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

Launch Story

Suzuki logo29 Jan 2007

By NEIL MCDONALD

SUZUKI can’t keep up with global demand for its little Swift hatch and Swift Sport. It’s no surprise really as people are calling it the Japanese Mini Cooper. It’s funky looks, pleasant driving experience, value and equipment distinguish it as one of the nicer light hatches on the market. Now Suzuki is about to recreate that market success with the SX4, a "soft" all-wheel drive with chunky looks, purposeful styling and modest go-anywhere abilities. Unlike the Swift though, Suzuki has also put more feel into the SX4’s steering and the gearshift is precise.

We like: Value, crisp handling, AWD traction, steering

We dislike: Space-saver spare, passenger airbag dimple

HOLDEN tried, and failed dismally with the Cruze all-wheel drive.

Now Suzuki has ventured into the small "sports cross vehicle" market with its all-wheel drive SX4 hatchback, which is significantly bigger and more capable than the mediocre Cruze.

With competitors as diverse as the Dodge Caliber and Subaru Impreza, the new Suzie hits the road at $24,390 for the five-speed manual with a four-speed auto $2000 extra.

The SX4 uses Swift underpinnings with a cab-forward design and stumpy tail that is both contemporary and well executed. The chunky black wheel-arch mouldings and 16-inch alloys add purpose and sportiness to the design, along with the 200mm ground clearance and roof rails.

Visually the SX4 has a "cab-forward" look, with the A-pillar split into two and front fixed quarter-vent-style window. This affords excellent all-round visability and none of the issues we’ve experienced with the latest thicker A-pillars.

Unusual in this segment is the fact that the hatch’s all-wheel drive system is a switchable, three-mode system that drives the front wheels in most situations, but also has 4WD Auto and 4WD lock modes. It’s the type of system you expect in the larger soft-roaders but is a welcomed point of difference in what is essentially an Impreza competitor.

In 2WD, only the front wheels provide drive on dry surfaces while 4WD auto is the standard mode for driving. Almost all the torque is distributed to the front wheels until it detects slippery conditions, and torque is transferred to the rear in a split of 50/50.

4WD lock provides torque to rear wheels from start-up in low traction conditions such as mud or snow. The system automatically switches over to, and remains in, 4WD auto at speeds above 60km/h.

Australian cars are built in Japan so the build quality is excellent. Only the small dimple on the top of the dashboard on the passenger’s side, where the airbag is fitted, disrupts the quality feel of the cabin. Certain light conditions amplify exactly where the dash covers the airbag.

Local buyers also get a higher-tuned 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that develops 107kW at 5800rpm and 184Nm at 3500rpm, in place of a 1.6-litre offered in other markets.

The sweet-revving 2.0-litre is capable enough to push the 1285kg hatch along at a reasonable pace. However, to get the best from the engine – which admittedly felt tight and had few kilometres on the dial – you needed to stir the gearbox, which delivers precise, if notchy, changes.

Overall, Suzuki has managed to engineer a compliant, if firmish ride, meaty steering that provides plenty of feedback and cabin space for four adults. At highway speeds the car is quiet. The front seats afford excellent cushion and back support.

The SX4 wears Bridgestone Turanza tyres that are grippy on gravel while the four-wheel disc brakes haul the car up quickly and confidently.

Like the Swift, the front suspension is a MacPherson strut setup. It is mounted on a high-tensile steel suspension sub-frame to reduce noise and vibration. The rear suspension is a torsion beam configuration.

As well as the expected equipment levels, the SX4 gains keyless start, unusual in this segment, as well as six airbags and ABS.

Occupants sit up high and the low waistline and split front A-pillar treatment offer good all-round visibility. The SX4 has a four-star crash test rating.

Despite its relatively compact dimensions, the cabin affords plenty of head and legroom with all occupants sitting quite high. The driver’s seat is height adjustable so most drivers will find a comfortable driving position, despite that fact that the steering remains height adjustable.

With all seats in use, luggage capacity is 270 litres while capacity increases to 625 litres with the rear seats tumble folded. Sensibly, the child-restraint locators are on the back of the rear seatbacks and the whole tumble-forward process is easy. The three rear headrests too rest on top of the rear seat when not in use and the middle lap-sash seatbelt retracts into the seatback.

Suzuki Australia has modest initially expectations for the SX4. It is supply constrained at the moment and expects to initially sell 200 SX4s a month.

However, we suspect that but like the Swift, once the word is out about how well priced, specified and capable this wee hatch is, buyers will flock to it.

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