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The Suzuki SX4 is convenient and easy to live with, and available all-wheel drive makes it an excellent choice for drivers who want an inexpensive high-mileage compact with all-weather capability. All models are keenly priced, making them worthy candidates for shoppers looking for small cars that are more than just basic transportation.
The 2012 Suzuki SX4 lineup features a four-door Sedan, a five-door Crossover, and a SportBack that shares the Crossover body but rides lower on a suspension tuned for on-road handling rather than off-road clearance.
All 2012 SX4 models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 148-150 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque. The SX4 Sedan and SX4 SportBack are front-wheel drive only. The SX4 Crossover is all-wheel drive. It's all-wheel drive that makes the SX4 special.
All-wheel drive is not widely available in this class. The Suzuki all-wheel-drive system sends up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels, giving the SX4 better traction in snow and on unpaved roads. 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, proving it has the right stuff.
The Suzuki SX4 Crossover, a four-door hatchback (also called a five-door), offers cargo versatility and looks like a mini-SUV. (Suzuki sometimes calls this car a Crossover and other times a Hatchback.)
These cars corner well and are enjoyable to drive. The 150-horsepower engine revs to 6200 rpm, and its 140 foot-pounds of torque makes acceleration smooth. The 6-speed manual gearbox is easy to shift, the clutch easy to use. They offer responsive handling and are relatively quiet underway.
The sporty SX4 SportBack features a lower ride height, performance shocks, stabilizer bars, four-wheel disc brakes, and 17-inch alloy rims with wider profile (205/50R17) all-season tires. That equipment is also available on the Sedan with Sport SE trim. It offers more precise cornering and a firmer ride. The SportBack has the Crossover hatchback body style but uses the SX4 Sedan Sport SE front-wheel-drive powertrain and suspension, wheels and tires.
The Suzuki SX4 offers a Garmin navigation system neatly pops up out of the dash with features like weather, airline schedules and Google search is either standard or optional in all models, while halogen headlamps, 60/40 split rear seat, and eight airbags are all standard.
New for 2012, Suzuki has upgraded the available Garmin navigation with Voice Command Recognition along with interactive features such as traffic information, weather forecast, 3D maps including lane guidance, and Google Local Point-of-Interest Search. Also, all 2012 Suzuki SX4 models come standard with electronic stability control.
The SX4 interior is simple and easy to operate. The black cloth bucket seats are terrific: they fit for around-town or hard cornering, they're roomy and rugged. The seating position is high and driver visibility is good. Instrumentation is straightforward and knobs and dials are few and easy to operate. Cubbies and door pockets provide in-cabin storage and there are plenty of cupholders.
The rear seat in the SX4 Crossover and SportBack offers good legroom for a compact. The back seat in the SX4 Sedan is less roomy, but the trunk is large.
The 2012 Suzuki SX4 comes in Sedan, Crossover, and SportBack versions, each with a 150-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (148 hp with CVT automatic). Front-wheel drive is standard on the Sedan and SportBack; all-wheel drive is standard on the Crossover.
The 2012 SX4 Sedan has four trim levels: Base, LE, LE Popular, and Sport SE. The base SX4 ($13,699) is truly base, without AC or even a radio. Base does come with cloth upholstery; tilt steering wheel; power windows, door locks, and mirrors; four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock; stability control; P195/65R15 tires on steel wheels; and a 6-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmission is not available. SX4 Sedan LE ($15,495) adds air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with auxiliary input jack. Remote keyless entry is optional ($160).
SX4 Sedan LE Popular ($17,399) comes only with with a CVT transmission and adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with illuminated controls, cruise control, remote entry, and alloy wheels.
SX4 Sedan Sport SE ($18,199) features a sport-tuned suspension with P205/50 all-season radial tires on 17-inch alloy wheels; spoilers at front, rear and sides; and fog lamps. It also comes with integrated touch-screen navigation The CVT is the only available transmission, but in the Sport SE it comes with paddle shifters. Bluetooth is optional ($250). Otherwise the Sport SE is equipped the same as the LE Popular.
SX4 Crossover comes in Base ($16,999), Premium, and Tech Value trims. The base model is equipped similarly to the Sedan LE but adds heated mirrors, roof rails, remote entry, P205/60R16 all-season tires on 16-inch steel wheels, and of course all-wheel drive. The Premium ($18,875) uses the CVT without paddle shifters, adds cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary controls, and alloy wheels. The Tech Value adds fog lamps, heated front seats, and navigation; it's offered with a 6-speed manual ($18,549) or CVT ($19,649). Bluetooth is optional ($250) on the Tech Value model only.
