The Suzuki SX4 was launched as an all-new hatchback for 2007. For 2008, a four-door sedan version called the SX4 Sport has joined the lineup. The SX4 hatchback, now called the SX4 Crossover, uses all-wheel drive, while the SX4 Sport has front-wheel drive. Both are motivated by a 143-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
The SX4 Crossover offers cargo versatility and looks like a cute mini-SUV. It's good for all seasons as it comes standard with all-wheel drive for effective all-weather capability. The Crossover is a reasonably sporty hatchback when equipped with a manual transmission, but it's also available with an automatic.
The SX4 Sport is sportier yet, with sharper steering and more nimble handling. However, the ride may be too stiff for some drivers.
Both SX4 versions offer pleasant cabins with controls that are easy to use and interior materials appropriate for the price. The front seats are spacious.
The rear seat in the hatchback is roomy but the back seat in the sedan is cramped for tall riders. The sedan has a large trunk, but the back seat doesn't fold.
Both body styles are keenly priced, making them worthy candidates for shoppers looking for small cars that are more than just basic transportation.
The Crossover is the lowest-priced new car in America with all-wheel drive, making this hatchback an excellent choice for budget-minded buyers who drive in snowy areas. The SX4 Crossover's all-wheel-drive system is meant mostly for on-road use, but it does have a locking feature that sends 30 to 50 percent of the available power to the rear wheels, giving it some off-road capability and better traction in deeper snow.
If you like the tall look of modern compact hatchbacks you'll love the lines of the Suzuki SX4 Crossover. From the side, its profile has an uncanny resemblance to the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class SUV. That's not bad considering the ML has a much sleeker look to it than most SUVs.
It seems strange to talk about the SX4 Crossover in the same breath as an SUV, but it is exactly how Suzuki describes it in the U.S. It seems more like a hatchback than a crossover, but like most crossover SUVs it has a tailgate, fold-down rear seats for added cargo space and all-wheel drive. In Europe, where the car was designed and has been well received, it's described as a hatchback. Nothing wrong with that in Europe where hatchbacks are considered smart and practical. Hatchbacks are less welcome in the U.S., which we think is a shame because they are practical and make a lot of sense.
It's also a bit strange to talk about the SX4 Sport as being sporty. While there is a definite wedge shape running front to rear, the SX4 Sport's tall greenhouse makes it look more like an economy car than a sporty runabout. In fact, the SX4 Sport is really an economy car with a small dash of sports appeal.
Both versions have a large windshield that slopes down to a hood that curves over large headlight/turn signal units. The curve of bodywork from the front of the distinctive front fenders extends down to the lower lip of the front bumper with its large air intake. The look is similar for the two body styles, but the front fascias differ. The Sport has differently shaped pods for the available fog lights and a lower aero add-on that is carried over into the body sides. The Crossover has flat-black caps along the rocker panels and over the fender flares.
One of the most unusual design cues of both body styles is the large quarter windows set in front of the front doors. At their base, these windows dip down from front to back, flowing into a rising line that leads to the back of the rear windows.
The Crossover's roof remains high all the way to the rear, and has wraparound glass at the rear behind the C-pillars. The Sport's roof turns down into a short trunk. The Sport sits 10 millimeters lower than the Crossover, befitting their purposes: The Sport is intended to grip the pavement a bit better in corners. The Crossover is better equipped for snow and unpaved roads. For the same reasons, the Sport gets 17-inch wheels with lower profile tires while the Crossover is fitted with 16-inch wheels and tires with slightly taller sidewalls. Each setup has its advantages and disadvantages, but the differences are not dramatic.
All in all, we found both body styles to be pleasing, though not swoopy or cutting edge. Neither car looks like it's too small, and they both have a modern stance.
Climbing inside the Suzuki SX4 we discovered a pleasant cockpit with no gimmicks. Everything is well placed and the brushed aluminum trim seems to be well finished. The radio controls are found on the same plane as the center of the steering wheel, with three easy-to-use climate control knobs located just below them. The interior materials include sturdy plastics on par with those of the Honda Fit, meaning they are among the best in a class of cars notorious for cost-cutting.
Four gauges are found in three dials that fill the instrument pod. They are located in front of the steering wheel, not in a gimmicky central-mounted pod like that of the Toyota Yaris. The large speedometer is mounted in the central position slightly overlapping both the smaller tachometer and a circle that houses the fuel gauge and water temperature gauge.
Head room in either body style is excellent up front. Leg room is adequate for most, though tall drivers will want more. Visibility is good to the rear, but the split front pillars can block the driver's view to the sides at intersections.
Storage space is merely adequate, however. Unfortunately, a center console does not come standard. One can be ordered as a dealer accessory, but it is more of an armrest than a storage bin. Two cup holders are provided in front of the shifter where they don't get in the way while shifting a manual-equipped SX4. A decent-sized cubby is located below the climate controls, and large map pockets are provided in the front and rear doors.
