so often a new car will surprise you. Not surprise
as in waking up to discover your husband has been
replaced by Abe Vigoda, but more along the mildly
pleasant lines of discovering Diet Coke is offered
with lemon. The new Suzuki SX4 surprises in almost
every way, from its all-wheel-drive system and precision
five-speed gear box, to its roomy interior and top-notch
build quality. As Americans begin to rediscover small
cars, they will find they are no longer ratty penalty
boxes more suited to housing stray animals than driving.
The SX4 is a prime example of how far both small cars
and Suzuki as a brand have come, and it deserves a
its stylish, masculine exterior (at least compared
to the Honda
Fit and Toyota
Yaris) lies a platform shared with the critically
acclaimed Suzuki Swift, sold in Europe and Japan.
That translates into a car with ride and handling
characteristics seemingly bred for those locales,
and very different from the rest of Suzuki’s
Born-from-Daewoos car line-up. The ride is on the
firm side, but in a rich-feeling sort of way, as it
went over bumps and hollows with a solid, single thawunk.
Think sports sedan rather than economy hatchback.
On a long drive through the mountains surrounding
Carlsbad, Calif., the steering was tight and direct,
translating the driver’s commands through its
chunky, leather-wrapped steering wheel and standard
all-wheel drive system that is unique to its class.
It’s also unique in its execution, with three
modes for different driving conditions. AWD Auto is
like many crossover SUV systems that shunt power to
the rear wheels only when the computer detects the
front tires slipping. AWD Lock is for lower speeds
through snow or mud, while FWD is for improved fuel
economy. That’s the mode of choice, as one of
the SX4’s few detractors is its relative inefficiency—23
city, 28 highway are both a full 10 mpg less than
Fit. Not horrible, but for a 143-horsepower inline-4
engine (that’s nevertheless plenty peppy), it
should be better.
That can’t be said inside, however, as Suzuki has driven the pitch out of the ballpark with good
ergonomics and interior materials that look and feel
premium. Rich plastics, real-looking aluminum trim
and quality cloth set new standards in this class.
Our tester was a Sport model, which included among
other items, automatic climate control, trip computer,
leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls
and an upgraded stereo with in-dash CD changer and
MP3 ability (an iPod
accessory is available). That’s a lot of
useful equipment that justifies the SX4’s price
premium over other small hatches—not to mention
it's lengthy warranty.
Another mildly pleasant surprise was also found inside,
with generous accommodations for driver, passengers
and all their junk. Although not as versatile as the
ingenious Fit, the rear seats fold or completely flip
forward depending on how much space is needed. The
back seat cushion is significantly raised off the
floor for a theater seating effect that also increases
leg room by raising the passengers knees off the floor
(sort of like sitting in a chair). Up front, taller
drivers can rejoice in the Vigoda-sized surprise that
there is finally a small car that provides enough
room and support for their lanky lower appendages.
Tally this up with the beefed-up looks and all-wheel
drive, and it certainly looks like Suzuki created the SX4 with gentlemen in mind (particularly
the 20-something dude variety).
Expectations weren’t high for this little Suzuki,
but the SX4 succeeds in almost every area, establishing
a new benchmark for what we should expect from America’s
fastest-growing car brand. It is tremendously versatile,
especially for those who need all-wheel-drive traction,
and is built to a quality that quite a few manufacturers
would do well copying (like Suzuki’s bedfellow
General Motors). Car surprises will never knock your
Nikes off, but the SX4 is one that is at least more
exciting than Diet Coke with lemon.