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Car reviews - Suzuki - SX4 - AWD hatchback CVT

Launch Story

Suzuki logo17 Feb 2010

By RON HAMMERTON

By JAMES STANFORD

THE Suzuki SX4 range is best described as a broad church, combining the youthful all-wheel-drive crossover SX4 hatch and the odd front-drive city car. Then there is the sedate sedan which Suzuki says appeals to older buyers.

Tall, with enough headroom to accommodate the largest afro hair-do, and are relatively narrow much like the unloved Nissan Tiida.

Suzuki says the SX4 concept was to offer something different as it would not have been able to compete if it took on the big Japanese carmakers head to head.

The result is a range that is as eclectic as they come.

It is hard to see how the entry level SX4 front-drive hatch will pull customers away from rivals such as the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Mitsubishi Lancer. The Suzuki really doesn’t have much wrong, but neither does it offer much over those cars.

The sedan could appeal to customers looking for the security of a boot and the economy of a small car, but it also has some tough key rivals.

Then there is the AWD hatch which has no match. It could be a great solution for customers who often travel on slippery surfaces such as dirt roads, the odd forest track or simply appreciate the security of an AWD system.

It makes a lot of sense for a select group of customers who want a small SUV, but don't want to be seen in a traditional crossover wagon. Then there are those customers who might appreciate the extra traction of the AWD but also appreciate a nimble small car.

The $23,490 price point gives the SX4 a slight edge over most compact SUVs too.

Suzuki decided to fit all the SX4s, except one, with a full safety suite of six airbags and electronic stability control.

The base model front-drive base model gets ESC, but has only two front airbags instead of the front, side and curtain bags of the other models.

It isn't the only model in its class with only two airbags, but most car-makers would take the chance to upgrade to at least side airbags, if not curtains.

Suzuki has overhauled the engine and it is now quite a smooth-revving unit.

It has a reasonable power and torque, but it still isn't any kind of rocket. More torque would be appreciated.

The six-speed manual is a competent gearbox, and the extra cog means closer ratios to get the most out of the engine.

It also stops the SX4 from buzzing away at highway speeds, with the engine running at a respectable 2250rpm at 100km/h.

That is a big plus if you plan to use the car for highway travel.

The continuously variable automatic is effective, but sounds odd (as is the case with all CVTs), slurring away, becoming unpleasantly loud when pushed hard.

The advantages are that there are no steps like those in a regular automatic, and it is also more efficient.

All SX4s are now competitive when it comes to fuel, something that could not be said with the last model.

The ride and handling is quite a bit different depending on the model.

The front-drive hatch and the sedan (which is also front-drive only) drive nicely on smooth roads, but are more noticeably affected by uneven surfaces.

They tend to bounce over the bumps and are generally less settled. A wider track would probably help as well as an independent rear suspension system like those that give cars like the Mazda3 and Ford Focus a clear handling edge.

For some reason, possibly weight distribution and AWD components, the AWD hatch seems much happier over bumpy surfaces. Well tied down, it was a lot of fun on the twisty tarmac roads in the hills near the Yarra Valley that Suzuki chose for this week's launch.

A run along some of the forest gravel roads used for the Rally of Melbourne proved the quality of the SX4's AWD chassis set-up, but also the excellent traction provided by the AWD system.

The SX4 is so predictable that it is possible to really enjoy the car knowing judge how much grip you have.

It is also more stable than a traditional AWD wagon which would pitch and wallow at the same speeds.

The steering is a little light on centre, but the feel is progressive and the feedback is good.

Interestingly, the SX4 hatch has 170mm ground clearance, which exactly matches the Hyundai iX35 SUV (the new Tucson).

It should be noted the SX4 AWD is not pitched as an offroader but a hatch with the ability to tackle slippery roads and reasonably civilised dirt tracks.

Suzuki has revised the interior and the result is a clean, well laid out dashboard that is not going to compete with Audi but still has relatively good quality.

All the plastic surfaces are hard, but they don't look cheap.

The standard cars and the S models have little difference inside, with the S models gaining a climate control screen, leather-wrapped steering wheel and steering wheel mounted paddles for the automatic.

Cruise control is not included for the base front-drive SX4 hatch and is surprisingly missing from the AWD SX4 base model.

Keyless start is standard on S models. In most cars with keyless start, the key fob is left in the pocket and the drive simply presses the start button. In the SX4, the driver twists a plastic handle that sits in place of the key in the ignition on the steering column – a strange compromise.

Apart from the copious headroom, all SX4s also have impressive legroom which would provide ample space for lanky teenagers and tall adults.

The hatch cargo space is good, while the sedan's boot is simply massive (larger than the Holden Commodore's).

Suzuki has left the exterior design largely unchanged, except for a grille revision, but the design is still fresh, although so few have been sold that not many are seen.

The SX4 sedan does not sit quite as high as the hatch and is an attractive car from some angles, but it is quite a tall and narrow car. It’s a recipe that hasn’t worked for the Tiida, although the Suzuki is a better car.

The AWD SX4 hatch benefits from plastic wheel arch flares that give it a wider stance, while the standard hatch looks a bit undernourished without them.

Suzuki’s SX4 offers three alternatives to small cars and crossovers and the standard ESC, improved engines and new transmissions means they are better than the previous models.

The AWD hatch is the most impressive of all three and offers a package that unmatched by rivals.

Both the hatch and the sedan will have a tougher fight against some competent rivals at similar prices.

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