SUZUKI HAS LAUNCHED the updated 2010 SX4 range into the Australian market, with a new engine, new transmissions and more generous standard equipment levels.
When the SX4 was introduced in 2007, there was some comment that the small car range was too thirsty and lacked critical safety features like electronic stability control.
With the updated range, stability control is now standard on the SX4 and all models bar the entry-level 2WD hatch get six airbags.
The new engine not only features more power and torque, but there are two new transmissions to help improve fuel economy.
There is also extra equipment added across the range, although at the expense of an average price increase of 1.5 percent.
Although styling is broadly unchanged, Suzuki Australia believes the improvements in safety, fuel economy, power and specification mean the SX4 now has the potential to sell up to 500 units a month - a significant rise over last year's average of 250-280 sales per month.
Externally, little has changed between the 2009 and 2010 SX4 models. The sedan now features a boot-lid spoiler and stylish 17-inch alloy wheels, while the entry-level 2WD and AWD hatch models get 16-inch steel wheels with covers. Both receive a new grille design.
The AWD S model gets 16-inch alloys, while the 2WD S wears a set of 17-inch alloy wheels.
The SX4, originally penned by Italdesign, 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 hatch and the sedan take separate paths thereafter.
Inside, updates for the 2010 model year are a little more obvious. A new meter cluster with an integrated digital information display sits in the dash, and a completely redesigned climate control panel with a new digital display has been added.
The steering-mounted audio switches are now backlit, which Suzuki says is a response to customer feedback, and the centre stack has come in for some minor revisions.
New higher-quality seat materials are also now featured, and other updates include soft pads on the door armrests, chrome-plated door handles for the S model and a dashboard centre speaker. The steering wheel still doesn't adjust for reach, however, and the SX4's bifurcated A-pillar takes some getting used to.
Fold-down centre armrests for the driver and front passenger are standard, theatre-style seating elevates the rear passengers and improves their forward vision and the SX 4 Sedan boasts an impressive 515 litre boot capacity - over 100 litres more than a Holden Cruze. The rear seats feature a 60/40 split fold, and beneath the boot floor lies a space saver spare.
Equipment and Features
While many of the outgoing model's features remain, there are a few important new tricks for the new model.
The entry SX4 2WD features electric power steering, power windows front and rear, adjustable steering wheel, remote control door key, an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with auxiliary input jack and an MP3 compatible input jack. Other features include speed-sensing volume control and trip meter with temperature, instant/average fuel usage, and distance-to-empty.
For safety, the SX4 2WD offers driver and passenger airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, ESP with TCS, and three-point ELR seatbelts front and rear.
The entry AWD hatchback adds seat-mounted side airbags, side curtain airbags and the i-AWD intelligent all-wheel-drive system.
Next in the line-up, the SX4 S 2WD and AWD hatch models add cruise control, remote keyless entry and start, climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, front fog lamps and a nine-speaker audio system.
The SX4 sedan is available in one trim level and includes climate control, remote keyless entry and start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and front fog lamps.
The SX4's engine bay is now home to the naturally aspirated 2.0 litre J20B inline four. An alloy block, plastic rocker covers and plastic intake manifolds reduce the engine's overall weight, while an increased compression ratio (10.2:1, up from 9.5:1) helps boost output and response.
Power has risen five percent to 112kW, while torque is up three percent to 190Nm. Despite the higher compression ratio, the engine is still capable of running on 91 octane fuel, while average fuel economy is now claimed to sit at 7.3 l/100km for the manual 2WD variants.
Two new transmissions are available across the range. A six-speed manual replaces the old five-speed unit, while a JATCO-sourced CVT succeeds the outgoing conventional automatic.
Double-cone sychroniser rings improve shift feel on the manual, with even reverse gear gaining a single synchro. The result is smoother gearchanges and better drivetrain refinement.
The CVT features a lock-up torque converter that activates at 10km/h to further improve mechanical efficiency, while steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (S versions only) and a plus-minus gate on the gearshift allow the driver to row through six 'fixed' ratios.
2WD variants take power to the front wheels only, however AWD models are capable of directing drive to all four wheels to help improve traction on loose surfaces.
Suzuki's i-AWD system operates in front-wheel-drive mode in most situations, however once the front wheels experience a loss of traction up to 50 percent of torque can be channeled to the rear wheels via an electronically-actuated clutch fitted to the rear differential.
