2009 Suzuki SX4 Sedan and SX4 4X4 Road Test
THE SMALL CAR SEGMENT in Australia is where the action is right now. While large cars and mid-sizers stagnate in the sales charts, the small car class has turned into a hive of activity.
But it’s a densely populated market segment.
Manufacturers have not been slow to recognise the lure of a car which is large enough to accommodate a small family, frugal enough to drive on a whim, and cheap enough to appeal to budget-conscious families and first car buyers alike.
For years, Suzuki has had a range of options in the small and light car classes with just such buyers in mind.
Small Suzukis are a long-term fixture on the Australian landscape. The Suzuki badge might not be the first to spring to mind when looking for a small car but it's earned a solid reputation for low cost, hard wearing cars.
Launched in 2007, the SX4 debuted as an all-wheel-drive hatchback and has since been joined by a front-wheel-drive hatch and sedan. Co-designed with Fiat primarily to tackle the European market (where it sells as the Fiat Sedici), the SX4 picks up where the unloved and awkward looking Liana left off.
To see how the SX4 stacks up, TMR took to the wheel of an automatic sedan and manual 4X4 hatch. Offering both AWD and FWD is something of a rarity in this market segment; we were keen to see what this expanded range had to offer.
Originally penned by Italdesign, the overall form of the SX4 takes on two vastly different looks between the hatch and sedan versions. While both share the same sheet-metal forward of the B-pillars, the handsome profile of the hatch is a little lost in translation on the sedan.
As a small crossover the SX4 works well. Above the beltline the glasshouse rises steeply and between the steep front windscreen and short rear cargo compartment, there is a handsome balance to the lines.
In sedan form, the proportions are a little heavily skewed towards that high roof making the car seem strangely narrow. The quarter windows in the A-pillars sit oddly in the four-door version too, whereas they look quite at home on the hatch.
From head-on both cars look handsome and modern with a trapezoidal mesh-filled grille flanked by expressive headlights that curve around the form of the bonnet at the outside edge.
From behind, the hatch's clean lines with tail-lights mounted high into the rear quarter panels and glazed D-pillars, increase the visual width.
Up-spec SX4 S versions of the FWD hatch and sedan also gain a subtle body kit which adds a front and rear lip and side-skirts. They also get a set of alloy wheels to set them apart from the standard versions tested here.
The SX4 AWD wears a slightly different front bumper and gets black plastic highlights on the lower bumpers, side skirts and wheel arch flares.
Once inside the SX4 twins, neither version pushes the envelope with adventurous stying. Dashboard layout is clear and simple however and the entire package is easy to use.
Dark grey and black tones dominate with matte grey trim-highlights on the doors and steering wheel, and semi-gloss metallic highlights on the centre stack.
In front of the driver, a three-gauge instrument cluster provides a simple, easy-to-read central speedo flanked by a tacho and fuel and temp gauges on either side.
Seat trim on the AWD hatch is highlighted by mesh-knit centre panels with blue hues underneath and black fabric bolsters. The sedan favours grey mesh-knit seats for a slightly more mature ambience.
Front seat space is excellent with plenty of legroom and a great range of adjustment making it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The driver’s seat features height adjustment, but misses out on lumbar support.
Rear seat accommodation is not so commodious. Three across the rear bench will find themselves squeezed in, and all but the shortest front seat occupants will leave little in the way of knee room for those in the rear.
Thanks to the SX4’s towering roof, headroom is never an issue with plenty of clearance for both front and rear passengers (unlike some in the class).
Cargo space in the hatch is a little tight with just 270 litres of cargo space behind the rear seats. Conversely the sedan offers a cavernous 515 litre boot, with deep useable space and a wide opening making loading and unloading easy.
Both models feature 60:40 split-fold rear seats to extend cargo space and all three rear positions are equipped with three-point seat belts and adjustable head rests.
Equipment & Features
Air-conditioning comes standard, as does a basic trip computer, variable intermittent winscreen wipers and height adjustable front seatbelts.
Dual front airbags, ABS brakes and seatbelt pretensioners make up the basic safety specifications.
The better equipped S versions of the SX4 add alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless start, cruise control and climate control.
Sedan and FWD hatch variants also come with a body kit to add some visual difference over the standard model.
