When we think of production vehicles that can double as daily drivers and weekend racers, the Lotus Exige, Mazda MX-5 Miata and Porsche Boxster come to mind. They've got to be light, nimble and handle the rigors of the road along with the demands of the track. That's why we had a little chuckle when a 2010 Suzuki SX4 with "Road Race modifications" came up on our schedule for vehicles to review. When we drove the 2008 SX4 Sport, we found it to have a "sporty feel and rather quick reflexes," but the chassis had fairly low limits and we couldn't imagine the squat hatch being that much fun on track.
Still, we were curious how a hopped-up SX4 would perform, particularly in 2010 MY guise, which adds seven additional horsepower (143 to 150 hp) and a six-speed manual transmission. Suzuki has billed its new five-door as a worthy competitor to the world's best hot hatches, but can it really deliver a world-class combination of practicality and sportiness? With several days of Southern California's back roads marked down on our schedule, we aimed to find out.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it might be pertinent to give some background on RoadRace Motorsports, the company that built this SX4 Sport. Based in Southern California, RRM made a name for itself building high performance Mitsubishi models, in particular the Lancer Evolution. In the last few years, RRM has turned its attention to Suzuki, developing a line of performance parts for the SX4 and Kizashi, and building several project cars including this particular hatch. Its parts catalog includes everything from carbon fiber aero parts to turbocharger systems.
The SX4 Sport looks the part, complete with a Vivid Red paint job and an aftermarket stripe kit ($149 from RRM) that even includes a blank roundel for a car number. It's a little too boy racer for street use, but it speaks volumes about RoadRace's confidence in its hotted-up SX4.
Even without the stripes, the SportBack is quite the looker from the factory. Gone is the roof rack from the SX4 Crossover, while a new front spoiler, side skirts and roof-mounted spoiler round out the exterior mods. The suspension has been lowered 15mm all around and a set of attractive 10-spoke, 17-inch wheels replace the rather bland factory 16-inchers. The result is a racy five-door that wouldn't look (completely) out of place when lined-up alongside Europe's best hot hatches.
The interior of the SX4 SportBack is by no means luxurious, but provides a no-nonsense environment with a refreshingly simple design. There are hard plastics on the dash and doors, but they don't feel offensive to the touch and manage to still appear fairly attractive. The seats are made of soft cloth and are comfortable, offering nice back support, while the thick steering wheel is comfortable to grip and houses only the most necessary buttons (volume, cruise, etc.). The center stack is laid out in the traditional and intuitive way, with the CD/AM/FM/XM controls above and climate controls below. A no-cost pop-up nav system rises from the top of the dash, and while it doesn't look as fancy as in-dash units, it gets the job done with a simple touchscreen. There are also some nice touches that make the cockpit feel a little more upscale, specifically the aluminum pedals with the Suzuki logo and handsome black gauges with white lettering and red and blue accents.
We expect quite a bit of convenience from a modern hot hatch, and the SX4 SportBack didn't disappoint. There's decent leg room for rear seat passengers, although anyone north of six feet tall probably wouldn't want to commit to a road trip in the back seat. The rear cargo area also offers a good amount of storage space, and the rear seats can fold 60/40 to make room for larger items.
The 2010 SX4 SportBack powers the front wheels with an updated version of its 16-valve DOHC 2.0-liter inline-four producing 150 horsepower and 140 pound-feet torque, up from 143 hp and 136 lb-ft the previous year. It's not a huge increase, but at such modest levels, every little bit helps. Our specially equipped car also came with an open-element air intake ($199), ECU upgrade ($399) and a freer-flowing exhaust, so we're guessing it had a slightly higher output than stock. The majority of the time, the peppy four-pot provided enough motivation to get going in a reasonably quick manner, especially in low speeds around town. The motor builds towards redline without a fall-off in power, although it lacks gusto even on slight inclines, especially below 3,000 rpm.
Also new for 2010 is a six-speed transmission and the option of a CVT with both a console-mounted gear selector and paddle shifters. The extra gear helps improve fuel economy, and the SportBack is rated at 22/30 for the manual and 23/30 for the CVT. Thankfully, our tester was equipped with the standard transmission, which provided nice, accurate shifts, with just the slightest hint of notchiness. Over our time with the car, we found that the SX4 responded better to aggressive shifting, and we actually enjoyed banging from one gear to the next. The only issue we ran into was an overly touchy throttle that made it quite difficult to get the car going smoothly from first gear.
