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The Suzuki SX4 offers a lot of compact car for the money. The SX4 lineup features a four-door sedan and a four-door hatchback. All Suzuki SX4 models are powered by a 143-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available on the hatchback.
All-wheel drive makes the SX4 an excellent choice for drivers who want an inexpensive car with all-weather capability. The all-wheel-drive system has a locking feature that sends 30 percent to 50 percent of the available power to the rear wheels, giving it better traction in snow and on unpaved roads. All-wheel drive is also beneficial in the rain or anytime it's slippery, even on dry pavement in some situations.
The hatchback is called the Crossover. The Crossover offers cargo versatility and looks like a cute mini-SUV.
The sedan offers responsive handling and packs worthwhile features into a tidy package. Using front-wheel drive, the sedan achieves 23/31 mpg with the automatic and 22/30 mpg with the manual transmission.
For 2009, the biggest news is the inclusion of a navigation system as standard equipment, unusual for this class. The 2009 models get more features than before, including electronic stability control with traction control for the hatchback and a split-folding rear seat as standard equipment on all models. The SX4 Crossover was first launched as a 2007 model; the sedan joined the hatch for 2008.
The Sport sedan features a sport-tuned suspension and wider, lower-profile tires on alloy wheels. We found the Sport offers sharper steering and more nimble handling, though the ride may be stiff for some drivers.
All Suzuki SX4 models 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. The back seat in the sedan is cramped for tall riders, but it has a large trunk. All models are keenly priced, making them worthy candidates for shoppers looking for small cars that are more than just basic transportation.
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. The term crossover is normally used to suggest the vehicle crosses the line between truck-based SUV and car. By industry definitions, the SX4 Crossover is a compact hatchback, not a crossover SUV. 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. There's nothing wrong with that in Europe, where hatchbacks are considered smart and practical. But hatchbacks have traditionally been unwelcome in the U.S., a shame because they are practical and make a lot of sense.
It's also a bit strange to talk about the SX4 Sport sedan 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 amount 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 lower than the Crossover, befitting their purposes: the Sport is intended to grip the pavement a bit better in corners, and 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 for the class.
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. 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 sedan 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 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 15.5 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.
The Suzuki SX4 comes with one of the most powerful engines 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 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 is available 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 has been running the SX4 in the World Rally Championship. In other words, the SX4 has the basic ingredients for a solid performance car.
The 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 0 to 50 percent, depending on available traction, and the AWD Lock mode is designed to facilitate traction in case of snow or mud. In the Lock mode, power is distributed to the rear wheels in the range of 30 percent to 50 percent. When the car reaches 36 mph in AWD Lock mode, the system automatically switches to AWD Auto mode.
We're not sure why there's a 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. Maybe it helps in tight parking lots, though we didn't notice any binding in AWD Auto.
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 acceleration times are in the 10-second range, so the SX4 is not particularly quick.
We only tried an automatic for a short distance and the shifting seemed smooth. The SX4 sedan achieves a slightly better EPA-estimated fuel economy rating with the automatic than it does with the manual: 23/31 mpg City/Highway for the automatic, compared to 22/30 mpg for the manual. In the Crossover, the fuel economy numbers are the same 21/28 mpg 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 isn't crisp but it's far from 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.
The brakes seemed fine. Anti-lock brakes are optional, but we recommend getting them because the ABS helps the driver maintain steering control in a panic braking situation.
Overall handling is competent in both body styles, thanks in part to a long wheelbase and a wide track. All-wheel-drive models grip much better on slippery surfaces, and the AWD system can help stabilize the handling even on a dry road. The sedan lacks all-wheel drive, 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 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 Suzuki SX4 is a good choice among small cars for anyone looking for something other than just the cheapest, most basic transportation. All models are bargain priced and they deliver a lot of content. The SX4 Crossover is a versatile hatchback body style. The all-wheel-drive model is perhaps the best buy because it's one of the least-expensive vehicles available offering this level of all-weather capability. 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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