The driver can also lock the car in AWD mode via a switch on the centre console, however the system automatically deactivates at high speed.
There are MacPherson struts up front and an independent trailing-arm setup at the rear. Ride height for the AWD hatchback is 170mm, while the sedan features 160mm of ground clearance. Brakes consist of discs at all four corners, each clamped by sliding calipers.
The test route for the SX4's launch wound its way through Victoria's Yarra Valley and involved a good mix of rural highways, twisty mountain passes and unpaved tracks.
The SX4 performed solidly on both tarmac and on gravel; the comprehensively updated mechanicals have clearly breathed new life into the three year-old model.
With more power and torque, the new engine is noticeably more willing to shift the SX4's 1200-1300 kilogram mass. There's still not quite enough low-down torque to maintain momentum up hills in high gears, but from 3500rpm onwards the 2.0 litre motor has adequate urge to keep up with traffic.
The new gearboxes also do their bit to improve driveability. Thanks to an extra gear, the six-speed manual benefits from a more versatile spread of ratios than the old five-speed, improving fuel economy and acceleration.
At 100km/h the manual-equipped SX4's engine sits at 2300rpm - low enough to keep fuel economy acceptible while still leaving enough power to keep speed up. Moderate inclines will require a downshift to fourth or even third gea however.
The manual shifts cleanly and smoothly, the new double-cone synchronisers clearly improving shift feel. The gear lever is positioned close at hand and the clutch pedal is light. Long distance drivers may, however, be miffed at the lack of a footrest in manual-equipped SX4s.
Being a CVT, the automatic transmission is a significant step up from the old auto. Its ability to vary its single ratio in infinite increments means the engine will hold at a constant RPM while the gearbox controls the car's road speed.
Depending on the driver, the inherent efficiencies of the CVT can optimise the drivetrain for economy, performance or something inbetween. The constant monotone buzz of the engine can get a little annoying after a while though.
The wheel-mounted paddles and plus-minus gate enable 'manual' selection of six preset ratios, but their use is perhaps best suited to increasing the effect of engine braking on declines.
On dry tarmac there's little tangible difference between the 2WD and AWD SX4 variants, however the all-paw model comes into its own on loose surfaces. Traction under power is improved markedly, and the 4WD-lock function is capable of hauling the SX4 out of mildly-challenging mud.
When placed in the default i-AWD mode, the SX4 functions as a front-wheel drive in most conditions. Power is only sent to the rear wheels once slippage has started to occur, and the system doesn't possess the all-out traction of a permanent AWD drivetrain.
However, despite operating predominantly as a front-driver, there are still opportunities for rally-style antics in the SX4 - provided the now-standard ESC is switched off. Whether in the 2WD or AWD, lift-off oversteer and trail braking can get the SX4's tail out satisfyingly, making the SX4 thoroughly enjoyable on gravel. With ESC switched on of course, such situations are shut down before they have a chance to get out of hand.
Dynamically, the SX4 is surprisingly good. There's a moderate amount of body roll and the tyres can get a little vocal when worked hard, but there's an abundance of grip available and most drivers won't ever push the SX4 beyond its limits.
The steering rack isn't the sharpest around, but there's little slack and the wheel transmits a handy amount of feedback to the driver. Perhaps its biggest shortcoming is an abundance of torque steer, which can be troublesome in tight corners. Corrugations and potholes can reverbrate noisily through the cabin on rougher roads.
On more subdued jaunts, the SX4 is generally a nice car to be in. The driving position is upright but comfortable and the integrated armrests make long cruises a more relaxed affair. Just beware of the SX4's bifurcated A-pillar - in some situations it can limit vision around corners.
Pricing and Availability
The 2010 Suzuki SX4 is available now at Suzuki dealers across Australia.
SX4 HATCH MANUAL $20,490
SX4 HATCH AUTO $22,490
SX4 S HATCH MANUAL $23,490
SX4 S HATCH AUTO $25,490
SX4 AWD MANUAL $23,490
SX4 AWD AUTO $25,490
SX4 S AWD MANUAL $25,690
SX4 S AWD AUTO $27,690
SX4 S SEDAN MANUAL $23,990
SX4 S SEDAN AUTO $25,990