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It could be said that the Suzuki SX4 was ahead of its time. After all, the quasi-hatchback, sub-compact SUV segment has only just started gaining popularity, and the SX4 that launched that concept in 2006 is now nearing the end of its production cycle – an all-new model is due this year.
On the upside this Corolla-sized Suzuki-on-stilts is now better value than ever and remains a quite likeable, rather unique small car.
The Suzuki SX4 front-wheel drive starts at $18,990, making it one of the cheapest small cars available. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine makes a healthy 112kW of power and 190Nm of torque at 4000rpm, sufficient to get the 1145kg, six-speed manual-equipped five-door to 100km/h in nine seconds.
The SX4 with optional all-wheel drive adds $3000 to the price, and an optional automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) adds a further $2000. Although the Subaru Impreza also sends power to all four wheels in this class, only the Suzuki SX4 has a ‘lock’ switch for its all-wheel-drive system that sets power distribution at an even 50 per cent front/50 per cent rear for solid off-road traction. If you live near the Snowy Mountains, or frequent bush tracks and beach trails, then the $23,990 SX4 AWD CVT offers the best traction in the class and a decent 175mm ground clearance.
The base model SX4 offers only 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps but does receive cruise control and a leather wrapped steering wheel (standard on all models).
Possibilities abound in the Suzuki SX4 range, however. If you don’t venture off road, for example, you could choose the front-wheel-drive version in SX4 S specification for the same money as a base model that drives all four wheels. It adds 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, climate control air conditioning and keyless start to the standard equipment list. We tested the flagship SX4 S AWD with CVT auto.
All SX4 models provide excellent all-round visibility, making parking a breeze even without rear parking sensor and reversing camera availability. The tall-boy proportions of the small Suzuki means that the rear bench is perched higher than the front seats, aiding under thigh support for back-seat riders because there is more room to drop their legs in the cabin.
The Suzuki SX4 is, however, also quite a stubby car, measuring just 4.15 metres long. Again, that’s great for tight inner-city parking, but it also affects boot capacity. Where most rivals provide 300-350 litres of volume, the Suzuki claims just 250 litres.
Hard cabin plastics, thin seats with budget cloth trim, and cheap-to-rotate switches betray the SX4’s seven-year vintage. Inside it feels functional and durable, but also lacks the sophistication of newer competitors, including the Impreza.
That lack of finesse extends to the way the Suzuki SX4 drives. It is more than competent, and actually quite fun to corner with enthusiasm, although its ride quality can be tetchy and occasionally abrupt. Hit a pothole on a country road and it will introduce itself to the cabin with a ‘thud’. Sometimes over really rough roads the SX4 will start to bounce and jolt its occupants, its suspension prioritising control of its body rather than soaking up nasty road surfaces. It’s quite the opposite of the overly soft, soggy Mitsubishi Lancer, being too tight, like a pogo stick.
Road noise, particularly on coarse chip surfaces, penetrates the SX4’s cabin more prominently compared with newer competitors. The steering is consistently light in its weighting but also a tad vacant on the centre position, with a noticeable delay between steering input and vehicle turn in.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine offers plenty of enthusiasm and strong performance, but like the chassis, it doesn’t offer much in the way of refinement. It’s quite a noisy performer, and not particularly pleasant-sounding when revved. It offers decent grunt throughout the rev range, however, so it doesn’t require a thrashing to skirt the suburbs like some competitors do.
The CVT forms a largely effective partnership with the engine. Measured throttle applications are rewarded with low revs and smooth power transmission, and little of the ‘drone’ commonly associated with this style of gearbox. More vigorous inputs when attempting to accelerate quickly or overtake are met with some hesitation, however, as the transmission's pulley system gradually winds up to achieve engine revs that best match road speed without hurting fuel economy.
Compared with the front-wheel-drive base model, the all-wheel-drive base model we tested weighs 30kg more, and slurps 0.4 litres more unleaded per 100km of driving. That’s 8.0L/100km for the AWD with CVT.
Few competitors in the small car class start at under $20,000. The Holden Cruze is $19,490, while the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Pulsar ask $19,990. In base specification the $18,990 Suzuki SX4 offers a unique blend of abilities to be a worthwhile contender. While the up-spec S AWD tested here struggles with its value equation, and the SX4 largely lacks finesse and refinement overall, it is also a simple, spacious and honest small car with solid dynamics and decent performance.
With an all-new generation Suzuki SX4 arriving later this year, the current car presents a compelling value proposition in base form.