Car reviews - Suzuki - SX4 - AWD hatchback CVT
Standard ESC and six airbags on most models, the driving enjoyment of the AWD SX4, smooth engine, better transmissions, sedan’s massive boot, quality interior
Room for improvement
Thick A-pillars hinder forward vision, smallish boot, no telescopic steering wheel adjustment, no cruise control on base model, some cheapo plastic trim
17 Feb 2010
IT’S time to meet our neighbours.
Empty nesters Ruth and Frank have owned the same inner city house for nearly 50 years. They dig gardening, and love long bush walks with their friends. He collects antique crockery. She is restoring a ’67 Volkswagen 1500. Both are retired septuagenarians.
Meanwhile, across the road is Jo – a thirty-something single mum with two small kids, a tight budget and hardly a moment to spare thanks to a blossoming career as a session muso. But she lives to ski.
Coincidentally both called over in the same week recently seeking new-car advice.
There are many models that would fit most of their varying needs, but factor in limited parking spaces, the call for easy manoeuvrability, unencumbered entry and exit (due to arthritis and three-year old Iris respectively), low running costs and total reliability, and their options diminish as rapidly as the hours in Jo’s day.
Remember – both parties travel on either gravel or icy roads occasionally, so all-wheel drive security and ample ground clearance count for plenty.
Anyway, after due consideration, the same make and model came up trumps!
Enter the Suzuki SX4 AWD – one of our favourite underrated hatches. We tested a manual back in early 2007 and enjoyed its combination of style, practicality, value and pep. But the automatic version lacked performance and refinement.
Now the world famous Japanese motorcycle manufacturer has ushered in a midlife facelift for its “Sport X-over 4 All Seasons” (!), and one of the key changes concerns the self-shifter. The manual gains an extra gear, while the old conventional four-speed torque converter auto makes way for a CVT continuously variable transmission.
And, literally, what a change! Smooth, slick shifts replace jerky old ones, with the gearbox always providing the right ratio when forward thrust is required.
As with all CVTs, there is a drone that rises and falls with the engine’s revs, but it is not intrusive, and once you are cruising on the highway the SX4 feels like a refined and well-sorted small car.
Plus, delusional drivers can pretend they’re on a Suzuki motorcycle when using the sequential lever or – on the more up-spec SX4 S – steering wheel paddles.
Some testers have criticised the lack of performance from the upgraded and improved, 112kW/190Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which sees power and torque rise five and three per cent respectively.
But we refute their arguments on the grounds that a. there is more than enough power if you are able to flex your right foot a little, and b. we cannot think of another petrol-powered crossover/SUV auto that averages 8.4 litres per 100km around town! Frugality rules in the sprightly SX4 but not in a way that feels like a compromise.
That’s because Suzuki has pretty much left alone all the other stuff that make the car such a pleasure to drive and own.
The steering, for instance, turns with a positive and linear feel, so you can place the SX4 exactly where you want to go or park. It is a tad heavier than we expected though, but not overly so.
Tip it into a corner and the Suzuki goes around with unexpected flair, completing the turn cleanly and with no fuss (stability control is now standard throughout the range), while stopping distances are also well within acceptable levels thanks to a progressive set of brakes.
Now that’s surprising because the SX4, with its better-than-your-average-small-car ground clearance, is also up for some minor off-road action. In the part-time ‘AWD’ mode the little Suzy is a front-driver until slippage is detected and torque transfers to the rear wheels too but the driver can select 4WD-Lock (up to 60km/h), as well as 2WD-only mode.
The accomplished Swift light car donates its oily bits underneath, and so the SX4’s dynamic alacrity – combined with a firm but absorbent ride quality that is even better than the donor car’s – should really come as no surprise. Keen drivers can do a lot worse than settle for a Suzuki these days.
So what of the interior?
Three years ago we marvelled at how simple it was to enter the vehicle, thanks to large, wide-opening doors and the high hip point of the seating as a result of the extra ground clearance. That hasn’t changed.
And nor has the excellent driving position and commanding forward and excellent side vision qualities, afforded by some of the largest and deepest windows in the business, as well as a protruding pair of exterior mirrors that do a darned fine impression of Dumbo’s ears.
Consequently, we cannot think of an easier new car to park that does not rely on rear-mounted cameras, unsightly radar sensors, or huge touch-park bumpers. For this reason alone, less mobile folk should flock to the SX4.
However, one big bugbear remains, and that is the forking ‘A’ pillar that creates a sizeable blind spot at its apex, about three quarters of the way up. It doesn’t totally hide nearby traffic in most normal situations, but it is noticeable at a roundabout, for instance, since it obstructs objects in the middle distance. Looking forward, it acts as a blot at your two o’clock.
There is also some road noise entering the interior, which serves to undermine the SX4’s quality.
But the front seats are fine examples of their kind, being both soft and inviting yet supportive in all the right places, with front armrests to create a ‘captain’s chair’ travelling experience. “Engage warp drive and get us out of here, Number One!”
Instruments and control layout, as well as cold and hot air ventilation, are all beyond reproach, attractively presented and flawless in operation – particularly as the SX4 now gains an improved trip computer layout and better switch lighting. Suzuki has certainly been thinking about ergonomics in here.
However, critics used to Volkswagen interiors say that the plastic surfaces are too hard, especially in the utilitarian lower console area, but the Suzuki is not pretending to be a luxury vehicle.
Considering that the SX4 is based on a light car, rear seat legroom is impressive, the outboard positions comfy, and the overall ambience modern and airy.
Small storage pockets, a trio of adjustable rear headrests and inertia reel seatbelts, overhead grab handles, and more easy entry and exit doors are welcome, as is a little takeaway bag hook above the (sole) map pocket, but not too surprisingly considering how deep the windows are, the glass does not wind all the way down.
The boot’s length betrays the Swift origins most, but actually the large tailgate helps, as does a deep floor with a false and removable second floor that sits at the same level as the seatbacks do once they’re folded down. Luggage capacity varies from a bijou 253 litres to 992 litres with the back bench folded.
Suzuki installs a trio of child seat anchor points behind the seats for minimum load intrusion, while the parcel shelf is of the light and flimsy variety.
But don’t go thinking that the SX4 AWD is a lightweight contender.
As an economical and affordable small-car crossover that is exceedingly easy to operate and drive, it makes an enjoyable alternative to slightly larger (and more expensive) alternatives like the Nissan Dualis and upcoming Mitsubishi ASX.
Indeed, those people considering more conventional hatches like the Toyota Corolla, Mitsubishi Lancer or VW Polo five-door might be in for a pleasant surprise by just how versatile this little runabout is.
So it is precisely because of the SX4 AWD’s ability to enhance the lifestyle of people from all walks of life that we show no reservation in recommending it every Dom, Nic or Harry out there.
But we think that the on-the-go Frank, Ruth and Jo will especially appreciate the Suzuki’s many virtues.
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