The Sportback comes equipped with a MacPherson suspension in front with a rear torsion beam out back, and RoadRace Motorsports first order of business was to fit a sport suspension ($499) and a set of ultra-sticky Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 215/45R17 tires ($528). The result: boatloads of grip. The spunky front-wheel-drive hatch continually surprised us with its ability to tackle even the most challenging corners with ease. Body roll is nearly absent, and a flick of the steering wheel directed the wheels with precision.
The modified suspension did come with a downside – a big one. The suspension is so stiff that it almost made the SX4 undrivable on even slightly rough roads. Going over bumps would often cause un-elicited grunts and groans, and at one point, the dash-mounted navigation system sprung open over a particularly rough section of road. While we had fun with the car driving up and down the canyons, it made day-to-day tasks nearly unlivable, all of which made us question how well RoadRace balanced the "Road" and the "Race" missions in the SX4.
Putting performance parts on a budget hatch like the SX4 SportBack might have worked in the early '00s, but as tuners and compacts have gotten more refined, drivers are expecting a better balance. Couple that with a base price tag of $17,999 (plus $795 in destination charges) and it's obvious the SX4 will mainly appeal to budget-minded buyers looking for convenience and a dose of sport in their daily driver. The modified suspension on our tester made it impractical as a daily driver, and yet, it's far from a dedicated track toy.
That said, we can see plenty of buyers picking up a stock SX4 for its endearing qualities that comes straight from the factory. The 2.0-liter engine is spunky if not sporty, and the new transmissions now provide respectable fuel economy. In all honesty, we'd probably suggest buying the SX4 Crossover model instead, as not only does it present a more capable – and unique – ownership proposition with all-wheel drive, it's also inexplicably and substantially cheaper at $15,899. That said, Suzuki has packaged the SportBack with an eye-catching exterior and attractive interior that makes it something of a bargain on appearance alone. But when it comes to modifications, we'd advise swapping on some new rubber and leaving the wrenches tucked away in the drawer.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
New Car Test Drive
New SportBack, more fuel-efficient engine.
The Suzuki SX4 offers a lot of small car for the money. All models are keenly priced, making them worthy candidates for shoppers looking for small cars that are more than just basic transportation.
The lineup features a four-door Sedan, a five-door Crossover, and a new SportBack model.
All Suzuki SX4 models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's new for 2011, now making 150 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque. The Sedan and new SportBack are front-wheel drive only, and the Crossover is all-wheel drive. That feature is mostly what makes the SX4 special.
All-wheel drive makes the SX4 an excellent choice for drivers who want an inexpensive high-mileage crossover with all-weather capability; in fact, it's almost the only choice, with the more costly Nissan Juke being about the only directly comparable vehicle. You can look at a Toyota Matrix or Mini-Cooper Countryman, but they raise the entry fee. The all-wheel-drive system sends up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels, giving it better traction in snow and on unpaved roads. The world's top rally cars use all-wheel drive for its superior traction and Suzuki has been running the SX4 in the World Rally Championship, proving it has the right stuff.
The Suzuki SX4 Crossover, a four-door hatchback (also called a five-door), offers cargo versatility and looks like a mini-SUV. (Suzuki sometimes calls this car a Crossover and other times a Hatchback.) The SX4 Sedan offers responsive handling and packs worthwhile features into a tidy package. With just front-wheel drive, the Sedan achieves a small bit better fuel mileage than the awd Crossover's 22/30 mpg with the manual transmission. That's improved for 2011, with the new 2.0-liter engine.
The SportBack is a new model for 2011, and follows the popular European version, with a lower ride height, performance shocks, stabilizer bars, four-wheel disc brakes, and 17-inch alloy rims with wider profile (205/50) all-season tires. That equipment is also available on the Sedan with Sport trim. It offers more precise cornering and a firmer ride. Basically, the new SportBack has the Crossover hatchback body style, with Sedan Sport front-wheel-drive powertrain and suspension, wheels and tires.
