SX4 is a little Suzuki that can

Last updated 07:10 13/04/2013

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Not all Suzuki SX4s are created equal, although every one of them is a useful drive, even though the massively booted sedan versions are a bit ugly if we're to be honest.
Suzuki SX4
Drivetrain: Transverse 2/4WD fuel-injected 1995cc DOHC 16v four, with six-step CVT or five-speed manual transmission.
Outputs: Max 112kW at 6200rpm, 190Nm at 4000rpm, 186kmh, 0-100kmh 10.2sec, 7.6-8.0L/100km, 170-188g/km CO 2.
Chassis: Front McPherson struts, rear torsion beam; electric rack-and-pinion steering; vented front, solid rear disc brakes.
Safety: Front, side and curtain airbags; ABS, EBD, brake assist; electronic stability programme; Isofix child-seat anchorages.
Dimensions: L 4150mm, W 1755mm, H 1605mm, W/base 2500mm, F/track 1500mm, R/track 1495mm, fuel 50L; weight 1215-1340kg.
Pricing: SX4 Limited AWD CVT as tested: $31,990. Other SX4 sedans and hatches from $25,990.
Hot: Broad range; useful, willing nature; equipment; value; high refinement levels; unique place in market.
Not: Small luggage volume; needs more rear leg room; lots of talent hidden under a bushel; no diesel option.
Verdict: A capable and often forgotten talent, the SX4 could replace lots of overqualified and pricier crossovers.
It's no secret that a new SX4 is on the way in the next year or so, but we already know that it will be larger and is likely to be more expensive and, thanks to various running changes to the lineup in the past four or five years, the current model has not stood still by any means.
With its all-wheel-drive option at the upper-reaches of the range, it slots into our market nicely, providing some soft-roading talent to anyone on a budget of less than $30,000, doing effectively what Subaru's Impreza does in the sub-$40,000 bracket.
The SX4 was co-designed with Fiat, with the Italian company calling its part of the equation the Sedici, which means 16, from 4×4, get it?
The two companies worked well together, with the result of their collaboration being a nicely profiled three side-window wedge-shaped hatch, looking all the better for the upper-echelon models' bigger wheels, roof rails and body protection.
The Fiat, which we didn't see here, had a slightly more simply detailed design and offered its own range of engines, including the company's excellent diesels.
It's a pity that Suzuki didn't do a similar deal as it did with the Swift, which could be had with an Indian rendering of a frugal Fiat diesel unit.
The SX4 was available with an optional bottom-of-the-range 1.6-litre for a while, but now, the range is an all 2.0-litre affair in New Zealand, with 112 kilowatts and 190 newton metres on tap, which is better than you'll get from Civic, Mazda and Corolla hatches, and they don't offer all-wheel-drive if you want it.
The SX4 starts as the 2.0-litre two-wheel-drive GLX at $25,990, while a higher-spec Limited version asks another $2000. A CVT automatic adds another $2000.
The all-wheel-drive SX4 is $27,990 as a manual GLX, with the CVT again asking $2000 more. At the top of the SX4 hatchback tree is the Limited all-wheel-drive, which is a CVT only, for $31,990, surely a real bargain.
All SX4s with or without all-wheel-drive are pretty well equipped, with lovely alloy rims in all but the GLX two-wheel-drive car, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, trip computer, an eight-speaker CD/MP3 sound system, USB input, a leather-bound, multi-function steering wheel, six airbags and stability control, half a dozen airbags, and power windows.
My research tells me that you can't get more kit in a car of similar size for less, even without all-wheel-drive, on our market, model for model.
The Limited cars have climate control, user-friendly satellite-navigation as standard, nine-speakers and 17-inch rims, rather than 16-inchers.
In shiny Boost Blue, my SX4 Limited CVT four-wheel-drive drew compliments from seen-it-all fluorescent-vested earthquake-recovery workers while setting it up for photography. I was surprised they didn't know it could be had with all-wheel-drive. Perhaps Suzuki has been plugging its big-selling Swift instead.
It's no rock-hopper, but an SX4 all-wheel-drive will take you fishing and along a riverbed or two if you want it to and, while the car's ground clearance, at 175mm, is hardly Land Cruiser-ish, it will take you where you want to go if your ambitions are realistic.