Rear-seat leg room is pretty good in the Crossover, more than sufficient for a six-footer. Rear-seat legroom is not quite as generous as in the similar-sized Nissan Versa but to put it in perspective it's about the same as in the much larger Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Rear-seat head room in the hatchback is generous.
The Sport has less head room and leg room, with its sedan body style, but it is still usefully sized. Ingress and egress to the back seats is fine because the rear wheels are pushed toward the rear of the vehicle and the wheel wells do not intrude much.
Cargo space is sufficient in both models. The specifications for the Crossover say there is only 10 cubic feet of luggage space behind the back seats. However, it seems much larger primarily because it is fully useable with little intrusion from the wheelwells. The wide track and low-mounted rear suspension components allow for a flat floor, a feature the Nissan Versa can't claim and more comparable to that of the relatively expensive Honda Fit. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold and tumble forward, opening up a generous 54.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Getting stuff in and out is a breeze thanks to the full-width one-piece tailgate.
The trunk of the sedan offers 14.3 cubic feet of space, which is as much as some midsize cars. Be aware that the hinges do intrude on the cargo room, so you won't want to put anything that can be crushed beneath them. And while the trunk's cargo volume is generous, the rear seats do not fold down or offer a pass-through. This can be a deal breaker for some customers.
The Suzuki SX4 offers the most powerful engine in its class. It has a wide track for good handling and it seems to have a solid body. The downside is that it's relatively heavy, and weight is the enemy of which performance and fuel economy. So the SX4 is not much faster than its competitors, on dry pavement, that is, and fuel consumption is not quite as good.
The Suzuki SX4 Crossover comes with all-wheel drive and that distinguishes it among the herd of compacts. The world's top rally cars use all-wheel drive for its superior traction and Suzuki will be competing in the spectacularly fast World Rally Championship in 2008 with a high-performance version of the SX4. This is a roundabout way of saying that the SX4 has the basic ingredients for a solid performance car.
The Crossover model's all-wheel-drive system, called i-AWD, operates in three modes via a console-mounted switch. The 2WD mode is for maximum fuel economy on dry pavement, the AWD Auto mode controls the drive power distribution ratio to the rear wheels from zero to 50 percent, depending on available traction, and the AWD Lock mode is designed to facilitate traction in case of snow or mud. When in the lock mode, power is distributed to the rear wheels in the range of 30 to 50 percent. When the vehicle reaches 36 mph in AWD Lock mode, the system automatically switches to AWD Auto mode.
Honestly we don't see the point in the 2WD mode as the fuel savings have to be minimal and it means the driving feel changes when you switch to or from the automatic mode. It seems much more sensible to have the benefits available at all times so that in an emergency situation one has all four wheels doing the work. The lock mode is useful for really adverse conditions at slow speeds.
We found both body styles fun to drive with the manual transmission, though the gearshift throws are a little long and rubbery. The SX4 could do with a sixth gear as we found ourselves wanting to up shift several times as we drove on straight highways and freeways. Around the twisty bits, however, just shifting through the gate between second, third and fourth gear was fine. Zero to 60 mph times are in the 10-second range, so the SX4 is not quick.
We only tried an automatic for a short distance and the shifting seemed smooth. The SX4 Sport achieves a slightly better EPA-estimated fuel economy rating with the automatic than it does with the manual, 23 mpg City and 31 Highway, compared to 22/30. In the Crossover, the fuel economy numbers are the same 21/28 no matter what transmission is chosen.
In the Crossover, the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering feels fine with virtually no sign of torque steer. It might not be quite crisp enough for a racer but it's far from being sloppy. The steering in the Sport is a little sharper, and some minor torque steer can arise if you stomp on the throttle in the middle of a turn. We never had the chance to try the brakes in a panic but we have no reason to doubt they work fine, especially in cars equipped with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution.
Overall handling is competent in both body styles, thanks in part to a long wheelbase and a wide track. With standard AWD, the Crossover grips much better on slippery surfaces and the AWD system can even help on a dry road. The Sport lacks AWD, but its lower ride height and tauter suspension make it more nimble than the Crossover. Both body styles have a relatively high seating position, which makes the SX4's moderate body lean more pronounced. However, once the SX4 shifts its weight in a corner, it takes a nice set and tracks nicely through the turn.
Those who like a soft cushy ride might like the Crossover but find the Sport a little too stiff for their liking. Broken pavement can cause the Sport to jiggle, while a series of larger humps can create some bounding motions. Still, the Sport is not uncomfortable; it's just stiffer than most of its competitors.
The 2008 Suzuki SX4 is an ideal small car for anyone looking for something other than just the cheapest, most basic car. All modelas are bargain priced and they deliver a lot of content. The SX4 Crossover is a versatile hatchback body style with the advantage of all-season all-wheel drive. The SX4 Sport offers a taste of sportiness in a sub $15,000 package. As an added bonus, there's Suzuki's 100,000-mile, seven-year, fully transferable, zero-deductible powertrain limited warranty.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie test drove the Suzuki SX4 Crossover near San Diego, with Kirk Bell reporting on the SX4 Sport from Traverse City, Michigan.
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