The Suzuki SX4 comes mostly well equipped for its low price. A Garmin navigation system with features like weather, airline schedules and Google search is standard, along with halogen headlamps, 60/40 split rear seat, and for 2011, eight airbags. However there's a big exception to its being well-equipped: stability control, although standard with the Crossover and SportBack, is unavailable on the Sedan.
We have nothing but good to say about the SX4 interior. It's clean and simple and easy, but mostly it's all there. The black cloth bucket seats are terrific: they fit for around-town or hard cornering, they're roomy and rugged. Good high seating position, making the car feel less small out on the freeway and up against the big SUVs. Instrumentation is clean and available, knobs and dials few and perfectly ergonomic. Visibility good. Quiet inside. Good cubbies and cupholders. Well-placed driver's left armrest, good door pockets and door handles. Garmin navigation on our Crossover AWD Tech Value neatly popped up out of the dash.
The rear seat in the Crossover and SportBack offers good legroom for a subcompact. The back seat in the Sedan is less roomy, but the trunk is large.
Our Crossover AWD cornered and ran around town like a sports car, with the comfort of an SUV. Its 6-speed gearbox is easy to shift, the clutch easy to use. The new 150 horsepower revs to 6200 rpm (up from 5800 with the previous engine), the 140 foot-pounds of torque makes acceleration smooth. The SX4 is much fun to drive, something that's hard to find in a car of this price, especially one that offers this much capability and versatility.
The 2011 Suzuki SX4 comes in Sedan, Crossover, and SportBack versions, each with a 150-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Front-wheel drive is standard on the Sedan and SportBack; all-wheel drive is standard on the Crossover.
The SX4 Sedan ($13,499) has six trim levels: Base, LE, Anniversary Edition, Sport, Sport S, and Sport GTS. The Base is truly base, without AC or even a radio. Base comes with cloth upholstery, tilt steering wheel, anti-lock brakes, P195/65R15 tires on steel wheels, and a six-speed manual transmission.
SX4 Sedan LE ($15,195) adds air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, power windows, door locks, and mirrors, but no cruise control. SX4 Sedan Anniversary Edition ($17,099) comes with a CVT transmission with paddle shifters, and adds rear disc brakes, leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls, heated front seats and mirrors, and cruise control.
SX4 Sedan Sport S ($16,479) features a sport-tuned suspension with P205/50 all-season radial tires on 17-inch alloy wheels; spoilers at front, rear and sides; and keyless entry. It loses the LE's leather steering wheel with controls and cruise control, and goes back to the 6-speed gearbox. SX4 Sedan Sport SE ($17,849) is equipped like the Anniversary Edition, and adds navigation and makes Bluetooth optional. It has the suspension and wheels/tires of the Sport S. SX4 Sedan Sport GTS ($18,999) gets a seven-speaker sound system and automatic climate control, while using the SE's paddle-shifting CVT.
SX4 Crossover comes in Base ($16,999), Premium, and Tech Value. It comes standard with P205/60R16 all-season tires on 16-inch alloy wheels, and has roofrails. The Premium ($18,599) uses the CVT without paddle shifters, and adds the leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls. The Tech Value Package adds 16-inch alloy wheels, and foglamps, as well as navigation and paddles to shift the CVT but takes away the roofrails.
SX4 SportBack has the Crossover hatchback body style with Sedan Sport front-wheel-drive powertrain and suspension, wheels and tires. It comes in Base ($16,599) or Tech Value ($18,149), with the CVT optional with either model. The Tech Value has navigation and a larger rear spoiler.
Safety features standard on all Suzuki SX4 modes include eight airbags: front driver and passenger airbags, torso-protecting driver and passenger side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, and rear seat side airbags. Also standard are a tire-pressure monitor and LATCH child seat anchors. Electronic stability control with traction control is standard on the Crossover and SportBack, but unavailable on the Sedan. All-wheel drive is available on some models.
If you like the tall look of modern compact hatchbacks you'll love the tidy lines of the Suzuki SX4 Crossover. From the side, its profile has a faint resemblance to the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class SUV.
