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2010 Suzuki SX4 Test Drive
Bigger than it appears to be
By Chuck Reimer
There's more than meets the eye to the 2010 Suzuki SX4 JLX, a compact five-door hatchback. The Suzuki SX4 has been on sale in Canada for a number of years now and still most people, when told about it, didn't know what it was. Until they saw it, that is, at which point the general reaction was, "Oh that little car, I've seen those." That's often the reaction to almost any Suzuki vehicle on the road, the ones with four wheels anyways.
Suzuki is much more famous in North America for its sport bikes than their cars, but Suzuki vehicles seem to be more popular with Canadians than our southern friends. Generally speaking, most automakers sell approximately 10 times as many vehicles in the US as they do in Canada, but in Suzuki's case, American sales only outnumber Canada's by about four to one. Mind you, Suzuki is a very small player in both regions, so either sales number is pretty small.
The SX4 has been the brightest star in Suzuki's sales lineup since its introduction to Canada in 2008, holding the claim as the smallest and most fuel-efficient vehicle for sale in Canada available with AWD. For 2010 there were a few mechanical changes made to the little Suzuki, so we booked one for a test drive and spent some time with it. Our tester was an SX4 JLX with AWD and CVT transmission, finished in Copper Pearl Metallic with a dark grey cloth interior.
So you're in the market for a small car available with all-wheel drive, what are your options? Canada's winters can be tricky, so starting out with an AWD car is a choice more and more Canadians have been making, and even more so as more automakers roll out vehicles with this feature available for the taking. The thing is, there isn't really anything else quite like the SX4 out there. Everything else is bigger.
A few vehicles that come close and will have to act as competition are the Toyota Matrix, Jeep Patriot and Subaru Impreza, although it's debatable whether anyone would actually cross-shop these vehicles. Interestingly enough, at a starting price of $24,695, the Suzuki is actually the most expensive pick out of the above four vehicles. Figure that one out.
The styling of the SX4 certainly would not win any design awards, but it is not offending anyone either, so perhaps it falls into the middle-of-the-road category. One person described it as “a smart car that got caught in a taffy-puller.” And in a comical sort of way, that's not a bad description. In reality though, the SX4 is much bigger and eons more practical than a smart car.
The SX4 is quite a tall car with more than average ground clearance, which makes it look a little awkward. The SX4 Aero version with bigger wheels and a lower stance looks much more balanced, but that version isn't available with AWD, and for this test, that was half the reason for the trim choice. We'll get to the other half later, after we continue debating the styling.
The side of the car is quite slab-sided and uninteresting, but the front and rear show some styling characteristics that add some life into the mix. The boomerang-shaped headlights with fog lights underneath create a unique front fascia that from select angles almost looks fierce, in a determined, cute little alley-cat kind of way. Heading around to the back, the glass on the hatch continues around the side with blacked-out `D' pillars to create an interesting one-piece wrap-around look.
Score - 3/5
The interior of the car is where things make the most sense, and once inside you are greeted by an expanse of black or grey plastic that is textured to look like soft touch material, but isn't really. There is a piece of padded cloth on the door pulls that becomes quite a comfortable place to rest your arm and we appreciated that on the commute to work. The pull-down armrests on the other side of the seats, however, were not as appreciated, and for our seating position were actually fairly useless, as they tilt with the seatback instead of being constantly at a straight angle.
All the controls fall easily to hand and are well laid out, if maybe a little on the small side for some of the button/dial sizes. We measure the usability of controls by the ability to easily adjust anything while wearing a pair of driving gloves, and not everything passed the test with flying colours -- for example, the buttons on the steering wheel. We found ourselves reaching for the knob to adjust the stereo volume instead of using the redundant steering wheel buttons, which should have been more convenient.
The centre console was well designed though, with everything looking clean and well put together. The only things that seemed a little out of place were two pieces of aluminum-look plastic that flanked the centre stack, especially on sunny days when they reflected the sun straight into our eyes.
The automatic climate control is always a feature we like to see in vehicles, as it eliminates the need to keep fiddling with the temp controls to keep the vehicle at optimal comfort levels.
Score - 3/5
Settle into the driver's seat and the car that seemed so little on the outside suddenly feels quite big and spacious on the inside. The back seats are a little tight for full-size people, but unless the driver is lanky and needs room to stretch out her long legs, the seat can be moved forward enough to leave people adequate room in the back seat. The driver's seat is also height-adjustable, which wasn't really a big deal for us, but we understand that it could be important to some. The seats themselves are a little flat and certainly not plush, but comfortable enough to haul yourself around almost anywhere without the need to stop and take stretch breaks. The headroom available could be appealing to Texan-types, because you could probably wear your 10-gallon hat inside the car and still have room to spare.
The back seats as we mentioned are a little cosy, but considering the safety arrangements in the back, it was probably intended more for children than adults. The back seat has three spots for child-seat tether anchorage and two spots for ISO-FIX child safety seats, as well as childproof rear door locks. Sounds to us like they had a certain audience in mind when they designed these travel amenities. As tiny as the car appears from the outside, there is actually still some space behind the rear seats, and for those trips to IKEA, the back seats both fold down flat to provide plenty of space for a smattering of flat-load boxes, ready to provide hours of DIY fun!
