2009 Suzuki SX4
Suzuki is still more well-known for making motorcycles than cars. But despite only controlling a small percentage of the car market, Suzuki has been slowly building credibility by offering solid econo-cars that deliver much more than you’d expect from the price tag. Prime example: Suzuki has recently been marketing the SX4 crossover as a Mini Cooper alternative. But beyond a similar “cuteness” does the SX4 really offer a similar driving experience at a “mini” price?
Styling and Interior
SX4 Interior Utility
Presenting the SX4 crossover as a Mini competitor is not an easy sell. To begin with, the “crossover” designation is thrown around freely in the auto world, often with little to no actual meaning. Nevertheless, the SX4 contains several features not available on the Mini. For one, despite the hatchback, the SX4 also has four doors. That is either a nice inclusion of additional space and convenience or a spoiling of the sportiness inherent to cars with only two. To its credit, despite being longer than a Honda Fit, the SX4 does not come off as a grocery hauler nearly as much, but successfully maintains its pocket rocket status in appearance. Have no illusions however, although the SX4 manages to hold an impressive amount cargo, especially with the rear seats folded flat, interior space is not exactly cavernous. Still, in a pinch the back seat can certainly accommodate passengers as well, if not better, than the Mini. While most critics are decidedly pleased with the support and general feel and comfort of the interior, function is clearly of primary importance judging by the preponderance of gray and plastic.
The second major feature, and certainly the most impressive, is the optional all-wheel-drive. A small button on the console engages the AWD to direct up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels either automatically when wheel slippage is detected or maintains a constant amount of torque to all wheels the car is in deep snow or mud. Otherwise the car operates in 2WD. Available AWD is only the start of the driving and safety extras Suzuki provides. Handling is further enhanced with the inclusion of standard stability control, traction control, four wheel disc and anti-lock brakes. Front seat-mounted side impact and side-curtain air bags, as well as16-inch alloy wheels are standard. Whatever else may be said about the SX4, Suzuki deserves credit for including such features not available on most cars offered in this segment.
Speaking of high-end features, the SX4 also offers a surprisingly well thought out navigation system that levitates up out of the dash. While the size of the screen is on the smallish side, the program itself is easy to use and program. Power is provided by a 2-liter, 142 horsepower 4 cylinder coupled through a tight 5-speed manual. 142 horses don’t sound like much, but it is plenty for the SX4 and drivers are nicely rewarded with 21/28 mpg in city and highway driving WITH AWD engaged. Still, 0-60 mph takes a rather lengthy 9 seconds. About a half a second longer than the base Mini and two and half seconds slower than the Cooper S. Driving in FWD pushes the numbers up slightly. Those that have long despaired at the mediocrity of Suzuki automotive engines in comparison to their motorcycle brethren should be impressed by the SX4. On the road, SX4 easily negotiates through snow with ease with the AWD engaged. The fully-independent suspension offers a smooth if not sporty ride. The relatively tall profile of the SX4 contributes to some of the insecurity in cornering that experienced in twisty driving, but not so much as to be a major negative.
Starting out a little over $15,000, the SX4 is the least expensive AWD vehicle in America. With the navigation system an AWD SX4 starts out at $16,789. An automatic transmission adds $1,100. Also included in the Technology package are steering wheel-mounted audio controls and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A Touring package includes automatic climate control, keyless start proximity key, heated side mirrors, six-disc in-dash CD change, heated front seats, fog lamps, rear spoiler and a nine-speaker upgraded audio. Even fully loaded, an SX4 is still below $20,000. All Suzuki’s come with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
In the final analysis, comparing the SX4 to a Mini is really not fair to either car. The Mini is still a more spirited ride, but the SX4 may be the more practical choice for those that need a little more space, AWD or have a smaller budget to shop with.
SX4 In-Dash Navigation