It seems odd to talk about the SX4 Crossover in the same breath as an SUV, because it's so small, but that's what Suzuki calls it (when they're not calling it a Hatchback). The term crossover is normally used to suggest the vehicle crosses the line between truck-based SUV and car. So you might argue the SX4 Crossover is a compact hatchback, not a crossover SUV. But like most crossover SUVs it has a tailgate, fold-down rear seats for added cargo space and mainly all-wheel drive, so we won't quibble.
It's less odd to talk about the SX4 Sport sedan as being sporty. Still, while there is a definite wedge shape, the SX4 Sport's tall greenhouse makes it look more like an economy car than a sporty runabout. In fact, the SX4 Sport is really a zippy and roomy economy car with sports appeal (with the 6-speed gearbox) thanks to its great handling.
Both versions have a large windshield that slopes down to a hood that curves over large headlight/turn signal units. The curve of bodywork from the distinctive front fenders extends down to the lower lip of the front bumper with its large air intake. The look is similar for the two body styles, but the front fascias differ. The Sedan Sport has differently shaped pods for the available fog lights and a lower aero add-on that is carried over into the body sides. The Crossover has flat-black caps along the rocker panels and over the fender flares.
One of the most unusual design cues of both body styles is the large quarter windows set in front of the front doors. At their base, these windows dip down from front to back, flowing into a rising line that leads to the back of the rear windows.
The Crossover's roof remains high all the way to the rear, and has wraparound glass at the rear behind the C-pillars. The Sedan's roof turns down into a short trunk. The Sedan sits lower than the Crossover, befitting their purposes: the Sedan Sport is intended to grip the pavement a bit better in corners, and the Crossover is better equipped for snow and unpaved roads. For the same reasons, the Sport gets 17-inch wheels with lower profile tires while the Crossover is fitted with 16-inch wheels and tires with slightly taller sidewalls. Each setup has its advantages and disadvantages, but the differences are not dramatic.
All in all, we found both body styles to be pleasing, though not swoopy or cutting edge. Neither car looks like it's too small, and they both have a modern stance.
Nothing but good to say about the SX4 interior. It's clean and simple and easy, but mostly it's all there. These things don't happen by accident. Well thought-out.
Starting with the terrific black cloth bucket seats: they fit for around-town or hard cornering, they're rugged. Good high seating position, making the car feel less small out on the freeway and up against the big SUVs. Instrumentation is clean and available, knobs and dials few and perfectly ergonomic. Visibility good. Quiet inside. Good cubbies and cupholders. Well-placed driver' left armrest, good door pockets and door handles. Garmin navigation on our Crossover AWD Tech Value neatly popped up out of the dash.
Pleasant cockpit with no gimmicks. Everything is well placed and the brushed aluminum trim seems to be well finished. The radio controls are found on the same plane as the center of the steering wheel, with three easy-to-use climate control knobs located just below them. The interior materials include sturdy plastics on par for the class.
Four gauges are found in three dials that fill the instrument pod. They are located in front of the steering wheel, not in a gimmicky central-mounted pod like that of the Toyota Yaris. The large speedometer is mounted in the central position slightly overlapping both the smaller tachometer and a circle that houses the fuel gauge and water temperature gauge.
Head room in either body style is excellent up front. Leg room is adequate for most, though tall drivers will want more. Visibility is good to the rear, but the split front pillars can block the driver's view to the sides at intersections.
Storage space is merely adequate. A center console does not come standard. One can be ordered as a dealer accessory, but it is more of an armrest than a storage bin. Two cup holders are provided in front of the shifter where they don't get in the way while shifting a manual-equipped SX4. A decent-sized cubby is located below the climate controls, and large map pockets are provided in the front and rear doors.
Rear-seat leg room is pretty good in the Crossover, more than sufficient for a six-footer. Rear-seat legroom is not quite as generous as in the slightly-larger Nissan Versa but, to put it in perspective, it's about the same as in the much larger Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Rear-seat head room in the hatchback is generous.
The sedan has less head room and leg room, with its sedan body style, but it is still usefully sized. Ingress and egress to the back seats is fine because the rear wheels are pushed toward the rear of the vehicle and the wheel wells do not intrude much.
