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2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport with TRIP – Click above for high-res image gallery

For the 2009 model year, Suzuki will begin offering navigation as standard equipment on all SX4 Sport models. Starting at a buck under 16K, the new 'Zook is the cheapest car in America so equipped, and that news was very well received by the media and car shoppers alike. In fact, so positive was the response, the decision was made to begin offering the GPS navigation about six months early as part of the TRIP package. We were intrigued by the idea of a low-cost commuter car coming standard with such a desirable feature, so we decided to procure one such TRIP-equipped 2008.5 SX4 Sport for testing. Is the navigation nothing more than a gimmick to get you into a sub-standard car, or does the SX4 have more going for it than just being well equipped? Read on to find out.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs, Inc.

First thing's first, how does that TRIP (Travel, Real-time traffic, Information and Play, if you cared) navigation system work? Quite well, thank you. The unit itself is supplied by Garmin and uses Navteq mapping software and preloaded street maps, so it functions just as well as any other system available. Featuring a 4.3-inch screen, it's not the most amazing system in the world, but it's not bad and gets the job done just fine. The GPS is fully integrated with the audio system and enclosed in a pop-up bin atop the center of the dash. Added bonuses include a built-in MP3 player along with MSN Direct, which includes such useful bits as real-time traffic, weather forecasts, news reports, stock quotes, movie times, local entertainment listings and a gas station finder. We used all of these features throughout the week we had the car, and we found they all worked exactly as promised. Let's move along, shall we?

The SX4 itself couldn't really be described as attractive per se, but it is definitely a useful shape. Ahead of the front A-pillars are two extra little triangular windows that look a bit funny but help conspire with the tall greenhouse and abundance of glass to make for an airy-feeling cockpit. Visibility proved beyond reproach, something that we can all appreciate in these days of fashionable slit-like windows and high belt-lines. Our car was painted a shade known as Vapor Blue Metallic, and it was universally panned by everyone who's opinion we asked. Our advice would be to choose a darker shade, as the car seems to look better in those hues. Alloy rims with P205/50R17 tires are included on the Sport model and we found them appropriately sporty-looking and feeling. More on that later.

Inside, space abounds for both front-seat passengers and those relegated to the rear. A penalty box this car is not, despite its relatively short 98.4-inch wheelbase. The trunk also proved rather commodious and is rated at 15-cubic feet. For those looking for more practicality, we would suggest checking out the Crossover version of the SX4, which features a hatchback and slightly less homely looks. A holdover from its crossover roots is the SX4's ample 6.3-inches of ground clearance, which means there's no worries at all about scraping on steep driveways or speed bumps. As you would expect in 2008, power windows and door locks are standard, as is air conditioning, tilt steering wheel and cruise control. The stereo is XM Satellite Radio ready and the steering wheel has buttons for the audio and cruise functions.

Driving the SX4 Sport proved rather enjoyable, as the 2.0-liter DOHC engine's 143 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque moves the car's 2,700-pounds fairly briskly. You won't set any speed records, but it more than holds its own compared to other vehicles in this modest price class. We definitely advise SX4 shoppers to stick with the standard five-speed manual transmission, as the optional four-speed auto really sucks the life out of the engine. Besides, the stick shift is a pretty sweet partner, with slickness that isn't quite up to Honda levels, but is worlds better than most of its competition from Korea and Detroit.

Suzuki works hard to make its vehicles different from the class leaders, and this fact shines through very clearly with the SX4. Nobody will confuse this car with a Corolla when sitting behind the wheel, as its been tuned for a sporty feel and has rather quick reflexes. Sure, it's no Civic Si or Cobalt SS, but it doesn't cost as much as either of those tuner cars and is more enjoyable to drive than its base-model competitors. The SX4 Sport's handling in particular always brought a smile to our faces. Although its limits are pretty low, getting the most from the chassis is extremely easy and you really need to do something truly boneheaded to get it out of shape.

Fuel economy is a big reason why people stick to this class of cars, and the Suzuki's EPA ratings of 22 city and 29 highway are noticeably lower than its main rivals from Honda and Toyota. Fortunately, there's an average fuel mileage display in the dash that proved very useful to tame our driving habits. Over the course of its stay in our garage, the SX4 Sport managed nearly 29 miles per gallon in mixed driving, which is really quite impressive considering that it's as enjoyable to drive as it is. Those who opt for the automatic actually benefit by one mile per gallon extra on the highway, though we've got to question whether that figure is as easy to achieve as it was with the stick.

We were genuinely impressed by the little Suzuki, and we'd seriously recommend the SX4 Sport to anybody looking for a small car that's a bit quirky and different from the mainstream competition. We'd probably opt for the Crossover, though, as its added practicality wouldn't take anything away from the platform's nice driving dynamics and looks better to our eyes. The standard navigation is really icing on the cake, as the car is competent enough to compete on level ground with the best from Japan, Korea and the United States. Factor in Suzuki's standard warranty, which includes powertrain coverage of 7-years or 100,000 miles, and the SX4 makes for a pretty compelling package.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs, Inc.

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