The SX4 has what Suzuki calls an "intelligent three-mode all-wheel-drive system", but it's just a three-position rocker switch that can be left in 2WD most of the time, while the middle Auto setting is useful for when you're up country and travelling between tarmacadam and gravel or simply when it's wet. The Lock setting is for those times you're in the dirt more permanently and it has an automatic function that takes the setup back to Auto if you go over 60kmh.
The CVT has six stages or steps, and you can shift from step to step by way of a paddle mounted behind the wheel rim.
Early SX4s used a pretty ordinary four-speed automatic, and the provision of the CVT has transformed the car's behaviour on the road from a worthy drive, to one of genuine refinement.
It's quieter, the engine always feels well matched to road speed, even when the transmission is left to its own devices and, when you override the shifts yourself with the paddles, it's great fun.
The CVT also improves the car's fuel economy. By keeping the car deep in the best torque-producing area of its revolution band, the transmission eliminates wasteful and unnecessary revs, which helps the car make best use of your hard-earned petrol dollar.
The combined consumption is less than 8 litres per 100km, and we saw about 7.45 litres during our time with the car, which equates to a carbon-dioxide rating of just over 170 grams per km.
The SX4 is at home in ordinary urban driving. The 2.0-litre four affords plenty of flexibility and the CVT does not need to be pressed into flaring up through the revs as many CVT-equipped cars can, to keep the five-door rolling along at commuter pace.
On the open road, the car is a relaxed tourer and, when an overtaking manoeuvre is required, it will whisk past, although it's by no means a pocket rocket, as zero to 100kmh will take a tick over 10 seconds.
The SX4 all-wheel-drive is a tad more rugged than most other similarly sized hatchbacks thanks to its little bit of extra clearance and selectable four-paw grip, but we were impressed with the car's ride quality, which is probably a product of that additional suspension travel, and would suggest that the car should go on a quake commuter's check list.
It covers holes and bumps with decorum and doesn't get unsettled or bounced around like a firmer chassis can.
The Suzuki is agile enough, but it's not a corner cutter, as its body control is compromised a touch by its slightly taller stance. However, it's a tidy drive and a pleasingly sorted blend of talents with no equivalent in anyone else's lineup.
Inside the SX4, its occupants will note the car's higher than normal seating position, which conspires with a low window waistline to provide good vision for even the littlies. The benefit of this is that youngsters are less prone to car sickness if they can see and focus on their surroundings. The same goes for dogs.
The rear bench seating is slightly higher off the ground than the front pair and, while the rear leg room isn't the largest in the segment, the car's cabin is one of the airiest in the business.
With much better-quality plush interior trim than in the original models, the SX4's accommodation is pleasant, with a simple but well-organised dash that needs very little work or reference to master.
The steering wheel only adjusts for tilt, but a decent driving position can be achieved and, from behind the wheel, the SX4's twin front-pillared screen supports make the view at intersections less interrupted than with some simpler and usually thicker pillar treatments.
While the cabin is useful, the boot is less so, with just 253 litres on offer. Its floor is quite high too, although volume is improved when the seats are folded.
Priced well, sensibly equipped and surprisingly grown-up for a C-segment car, the SX4 doesn't feel as old as its 2007 launch date.
Engine and transmission upgrades have allowed the car to maintain progress in what is one of the hardest-fought sectors of the market. By offering all-wheel-drive to potential buyers in the sub-$30,000 price bracket, the SX4 has the kind of cut-through many other makers would be glad to exploit. We would like Suzuki to make customers more aware of how good this wee car and its all-wheel-drive options are.

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