Cargo space is sufficient in both models. The specifications for the Crossover say there is only 10 cubic feet of luggage space behind the back seats. However, it seems much larger, primarily because it is fully useable with little intrusion from the wheelwells. The wide track and low-mounted rear suspension components allow for a flat floor, a feature the Nissan Versa can't claim and more comparable to that of the relatively expensive Honda Fit. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold and tumble forward, opening up a generous 54 cubic feet of cargo space. Getting stuff in and out is a breeze thanks to the full-width one-piece tailgate.
The trunk of the sedan offers 15.5 cubic feet of space, which is as much as some midsize cars. Be aware that the hinges do intrude on the cargo room, so you won't want to put anything that can be crushed beneath them. And while the trunk's cargo volume is generous, the rear seats do not fold down or offer a pass-through.
The Suzuki SX4 comes with one of the most powerful engines in its class. For 2011, the new 2.0-liter makes 150 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque. The chassis has a wide track for good handling and it has a solid body. The downside is that it's relatively heavy, and weight is the enemy of performance and fuel economy. So the SX4 is not much faster than its competitors, and fuel consumption is respectable but not great for a car this size. We got a combined 27 mpg with the all-wheel drive Crossover.
The all-wheel drive system, called i-AWD, operates in three modes via a console-mounted switch. The 2WD mode is for maximum fuel economy on dry pavement, the AWD Auto mode controls the drive power distribution ratio to the rear wheels from 0 to 50 percent, depending on available traction, and the AWD Lock mode is designed to facilitate traction in case of snow or mud. In the Lock mode, power is distributed to the rear wheels in the range of 30 percent to 50 percent. When the car reaches 36 mph in AWD Lock mode, the system automatically switches to AWD Auto mode.
We're not sure why there's a 2WD mode as the fuel savings have to be minimal and it means the driving feel changes when you switch to or from the automatic mode. It seems much more sensible to have the benefits available at all times so that in an emergency situation one has all four wheels doing the work. The lock mode is useful for really adverse conditions at slow speeds. Maybe it helps in tight parking lots, though we didn't notice any binding in AWD Auto.
Overall handling is competent in both body styles, thanks in part to a long wheelbase and a wide track. All-wheel-drive models grip much better on slippery surfaces, and the AWD system can help stabilize the handling even on a dry road. The sedan lacks all-wheel drive, but its lower ride height and tauter suspension make it more nimble than the Crossover.
Those who like a soft ride might find the Sport too stiff for their liking. Broken pavement can cause the Sport to jiggle, while a series of larger humps can create some bounding motions. Still, the Sport is not uncomfortable; it's just stiffer than most of its competitors. We found both body styles fun to drive with the manual transmission, which shifts well feels sporty. The sixth gear made it right, for freeway cruising. We didn't get to test the CVT, but we're dubious, if only because CVT's usually take the character out of a car, and the SX4 should not be robbed. However, the SX4 CVT uses paddle shifters, and sometimes that saves it. The CVT only improves fuel mileage by about 1 mpg, though.
In the Crossover, the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering feels fine with virtually no sign of torque steer. The steering in the Sport is a little sharper, and some minor torque steer can arise if you stomp on the throttle in the middle of a turn. However, once the SX4 shifts its weight in a corner, it takes a set and tracks nicely through the turn.
Mostly, our Crossover AWD cornered and ran around town like a sports car, with the comfort of an SUV. It's much fun to drive, something that's hard to find in a car of this price, especially one that offers this much capability and versatility.
The Suzuki SX4 is a good choice among small cars for anyone looking for something other than just the cheapest, most basic transportation. All models are bargain priced and they deliver a lot of content. The SX4 Crossover is a versatile hatchback body style. The all-wheel-drive versions are the best value with all-weather capability for such a low price. The SX4 Sport offers a taste of sportiness in a sub-$15,000 package. As an added bonus, there's Suzuki's 100,000-mile, seven-year, fully transferable, zero-deductible powertrain limited warranty.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie reported on the Suzuki SX4 Crossover from San Diego, with Kirk Bell reporting on the SX4 Sport from Traverse City, Michigan, and Sam Moses reporting from Portland, Oregon.
Suzuki SX4 Sedan ($13,499); Crossover AWD ($16,999); SportBack ($16,599).
Options As Tested
Premium floor mats ($125), Premium metallic paint ($130), Bluetooth ($250).
Suzuki SX4 Crossover AWD Tech Value ($18,149).
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