Score - 4/5
Remember the mechanical changes we mentioned at the beginning? For 2010 the SX4 gets an optional CVT transmission for most trim levels, which comes as standard/only option on the JLX AWD. This is mated to an updated 2.0-litre DOHC with variable valve timing that creates an extra seven horsepower from last year's 143 total, as well as 140 lb-ft of torque.
Considering the vehicle weighs in at a svelte 1,357 kg/2,993 lb, we expected the SX4 to be peppy and fun to drive. Instead we got a vehicle that feels like it would rather just stay at home than go anywhere. The accelerator has a lot of travel and a feeling akin to stepping on a marshmallow, with similar results as well. Acceleration is anaemic at best and it seems as though the engine has a phobia for inclines. Setting the cruise control on the highway was an exercise in cruel and unusual punishment, or at least you would think so from the noise the engine made anytime you approached anything resembling an uphill grade.
What we decided then, was that the best way to experience the vehicle was at leisurely paces, where the car didn't have to try too hard. When we settled back and just let the SX4 putter along the way it felt most comfortable, it was almost instantly obvious that the SX4 is more of a city car than a highway cruiser.
Score - 2/5
The SX4 has part of a formula that you'd see in cars that handle well: (relatively) light weight, short wheelbase and quick, precise steering. It is sort of like a Mini Cooper, but taller. When you took it around a corner, it started tugging at the corners of your mouth, tempting you to smile. The suspension is very well dialled-in to soak up the bumps while never feeling too soft, yet it holds the car fairly level around quick corners. It wasn't really designed to be tossed around, but every once in a while, we still liked to flick the wheel at the last minute around a corner and hang on as the car changed direction before it knew what was going on. If it weren't for the seatbelts holding us in place, we would have ended up sitting in the passenger seat, as the seats are not bolstered in the least and don't hold you in place at all.
The only gripe we could come up with in this category was the car's turning circle. Parking lots should fear little cars like this, but we were shocked to find ourselves making a three-point turn on a country back road instead of just pulling a U-turn.
The SX4 features an intelligent all-wheel drive system that when left in Auto mode, acts like a front-wheel drive unit until power is needed at the rear wheels. We wished for a brief moment that it was still winter so we could have some snow available to test the AWD system, but then we came to our senses.
Score - 3/5
Suzuki says the SX4 JLX uses dino juice to the tune of 8.9 litres/100 km city/6.9 highway, an estimate that we found to be a little generous, at least if you would assume that a mix of driving should land you in the middle of these claims. After a week with the Suzuki, we came away with an average of 8.9 litres/100 km. Part of this measure can probably be attributed to the all-wheel drive system, as well as the heavy right foot that we seem to inexplicably be carrying around at all times. We wouldn't call this fabulous fuel economy for a vehicle this size, but then again most people buying this model probably wouldn't drive it the way we did.
One real complaint against the SX4 in AWD trim is that for some reason, the fuel tank shrinks. Standard fuel tank size in any other trim level is 50 litres, but in the AWD, which is a thirstier vehicle, the fuel tank only holds only 45 litres. Somehow that doesn't strike us as logical, but what would we know?
Score - 3/5
What it lacks in responsiveness and fuel efficiency, the SX4 makes up in occupant safety. Suzuki has found room to cram the car chock full of safety goodies, like six airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability control and more. As previously mentioned, it has made sure the back seat is a very safe place for your children or grandchildren, with plenty of child-seat fasten-alls and what-nots to make sure your kids stay right where they're supposed to. (Too bad it can't also make them behave while they're back there.)
Score - 5/5
The SX4 is a competent little car with lots of things to love, and some things that aren't quite as endearing. It may not be a favourite among young people, but things like the higher ride height, easy ingress/egress and all-wheel drive could make it likable for the older crowd looking for an affordable, safe vehicle to get them around town.
The base price in front-wheel drive trim with a manual transmission is $17,695 for the Hatchback Base. The tested model, the top-of-the-line JLX with AWD and the CVT transmission is $24,695. The mid-level JX model sits in between these prices. Destination and delivery add $1,395.
Suzuki also offers a sedan version of the SX4.
In a direct comparison to the vehicles mentioned earlier though, one might have a hard time coming up with a convincing argument to pick the smaller, more expensive SX4 over some of its competition, such as the Subaru Impreza or the Toyota Matrix.
The fuel economy is better in the SX4, but you'll give up some usable space to get it, so we'd have to say it comes down to your priorities. Do you value fuel economy as the peanut butter to your safety jam?
As the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicle available with all-wheel-drive in Canada today, the Suzuki SX4 hatchback is a pretty solid choice to get you from point A to point B.
Total score - 6.6/10
- Plenty of safety features
- Spacious, usable interior
- Smaller and more expensive than competition
- Not very fuel efficient for a small vehicle
- Lack of acceleration and passing power
Chuck Reimer's story previously appeared on AutoNorth.ca. Updated and posted on CarTest.ca April 27, 2010.