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Car reviews - Suzuki - SX4 - sedan and 2WD range

Our Opinion

We like
Hatch styling, pleasant and comfortable interior, sedan’s large boot, smooth driving experience, eager steering and handling, manual gearbox
Room for improvement
Automatic’s performance just adequate, sedan’s styling lacks charm, 15-inch only wheels on sedan look too small, no ESP stability availability yet

31 Aug 2007

QUICK! Can you name the last car Suzuki pitched against the Toyota Corolla? What about the model before that one?

If your mind draws a blank, clouds over, or the names you normally associate with the word ‘Suzuki’ are clearly not right – like ‘David’ or ‘Sierra’ – then you know that the Japanese carmaker needed to pull something special out of its small-car hat.

Welcome, then, to the SX4, the latest product from the New Suzuki.

Now New Suzuki is like Tony Blair’s 1997 UK office-winning New Labour, or America’s Depression-era New Deal. For Suzuki, it means engineering and marketing finally talk to each other and work very closely together to produce vehicles that aren’t lost in translation outside of Japan.

The still-hot Swift light car was the first product of this new attitude next came the much-better-but-not-quite-there Grand Vitara, and then – earlier this year – the SX4 AWD hatch.

In five-speed manual guise, this is a sweet, stylish and sensible little five-seater runabout, with the extra abilities of all-wheel drive to round out one of the best $25,000 new-car buys around.

But what of the newly released SX4 FWD (front-wheel drive), underpinning an all-new sedan as well as cheaper versions of the aforementioned hatch?

Well, except for some de-SUV-fication of the body (including the removal of black wheel-arch surrounds, AWD badging and 45mm ride height) and the obvious removal of the rear-wheel drive hardware (that saves around 45kg), the SX4 good news story keeps rolling on.

You still have a short but tall five-door hatch that is easy to get in, easy to look out of, and easy to drive.

Its five-speed manual gearshift is as weighty and measured as ever the steering has feel for smooth and progressive cornering through turns tight or wide and the general ambience is one fitting for a small car of today.

On the debit side, we’d probably want a sixth gear a bit less wind noise rustling from the A-pillar in one of the cars would be nice and the ride on the larger-wheeled hatch model does feel a tad firm against the more supple 15-inch rubber on the sedan.

Certainly there is adequate performance available from the outset, but the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is more of a revver than a puller, requiring a rigourous right-foot prod of the accelerator if all 107kW are to make their presence felt.

A Suzuki spokesman assured us that a few thousand kilometres under the belt soon loosens this unit up beautifully.

Moving on to the big-bottomed sedan – which indeed does have the cavernous boot that its appearance promises – the SX4’s appeal mellows somewhat.

Frankly it lacks the pert visual charm of the hatch. We think the sedan will struggle against the more dynamic Ford Focus CL and more refined Toyota Corolla Ascent for about the same money.

Even against the SX4 hatch, the sedan does not feel quite as wieldy, whether you are assessing it from the steering wheel (the smaller wheels might be talking here) or via the seat of your pants.

But most people will find it quiet and refined enough, with the pleasant three-box styling liberating a sizeable amount of cabin space for four big adults and a waifer-thin supermodel sitting in the rear-middle seat.

It was with this bodystyle that we sampled the four-speed automatic SX4, and all we can say here is that the self-shifter is smooth, unintrusive and reasonably eager at take-off speeds, but not very engaging or lively at overtaking speeds.

Our advice is to drive the sportier and more involving manual SX4 – preferably in prettier hatch guise – first before settling for the capable but dull automatic. Don’t forget that it is the slick manual shifter that is one of the SX4’s unexpected delights.

And speaking of forgetting, the correct answer to what the SX4’s predecessors were – and you only probably know this is you watch television’s Top Gear show that featured one as their ‘reasonably priced car’ – is ‘Liana’ and Baleno before that.

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