Suzuki SX4 car reviews

Review Notes: Suzuki SX4 Sedan

Suzuki SX4 car reviews

Personality Fun little sport-economy car
Why we’d buy it Fun cornering, decent gas mileage, quiet, comfortable, convenient, not much to dislike, low price
Why we wouldn’t Off-the-line grunt, all Japanese, where’s our Suzuki dealer again?

The Suzuki SX4 is the latest in a series of possible comeback cars from a company most Americans are only dimly aware of. The little car is available in more varieties than many bigger sellers, offering among other things a wagon/hatchback variant and all wheel drive; but more than anything, it should firmly put memories of the late Samurai to rest.

We found the SX4 to be fun in a way that many higher-performance cars are not fun; it seemed to like being revved up high and thrown around corners, despite a fairly soft-feeling suspension and paper performance that is not especially impressive. Cornering, though, is quite good, with the car willingly responding to any twist of the steering wheel, and no screaming tires (though it is possible to lose control without hearing a warning squeal, too). The price is eminently agreeable, starting at well under $15,000. There are minor annoyances, but on the whole, we enjoyed our ride in the SX4.

The sole powerplant is a 2.0 liter dual-cam engine with 143 horsepower (5,800 rpm) and 136 lb-feet of torque (3,500), a rev-happy engine that is very slow off the line, but feels sprightly once the car is moving, thanks partly to a four-speed automatic that downshifts at any provocation (the base transmission is more enjoyable five-speed manual). That automatic often seemed confused because of its tendency to drop a gear with even a light tap of the gas, but it also avoided the "rubber-band" feel of many small-car automatics (including that of the Mazda6). The engine has a timing chain, so those every-80,000-mile timing belt changes (or the nastier ones that happen by surprise) aren’t an issue. The whole car weighs in at a light 2,668 - 2,745 pounds (depending on the package and transmission; the automatic adds around 80 pounds).

The actual 0-60 time is claimed at 10.2 seconds, around the same as the old Dodge Neon automatic, and very close to both the 2.0 liter Mazda3, 2.4 liter Dodge Caliber CVT, and four-cylinder Nissan Sentra. It outdoes both Mazda3 (in I trim) and Sentra in cornering and braking, according to various tests.

Gas mileage is fairly low for the size, with the automatic checking in at 23 city, 31 highway (these are 2008 ratings, which are lower than 2007 numbers would be). That said, we think most people will check in at around 28 mpg overall; we didn't get below 27, and we didn't get above 28, in mixed driving with lots of stops and pedal-to-the-floor acceleration. The manual transmission is rated at 23/30, slightly lower, due to sportier gear ratios.

Normally the front wheels are driven, but an intelligent three-mode all wheel drive system is optional: it stays in front wheel drive (for gas mileage and lower wear) until slippage is sensed, at which point all wheel drive is engaged and power is shifted to the rear wheels. The SX4 can also be locked into front or all wheel drive mode; when locked in AWD, a 50/50 torque distribution is used for better traction.

On good roads the SX4 is soft and yielding; but you feel nasty bumps, albeit well cushioned. To get this level of cornering without too much sacrifice of ride is quite an achievement, in this price range. What's more, the sound insulation is quite good, and the aerodynamic shape keeps wind noise down. Our only real suspension complaint is the way one can lose traction without much warning; fortunately it comes right back when the foot comes off the gas, but some warning would be good.

The interior is light and airy, with huge amounts of glass and only very small blind spots. Extra glass in front, between the door and windshield, provides a vantage point not present in many cars, while the huge windshield, door glass, and rear window all create an expansive, bright feeling while making it easier to avoid hitting people or things; the only substantial blind spot is the usual passenger-side-rear pillar, and you can eliminate that by getting the wagon. Headlights are bright and effective; sun visors are well designed but it would be good if they could slide out or had extenders. Mirrors are large and effective, and in our test car, the outside driver's mirror had its own defroster as well.

