Thumbs Up: Reasonable performance, bargain price
Thumbs Down: Fuel economy could be better
Buy This Car If: You need basic transportation that won’t disappoint
Review enough cars, and it’s impossible not to become jaded. After a while, three-hundred-horsepower sport sedans feel “underpowered”, and luxury cars become disappointing if they don’t come equipped with all of the latest gadgetry. No lane departure correction, or heated and cooled massaging seats? Give the car a D-. It’s easy to lose sight that the vast majority of buyers aren’t in the market for a car that will hit sixty from a standstill in under four seconds, or give them more luxury and amenities than the presidential suite in a five-star hotel. Many buyers, especially today, are looking for the best bang for their buck on basic transportation.
If that’s what you’re after, and your taste runs to five door hatchbacks, you definitely need to give the 2011 Suzuki SX4 Sportback a look. My tester had a sticker price of just $17,369, yet it came well equipped with such features as cruise control, traction control, stability control, height adjustable seat belts, keyless entry, fog lamps, power windows and door locks, steering wheel audio controls and a trip computer. The engine was better than expected, cranking out a healthy 150 horsepower and foregoing an inexpensive timing belt in favor of a more durable timing chain. Even the warranty will surprise more than a few shoppers: Suzuki covers the powertrain for seven years or 100,000 miles, with no deductible. The warranty is fully transferable, too, which makes buying a used Suzuki even more attractive.
One thing you won’t get for your money is cutting-edge style. Suzuki adheres pretty closely to the traditional box-on-box format, but does dress up the SX4 with a small front air dam, side skirts and a diminutive roof spoiler. Although the SX4 follows a conventional design, it really doesn’t look like anything else on the market today. The shape is reminiscent of the late ‘80s Honda Civic, but it’s more streamlined and much less “boxy”. The SX4 isn’t ugly, but I’d stop short of calling it distinctive; no one will buy an SX4 because of its looks, but no one will be driven out of Suzuki dealerships due the SX4’s lines, either.
The interior manages to deliver more than I’d expect from an entry-level price point car. The seats are cloth, but I view that as a plus and not a negative; too many manufacturers are going with vinyl seats these days, and I’m not a huge fan of sitting on material that doesn’t breathe (no matter how durable it may be, or how much it may look like leather). The seat fabric in the SX4 is comfortable, well ventilated and appears to be durable, which is all I really expect from seats at this price point. Front seats are well bolstered, which may come in handy given the car’s reasonable horsepower and tossable handling.
The rear seats aren’t suited for spirited driving, since they lack any hip or side bolstering. They’re surprisingly roomy for two adults, and give a decent amount of both head and leg room. There’s a third seat belt and shoulder harness for middle passengers, but let’s be clear about one thing: the SX4 is a small car, and three adults aren’t going to be happy in the back seat for long.
As a hatchback, the SX4 gives you a fair amount of versatility for hauling cargo. With the rear seats in place, a rigid cargo cover keeps your stuff out of sight, but this can be easily removed if you need more room. The rear seats fold flat to accommodate oversized cargo, but the trunk well is deeper than the rear seat backs. That’s not a problem for hauling cargo, but don’t expect your dog to be too happy about the arrangement unless you make a few modifications.
The SX4’s dash was built to a price point, but still has style. Suzuki blends different textured plastics to make it more visually appealing, and aluminum trim is used to offset the center console. HVAC and radio controls are simple to operate, and Suzuki even offers a nav system on higher trim models. The instruments include a tachometer, speedometer, temp gauge, fuel gauge and trip computer, which is somewhat of a welcome surprise given the SX4’s price point. Even the leather-wrapped steering wheel, with its integrated cruise control and audio controls, feels like it belongs in a more expensive car.
All SX4 models come with Suzuki’s 2.0-liter four, good for 150 horsepower and 140 ft lb of torque. The car feels faster than it really is, perhaps due to its small size; zero to sixty comes up in about nine seconds, which is a little better than average for the class. Fuel economy, however, isn’t on par with other compact hatchbacks. The SX4 is rated at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, and my highway-centric driving yielded a measured fuel economy of 28.6 mpg.
On the road, “nimble” is the word that best describes the SX4 Sportback. All SX4 Sportback models come equipped with a sport suspension featuring KYB shocks, and it definitely contributes to the fun nature of the car. If I had to pan the handling at all, it would be for steering wheel feel: it’s too light, and doesn’t provide much in the way of driver feedback. The SX4 also feels like it has a high center of gravity, which could make quick left-right-left transitions interesting at speed. On the road, however, the car is well behaved and surprisingly fun to drive. Gear changes aren’t short, but they are precise and clutch take up is exceptionally smooth.
Like the Kizashi, the SX4 feels like it uses a particularly heavy flywheel. I’m guessing this is to make the SX4 easier to drive, or to make upshifts smoother, but it does hamper your ability to rev-match on downshifts until you get used to it. It’s not a big deal (and may actually help new drivers learn a manual transmission), but it does detract from the overall driving experience for those of us who know how to shift smoothly.
My 2011 Suzuki SX4 Sportback had a base price of $17,244, including a destination charge of $745. The sole option on my tester was a set of floor mats ($125), which boosted the “as equipped” price to $17,369. By comparison, a similarly equipped Toyota Matrix would sticker at $19,875, a comparable Nissan Versa SL would sell for $19,360 and the Kia Forte Hatchback EX comes in with a price tag of $17,590.
The only thing standing between Suzuki and a bigger presence in the US market is their lack of a sufficient dealer network. Their cars are competitive in both price and content, but finding a Suzuki dealer close to you may be a challenge. If you’re in the market for a five door hatch and are lucky enough to have a Suzuki dealer nearby, the SX4 Sportback is definitely worth a look.