S versions also receive side and curtain airbags. A little disappointingly, the SX4 does not offer Vehicle Stability Control, even as an option, across the range.
Across the board the SX4 comes powered by a 2.0 litre 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine which produces 107 kW at 5800 rpm and 184 Nm of torque at 3500 rpm.
The dual overhead cam, multipoint injection engine does without variable valve timing but still manages to produce class-competitive output figures
The sedan tested here was a four-speed automatic, which offered fuss-free operation via its gated shifter (but no manual mode). Top gear is tall, which meant low revs at highway speeds, and while it may not be the smoothest or smartest self-shifter available, it performs well when faced with shift-intensive city work.
The AWD hatch came equipped with a five-speed manual. With a well-weighted clutch and defined, if not totally precise shift action, it is the better of the two transmissions on offer.
Suspension is MacPherson struts up front with a torsion-beam rear axle. AWD versions also get an additional 35mm of ground clearance.
Braking hardware consists of four-wheel disc brakes for the AWD, vented up front and solid at the rear. The sedan does without rear discs with drums on the rear instead.
While these two cars look different and vary slightly in their mechanical specification, the biggest differences between the two becomes apparent once on the road.
Around town the automatic sedan comported itself well. Progress is unfussed, if not exactly lively. The automatic transmission is decisive: changes are smooth and reasonably sharp and - mostly - putting the right gear underfoot without 'hunting' or dithering while it sorts itself out.
With only four forward ratios to pick from though, the automatic model can be left wanting. On a couple of occasions, we found ourselves in a gear that was either too high or two low for the situation.
The other downside to the automatic box is its tendency to power-sap. While the 2.0 litre engine seems eager, the four-speed auto dulls its responsiveness and takes the edge off an otherwise pert engine.
On the road the SX4 sedan can also be a little harsh in its suspension tune. Pot holes and joins in the tarmac can be felt when the car is unladen and only get worse as more weight is added.
Steering in the sedan is also weighted a little oddly, becoming awkwardly heavier as more lock is wound on.
By comparison the SX4 AWD hatch in manual feels almost like an entirely different vehicle.
The five-speed manual box frees up the engine beautifully. While it’s no race car in the making, the manual’s free spinning nature allows the best from the engine’s potential.
Suspension in the AWD is also more supple thanks to its added ride height. A smoother quieter ride comes as part of the package. Without behaving vastly different on the road, the AWD feels a much more competent handler.
Steering feel in the hatch however is also fairly numb; but, unlike the sedan, the AWD hatch feels more linear in its steering response as more lock is wound on.
Some characteristics remain the same for both cars though regardless of suspension tune. Both push into early understeer in bends, and the tall bodywork means plenty of roll when pitching into corners.
Engine and road noise also feature in both at highway speeds and can become tiresome after a long stint behind the wheel.
After long hours at the wheel though, seat comfort was commendable. Both driver and front and rear passengers emerged after a sold stint on the road with no creaking bones nor complaints about comfort.
Fuel economy on test for both cars closely matched official figures. In the automatic sedan, TMR recorded a combined fuel economy of 9.6 l/100 km (just 0.1 above the claimed average), while the manual AWD hatch returned 8.6 l/100 km or 0.1 below Suzuki’s claimed figure.
With what appears to be a very high level of build quality both inside and out, the SX4 twins certainly have what it takes to win friends.
Long distance comfort cemented that position, however constant engine noise and a lack of suspension finesse in the sedan remove a little of the shine.
Curiously, the sedan isn’t exactly positioned at the sharpest end of the market. With a price of $22,490 (as tested, plus on road costs), the sedan doesn’t quite seem to be as good a buy as the AWD hatch, which, in manual, costs just $300 more. The hatch is priced from $22,790 plus on roads .
That may be a little like comparing apples to oranges, but the better engine response afforded by the manual transmission and the well-sorted AWD suspension tune make the SX4 AWD the better buy of the two.
Comparatively, if cargo accommodation is a primary concern then the cavernous boot of the sedan could be enough to tip the scales in its favour.
- Excellent built quality inside and out
- Massive boot on the sedan
- Responsive engine when tied to manual transmission
- The balanced style of the hatch
- Fantastic head space front and rear
- Engine and road noise is apparent at highway speeds
- Harsh suspension on sedan
- The slightly awkward top-heavy lines of the sedan