The interior is on par for cars of this class, with the dominant material being molded, textured plastic, relieved by dull chrome trim here and there, and moderately bright chrome on the edges of the radio and climate dials. The gauge cluster has the usual speedometer (with a wishful 140 mph top end, but fortunately a large dial to make up for it), tachometer (much of which is over the redline and therefore useless), and gas and temp gauges, with dull chrome surrounding the dials; the odometer uses a slanted typeface for sportiness. A center information display at the top of the dashboard shows the time, outside temperature, and gas mileage information. At night, bright red backlighting, Pontiac style, also reinforces the sporty style. The backlighting is moderately generous but the satellite-radio stereo’s pretty red underlining bars made it harder to figure out what buttons to press (the fine print on the mode buttons didn’t help). On the lighter side, the stereo had very good sound, with strong imaging, and was fairly easy to use otherwise.

The climate control was of the type where the outside of the knobs controlled major functions, and the entire inside was for pushbuttons; so that pressing in the middle of the left knob, for example, activated the air conditioner. A bright light, with a color and brightness normally used for warnings, simply indicated whether the air was recirculated or fresh. During the day, this light made some sense; at night, it was a distraction. (The air conditioner used a green light, and a blue light was always on at the bottom of the temperature range.) On the lighter side, the climate control functioned quite well, with the automatic function providing heat only when there was heat to be provided, and not pushing the fan to unacceptably noisy levels. The fan was unusually quiet at any level.

Other controls were generally sensible; the cruise was easy to distinguish by touch, and the wheel-mounted audio controls covered volume, seek, mode, and mute. We appreciated having separate lights for CRUISE (system activated) and SET (speed locked in). We didn’t appreciate the inane “your headlights are on” light or the too-bright DRL system.

Interior space was reasonable, with liveable if small back seats, comfortable front seats, and a large 15-cubic-foot trunk that swallowed up both tall and deep objects easily; the trunk was a big surprise, literally. Storage spaces were generally uncovered; the glove compartment had spare room, and there were shelves in the center stack, sensibly tilted back so objects within would not come flying out at the first fast start. All doors had map pockets molded in, without any sound deadening material, but with room for cups; and deep, moderately flexible cupholders were in the center console, which, unusually, did not have a compartment of its own.

Our test car with the Sport Convenience package did not have a single option - not one. It came with seventeen-inch alloy wheels, speed-sensitive power steering, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, side airbags (both seat mounted and curtain), tire pressure monitoring, power locks with remote, power windows, remote gas cover and trunk releases, automatic air conditioning, four-speaker CD player, cruise, tilt wheel, floor mats (often an absurd $50-and-up charge!), rar defroster, intermittent wipers, and wheel-mounted audio controls. The automatic transmission was a rather high $1,100 — we don’t count it as an option because Suzuki considers the Convenience Package with Automatic to be separate from the plain ol’ Convenience Package.

The powertrain warranty was for seven years, 100,000 miles; roadside assistance was included along with a courtesy car when needed during the “regular” three year, 36,000 mile warranty. Destination and handling charges were sensibly dropped, and included in the base price of $16,370 (the base price of the SX4 Sedan, without any packages, is under $15,000). Our one issue, one which will never be resolved while Suzuki remains a niche player, is the 100% Japanese content of the SX4, which some will see as an advantage and others will see as a problem. Incidentally, if you were curious about the base model, it’s nearly the same as our Convenience, only without the leather-wrapped wheel, wheel-mounted audio controls, heated outside mirrors, or automatic climate control — and is therefore really, really a bargain. The Touring Package ($15,870 with five-speed stick) adds a nine-speaker stereo with subwoofer, fancier electronic keyless entry, fog lights and rear spoiler, and stability/traction control. It might be the best bargain of the three. All models get front and rear stabilizer bars, low-profile tires,

Overall, the SX4 was quite a fun car, and quite a temptation. We really liked its sprightly feel, strong cornering, sound insulation, cushioned ride, huge trunk, and overall feel; we could have used better gas mileage, a more generous rear seat, better off-the-line acceleration, and some covered storage aside from the glove compartment. For a commuter vehicle or an economical or just-plain-fun non-family car, the SX4 is a pretty good deal.