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Car reviews - Suzuki - SX4 - 5-dr hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, cabin presentation, versatility, verve, economy, value, size
Room for improvement
No stability control option, thick A-pillars reduce vision, no telescopic steering wheel adjustment, no left footrest

29 Jan 2007

VIEWERS of seminal 1990s teen soap Beverly Hills 90210 would have barely registered the character Carly Reynolds – or the actor playing her – until Hilary Swank was awarded two Best Actress Oscars, for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby.

So it is with the post-Swift Suzuki, with the recently released SX4 AWD hatchback.

The Japanese manufacturer’s previous efforts in this price segment included 1995’s interminably boring Baleno and the ‘Life In A New Age’ Liana of 2001.

While the less said about the former the better, the latter is by no means a bad car, but it missed the mark by a mile anyway thanks to being dull to drive, weird to look at and silly in name.

But not the SX4 ("Sport X-over 4 all seasons!") like Ms Swank, Suzuki has well and truly exceeded expectations.

For starters, this Swift light car-based compact SUV/wagon crossover’s styling and packaging are spot-on.

Fans of the late and lamented last-generation Toyota RAV4 – or even the handful out there that plonked for the tiny Mitsubishi Pajero iO – would appreciate the virtues of tall yet stubby wagons.

Indeed, we reckon there is no better cheap car out there for older or less mobile people, who would very much appreciate the SX4’s easy entry, deep side windows and great all-round vision – except when those fat front pillars block everything during certain cornering manoeuvres.

The SX4’s cabin is in fact embarrassingly well presented for a car of its price, never mind a Suzuki.

It scores with well-illuminated and simple-to-use controls, smart metallic-like highlights scattered around the place, a nice little steering wheel (complete with cruise and audio controls), effective heating and ventilation, and enough places to put your gear in.

For most people, the front seats and outboard rear ones should be properly comfy, while the driver is pretty much perfectly propped up ahead of the clear – if alarmingly red – instrumentation.

However, more knee and legroom for very tall occupants would be appreciated. This is about the only thing that betrays the SX4’s light-car origins.

Did we mention that the Suzuki is brilliantly easy to drive too?

And not in the lame, mindlessly light steering and fairy floss handling sort of way either. There is some real weight and feel with both the SX4’s powered steering and well-oiled five-speed manual gearchange.

With all-wheel drive available electronically thanks to a nifty three-mode drive system called i-AWD (that seamlessly engages the rear wheels when needed via a multi-plate clutch coupling otherwise drivers can lock in just the front wheels, or 4WD up to 60km/h only), excellent all-weather safety and security qualities are yours for the taking.

Ample (200mm) ground clearance also allows for some soft-road or paddock-plodding driving, while Suzuki says it’s fine on sand or mud.

Having said this, it does not mean that the SX4 feels tall or unwieldy or leaden to drive fast through corners on our national highways.

The Suzuki grips, sits flat – even in crosswind conditions – and feels solidly planted on our bitumen.

And thanks to that nicely measured steering, it also handles with a flair that drivers of today’s brilliant little Swift would recognise, aided by sharp, communicative and progressive cornering capabilities.

If you live in the Big Smoke, you will find that the Suzuki is a joy to nip into and out of alleyways, parking spots and crammed little side streets.

As unlikely as it seems, even in such potentially stressful situations, the SX4 is a real pleasure to drive.

The ride is on the firm side but not uncomfortable, and amply absorbent over speed bumps and rougher roads so you can just plough straight on, although some road noise does then infiltrate the peace in the cabin.

If you extend the revvy yet gutsy 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, it will answer back with a clean, enthusiastic tone to match the surprising urge and oomph as the tacho swings beyond 5000rpm.

Take-off acceleration is also brisk, and there is enough torque to keep up the SX4’s momentum even if you are in a higher gear than you should be, reflecting this car’s sophisticated variable-valve engineering.

In some respects, this powerplant is more akin to the torquey European 2.0-litre units than Japanese ones – except that it runs happily on 91 RON standard unleaded.

On the subject of petrol, even after driving the Suzuki enthusiastically, the on-board trip computer was still hovering in the low 9L/100km mark. Impressive fuel economy, then, is another SX4 virtue.

So, for all these reasons, we declare the SX4 our unofficial and inaugural ‘Older Folk’s Car of the Year’ winner for 2007.

And while we’re at it, we’ll also give it the ‘Young People’s Car of the Year’ gong, for all the same reasons, as well as the fact that the Suzuki looks hip and now, and is just plain fun to drive.

But surely there are things we don’t like about the SX4, you ask?

Absolutely – no stability control option is a severe oversight in this day and age for a brand-new design having no driver’s left footrest or telescopic steering wheel adjustment is annoying the keyless start function is just a gimmick, although once you become used to pushing the small button on the driver’s door, it works well enough those fat A-pillars disturb vision and we wish those rear seats were removable.

We also think that Suzuki could have served up a six-speed manual gearbox, because at around 110km/h the engine sounds a tad too busy, and a higher-ratio sixth would have come in handy.

Considering the sub-$25,000 pricing, the SX4 manual AWD hatchback is remarkable value for money anyway.

Four airbags, anti-lock brakes, power windows and mirrors, roof racks, alloy wheels and front foglights are all part of the package. We can’t see this cheap pricing lasting.

While the Suzuki possesses much of the verve and charm of its Swift stablemate, it does not feel like a light car.

For space, refinement and packaging, the SX4 gives nothing away to most of the small-car fodder it is priced against – and this does not even take into account the all-wheel drive abilities on offer.

What a sustained period of time reveals about the SX4 is that it is a fun, characterful and very smartly judged urban package that gives more than you might expect.

No wonder Fiat sells the little Suzuki SUV in Europe as the Sedici.

The Hillary Swank of small cars? We’d bet you a million dollars, baby, that it is!

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