2010 is a big year for Suzuki, its new medium-sized Kazashi sedan will be here soon but to start the year on a high the face-lifted Suzuki SX4 has arrived with more than a few surprises.
Suzuki is an interesting car company in a sense that it went from producing weaving looms to motor bikes and then cars, not exactly a traditional background for a motor company. Nonetheless Suzuki Motor Corporation has today become one of the most respected Japanese manufacturers in Australia.
Interestingly Queensland also has the longest serving Suzuki dealership in the world – Chano Trentin’s All Wheel Drive Centre at Atherton.
To celebrate the launch of the new Suzuki SX4 and the relaunch of the Liana name badge, Suzuki QLD took a group of automotive journalists out to Mount Cotton driver training centre to demonstrate the ranges' new engine, transmission and safety features.
Before we get into it, it's worth noting that Suzuki outside of QLD will not use the Liana name badge. Suzuki QLD (which is independent of the rest of the states) has decided to rename all front-wheel drive variants of the updated SX4 as Liana and keep the SX4 badge for all-wheel drive variants, a logical decision. The Liana is essentially an SX4.
This makes Queensland the only place in Australia you can buy a Suzuki with the Liana name badge. It took 18 months of negotiations with Japan but given the strength and excellent track record of the Queensland organisation, it was approved.
From what you can actually see, the updated range has gained a new front grille, more exterior colours to pick from, a whole new instrument cluster, black seat fabric, front seat arm rests, a centre mounted dashboard socket, a much needed auxiliary port and new air conditioner control panel.
Under the skin there is a whole new 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (J20B) producing 112kW and 190Nm of torque which is about a five per cent improvement over the outgoing model. Coupled to the new engine is a choice of either a six-speed manual or a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
It's the first time Suzuki has offered a CVT transmission, joining the rest of the Japanese manufacturers moving away from traditional automatics for small to medium cars.
Instead of the gears changing from small to large and vice versa, the actual gear ratios are no longer fixed. This means there is really no gears at all, just a variable transmission that can essentially provide unlimited ratios. All of this is controlled by the car's computer system so all you have to do is drive (click through for more information on CVT).
Nonetheless if you do want to control the gears as you would in a traditional automatic, a set of six pre-programmed gear ratios are available and can be selected either by engaging the gear lever in sport mode or via the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters on the premium models.
The benefits of CVT are a smoother ride and no gear changes, whilst also delivering better fuel economy.
Technical briefing aside it's worth seeing how the SX4/Liana actually drives. Mount Cotton driver training centre is an interesting place, predominantly used by QLD police to train new officers, the centre was our venue to check out how the new Suzuki small car behaved.
Our first exercise had us perform a quick left to right and right to left lane change at speed in the wet through witches hats, the idea was see how well the car performed with ESC on/off and also to realise the car's great handling dynamics.
It's actually fair to say that even with ESC turned off the SX4 (all-wheel drive) is perhaps only second to the Subaru Impreza for handling in wet weather conditions. Meanwhile the Liana, which is driven through the front wheels also performed admirably, switching from left to right with ease and confidence.
Power delivery via the CVT is similar to that of the Mitsubishi Lancer, a decent amount of noise and smooth acceleration. Frankly the six-speed manual would be my choice as it makes the car feel much more nimble.
The second test was to punt the car as hard as possible through the outside circuit ending with a hard braking maneuver. After a few attempts at this I did end up with a bit of smoke coming from the brakes, thankfully that solved itself relatively quickly.
As for cornering at speed the Suzuki grips and grips even when you think there is no more grip left. It may not accelerate all that hard however it does make up for it around bends.
There is momentary understeer if you turn ESC off and turn in quickly at speed but that's expected in a car such as the SX4/Liana.
The interior is reasonable for its price and there is an option for iPod and Bluetooth phone connectivity on all models (pricing was unavailable at time of writing). The front seats hold you in well and felt comfortable. Rear leg room can be limiting if there is a tall adult in the front however it will comfortably sit four reasonably sized adults for long distances. Five adults would not be recommended for long drives.
The SX4 (front-wheel drive) or Liana range (QLD) comes in three different variants, you can find yourself in a base model manual GLX hatch for only $20,490, moving up to the premium S-range costs you an extra $3,000. Premium hatch costs $23,490. The Sedan variant is only offered in the premium spec at $23,990.
The all-wheel drive SX4s start at $23,490 for the GLX and hit $25,690 for the S series. The CVT (auto) option will cost you an additional $2,000 on any variant.
The GLX variant of the 2WD SX4 (or Liana) and the SX4 (AWD) comes with 16-inch steel wheels, electric windows front & rear, remote central locking, and dual front airbags (it would be good to see Suzuki take the next step and offer six-airbags standard on the base model) as well as ABS and EBD.
If you go for the S series you'll gain 17-inch alloy wheels, six airbags, ESC, Aero body kit & rear spoiler, steering wheel Paddle shifts, fog lights, leather steering wheel, folding front seat armrests, cruise control and keyless start.
It would seem somewhat unwise to go for the GLX given that six-airbags and ESP should be mandatory in all cars, additionally the cruise control and keyless start in the S series make the additional $3,000 price tag seem like a bargain.
Overall the new SX4 2WD (Liana) and SX4 AWD are a tough competitor to beat, it appears the SX4's only main competition (given its AWD) is the Subaru Impreza which is priced slightly higher. As for the front-wheel drive SX4 or Liana, given its starting price of just over $20G, it's hard to fault.
It will be interesting to see how and if the naming helps move more units and if the rest of the country will take up the Liana badge.
CarAdvice will also be attending the national launch of the SX4 in the coming weeks followed by a complete road test and review after we spend a week behind the new Suzukis.
- Liana/SX4 2WD (Man.): 7.3L/100km
- Liana/SX4 2WD (CVT): 7.6L/100km
- SX4 (Man.): 7.6L/100km
- SX4 (CVT): 8.0L/100km