditional trunk, has tons of interior space and a decent amount of cargo room. The SX4 is aimed at young singles, but with seating for five it can also meet the needs of a small family on a budget.
From the outside, the SX4 looks deceivingly small. The stubby nose, low beltline, and large, upright side windows give the vehicle visual height, which also shortens the visual length. A small wedge-shaped window forward of the front side windows splits the A-pillar into two parts, which allows the windows to start lower on the body and preserves the sporty rake of the windshield. The window looks cool and adds character. Tasteful body cladding and optional 17-inch wheels and low-profile tires add to the sporty look. The styling is modern and clean and loosely follows the design language of Suzuki's handsome, redesigned Grand Vitara.
The upright greenhouse and a low-slung dash create an open and airy feel in the cabin. The wedge-shaped stationary windows let in a huge amount of light and minimize the blind spot that is usually created by a single A-pillar. (The A-pillars are the forward-most roof-support pillars astride the windshield.) The downside to all this glass is that on sunny, summer days the SX4 becomes a greenhouse and the air conditioning struggles to keep up. The interior is dominated by plastics but the texture and matte finish used on the dash and center console really dress up the cabin and, combined with excellent fit, give the SX4 the look and feel of a more expensive vehicle. The red accent lighting on the dials and gauges reinforces the sporting intentions. The SX4 Sport we drove had the Convenience package. This package adds 17-inch wheels, disc brakes, automatic climate-control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with backlit steering-wheel-mounted audio controls for $1200. The leather is soft and grippy and the audio controls, like most in the cabin, are nicely damped.
The lack of a center storage console is a notable omission. Except for door pockets and a few small bins below the stereo, there is little storage space in the SX4, and the glove box can't hold much more than the owner's manual. And, since there also isn't an armrest for the driver, no center console means no place to rest your elbow which becomes uncomfortable especially when you are shifting for yourself. The sedan also lacks a split/fold rear seat to access the trunk - a standard item on most of its competitors and a near necessity in modern America - so if you plan to carry large or long items, you'll want the SX4 Crossover or you'll have to shop elsewhere. The SX4 does provide seating for five and even gives the poor soul crammed in the middle his own headrest, which is uncommon in this class.
The 143-hp, 2.0-liter engine is powerful enough to move the 2668-pound SX4 easily and, although it lets you know it's working hard, it makes highway merging easy and has plenty of low-end grunt for around-town driving. While the optional four-speed automatic will probably be the transmission of choice for most, shifting for yourself with the standard five-speed manual is recommended for performing quick, highway passing maneuvers and for darting around town. The manual's shift action is smooth and firm but light and is a cinch to shift smoothly. Even drivers with minimal experience with manual gearboxes ought to be able to operate this transmission without a fuss.
The SX4 is remarkably composed over choppy pavement. The SX4 has a firmer suspension setting than most cars in its class, but the excellent damping absorbs the bumps without being too harsh and provides good feedback, although the car tends to lose its composure over undulations. The steering is light but direct and communicative and adds to the sporty feel of the SX4. This is no backroads corner-carver, but you won't feel like you're piloting a generic econo-box either.
Although the SX4 Crossover and Sport sedan were designed to compete against vehicles like the Toyota Corolla and the Mazda 3, their funky shape and low price make them a good alternative for buyers of vehicles such as the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and the Chevy Aveo. The SX4 is larger, has more power and interior room, and is sportier than these more pedestrian offerings while sacrificing little in the way of fuel economy. Although Suzuki vehicles are often overlooked or forgotten, with standard features such as side-curtain air bags, a tire-pressure monitoring system, power locks and windows, and air-conditioning, the SX4 could become a player in the exploding small-car market.
Suzuki SX4 Sport
Base price: $14,964
Price as tested: $16,224
2.0-liter, DOHC 16-valve, 4-cylinder
143 hp @ 5800 rpm
136 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
L x W x H: 177.6 x 68.1 x 60.8 in
Legroom f/r: 41.4/35.8 in
Headroom f/r: 39.6/37.6 in
Cargo capacity: 15 cu ft
Curb weight: 2668 lb
EPA city/highway: 22/30