First Drive: 2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2012.
By Jim Hall of Road & Track
Washington D.C. — Mention the phrase "Japanese auto manufacturer," and the word "Suzuki" most likely won't roll off the tongue (although it might if we change this word association to "Japanese motorcycle manufacturer"). But, believe it or not, the company has built more than 35 million cars since it first began to churn them out back in 1955, and perhaps even more impressive, the division has posted a profit in every year of its existence.
While Suzuki might fly under the radar for some, our subject today — the all-new SX4 Sport — won't be as stealthy. For folks in the market for a stylish, distinctive, yet bargain-basement-priced sedan, this one just might be a keeper.
Based on the 5-door SX4, this sedan has a price tag starting at $14,770 (destination and handling, $625), nearly $1400 under Japanese stalwarts like the Nissan Sentra S and $2000 less than the Honda Civic LX and the Toyota Corolla S. While the others come equipped with 15- or 16-in. steel wheels, the SX4 sports 17-in. alloys and 4-wheel disc brakes instead of the triplet's disc/drum combo. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes and side curtain airbags front and rear are standard; air conditioning and remote entry also are on the equipment list.
Upgrades include a $500 convenience package that has cruise control, heated outside mirrors, climate control, plus audio controls on the steering wheel that can toggle through your iPod. And a $1000 touring package (available only on top of the convenience package) further indulges and protects the occupants with a 9-speaker, 380-watt 6-disc audio system with subwoofer along with electronic stability and traction-control systems.
The 143-bhp 2.0-liter inline-4 features an aluminum block, head, pistons and intake manifold and does a yeoman's job with less buzz and vibration than its contemporaries. Overall, it's pretty refined and feels torqueier than others in the segment, due in part to the engine producing its peak 136 lb.-ft. of torque at a relatively low 3500 rpm. Clutch take-up is smooth and solid-feeling, and the throttle pedal is sensitive to even slight movements of foot; no on/off switch, this.
According to the manufacturer, the SX4 Sport's 0-60-mph time of 10.2 seconds slots in between the 2.0-liter-powered Mazda3 (9.8 sec.) and the Sentra (10.5 sec.) but nips both in the handling, braking, skidpad and slalom tests. The steering is sharp — less than three turns, lock-to-lock — the chassis feels solid, and the suspension is firm but not harsh.
What really sets the SX4 Sport apart from its competition are strong character lines in the pronounced wheel arches, an angled beltline and neat side window panes in front of the mirrors, all courtesy of the company's European design studios. And though the greenhouse looks normal from the outside (not excessively large), there's a remarkably panoramic view from the inside looking out. The interior is nicely done with quality materials, tight panel fits and laudable ergonomics.
A couple of bugaboos: While some drivers remarked positively of the shifter's smooth nature, our car seemed to have a slight detent in its linkage (all of the cars on hand were early pre-production models, so this may have been an anomaly). And for outdoor enthusiasts who prefer weekend adventures in the snow or ice, the standard all-wheel drive from the 5-door is not available on the Sport.