SX4 SportBack has the Crossover hatchback body style with the Sedan Sport SE front-wheel-drive powertrain and suspension, wheels and tires. Base trim equipment is similar to Sedan Sport SE, except that both the 6-speed manual ($16,799) and CVT ($17,999) are offered, and there's no factory navigation or Bluetooth option. To get those, you have to opt for Tech trim ($18,499), which comes only with the CVT with paddle shifters. Tech also comes with a larger rear spoiler. The Garmin navigation system can be installed as a dealer accessory ($590) in all SX4 models that don't include it as a factory option.
Safety features standard on all Suzuki SX4 modes include eight airbags: front driver and passenger airbags, torso-protecting driver and passenger side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, and rear seat side airbags. Also standard are a tire-pressure monitor and LATCH child seat anchors. Electronic stability control with traction control is standard on all models, as are anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist.
If you like the tall look of modern compact hatchbacks you'll love the tidy lines of the Suzuki SX4 Crossover and SportBack. From the side, their profile has a faint resemblance to the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class SUV.
It seems odd to talk about the SX4 Crossover in the same breath as an SUV, because it's so small, but that's what Suzuki calls it (when they're not calling it a Hatchback). The term crossover is normally used to suggest the vehicle crosses the line between truck-based SUV and car. So you might argue 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, most importantly, all-wheel drive, so we won't quibble.
It's less odd to talk about the SX4 Sedan Sport SE as being sporty. Still, while there is a definite wedge shape, the Sport SE's tall greenhouse makes it look more like an economy car than a sporty runabout. In fact, the SX4 Sedan Sport SE is really a zippy and roomy economy car with some sports appeal thanks to its great handling.
Both bodies have a large windshield that slopes down to a hood that curves over large headlight/turn signal units. The curve of bodywork from 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: Sedans have a smoother style, with lower air intakes tucked back beneath a rounded bumper; the Sedan Sport SE adds unique lower aero extensions that carry over into the body sides. The Crossover and SportBack share a more rugged visage, with the lower air intake thrust slightly forward and framed by a steer-horn outline. Further distinguishing the Crossover are flat-black caps along the rocker panels and over the fender flares, which the SportBack lacks.
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 roof of the Crossover and SportBack remains high all the way to the rear, and has wraparound glass at the rear behind the C-pillars. The Sedan's roof turns down into a short trunk. The Sedan sits lower than the Crossover, befitting their purposes: the Sedan 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 Sedan Sport and SportBack get 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.
Nothing but good to say about the SX4 interior. It's clean and simple and easy, but mostly it's all there. These things don't happen by accident. It's well thought-out.
Starting with the terrific black cloth bucket seats: They fit for around-town or hard cornering, they're rugged. Good high seating position, making the car feel less small out on the freeway and up against the big SUVs. Instrumentation is clean and available, knobs and dials few and perfectly ergonomic. Visibility good. Quiet inside. Good cubbies and cupholders. Well-placed driver's left armrest, good door pockets and door handles. Garmin navigation on our Crossover AWD Tech Value neatly popped up out of the dash. The system has been upgraded for 2012, with with Voice Command Recognition and interactive features such as traffic information, weather forecast, 3D maps including lane guidance, and Google Local Point-of-Interest Search,.
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 and SportBack, more than sufficient for a six-footer. Rear-seat legroom is not quite as generous as in the slightly-larger 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, 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. The 2.0-liter four makes 150 horsepower (148 with the CVT) and 140 foot-pounds of torque. The chassis has a wide track for good handling and it has 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, and fuel consumption is respectable but not great for a car this size. We got a combined 27 mpg with the all-wheel drive Crossover.
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.
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.
Those who like a soft ride might find the Sport 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.
We found both body styles fun to drive with the manual transmission, which shifts well feels sporty. The sixth gear made it right for freeway cruising. We didn't get to test the CVT, but we're dubious, if only because CVT's usually take the character out of a car, and the SX4 should not be robbed. However, the SX4 CVT uses paddle shifters, and sometimes that saves it. The CVT only improves fuel mileage by about 1 mpg, though, and only in some SX4 models, while others use slightly less fuel with the manual.
In the Crossover, the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering feels fine with virtually no sign of torque steer. The steering in the Sport SE is a little sharper, and some minor torque steer can arise if you stomp on the throttle in the middle of a turn. However, once the SX4 shifts its weight in a corner, it takes a set and tracks nicely through the turn.
Mostly, our Crossover AWD cornered and ran around town like a sports car, with the comfort of an SUV. It's much fun to drive, something that's hard to find in a car of this price, especially one that offers this much capability and versatility.
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 versions are the best value with all-weather capability for such a low price. The SX4 Sedan Sport SE offers a taste of sportiness in a sub-$20,000 package. As an added bonus, there's Suzuki's 100,000-mile, seven-year, fully transferable, zero-deductible powertrain limited warranty. An all-new SX4 is expected for the 2013 model year so watch for deals on the 2012 models.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie reported on the Suzuki SX4 Crossover from San Diego, with Kirk Bell reporting on the SX4 Sport from Traverse City, Michigan, Sam Moses reporting from Portland, Oregon.