Drive – Suzuki SX4 Review

25 Aug 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Drive – Suzuki SX4 Review

Bruce Newton

Suzuki SX4

Nothing new: The Suzuki SX4 has a unique all-wheel-drive system on its side, but fails to really stand out.

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Cross hatch

The SX4 is one of the first examples of a new breed of compact hatchbacks that look like cars but also offer a little extra ride height and all-wheel-drive grip.

The idea is that they are able to cross over into different segments of the market. The command driving position attracts small-car buyers and the more manoeuvrable and burbs-friendly size woos shoppers away from compact SUVs.

The Subaru Impreza has been doing the same sort of thing for years. The Nissan Dualis, which was previewed at the Melbourne International Motor Show just over a week ago and goes on sale later this year, also fits the bill.

The SX4 has been on sale since February 1, but for the moment the range is limited to just one model. Indications are that overseas demand will leave Australians waiting longer for their cars. It comes with all-wheel-drive, six airbags and a proximity key that allows you to lock and unlock the doors and start the car with the key in your pocket – Suzuki claims it as a first-in-class feature.

The price for all this, some extra suspension travel and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine wrapped up in a five-door hatchback body is $24,390. That’s the introductory price and it’s likely to rise once Suzuki starts fleshing out the range with two-wheel-drive and sedan variants.

For now, this version is the only choice, and its pricing places it out of reach of the small-car bargain hunters – hence the rather mundane 1.8-litre Liana continues on – and pitches it directly against the base model Impreza 2.0i.

The Impreza offers the boxer four-cylinder engine design and superior badge credibility. But the similarities between the two cars are undeniable, as is the Suzuki’s competitiveness.

Its all-wheel-drive system is called i-AWD. Operating via an electronically controlled wet-type multiplate clutch coupling, it allows the driver the choice of front-wheel-drive, an all-wheel-drive auto mode or lock. All three modes are selected via a rocker switch mounted on the centre console.

Auto allows torque to be split automatically between front and rear wheels, increasing or decreasing to match traction. Lock means torque is provided to the rear wheels from start-up. At 60km/h it reverts to auto.

On dry bitumen there’s no point driving SX4 as anything other than a front-wheel-drive. It grips decently, handles benignly and is at its most fuel-economic. Suzuki claims an 8.7-litre average for the five-speed manual and 9.5L/100km for the optional ($2000) four-speed auto.

Driving the manual, we managed just a tad over 10.0L/100km – quite a solid achievement considering the SX4’s short-geared J20A engine and the 1285-kilogram kerb weight.

The switch to auto can be achieved on the run and this makes a lot of sense in rain, on gravel and when constantly swapping surfaces. It certainly works quickly and efficiently. Plant the foot on dirt and drive is quickly and efficiently diverted from the front to rear wheels.

What becomes obvious when driving this way – using the throttle hard – is that the engine is quite noisy and tends to start vibrating. It will rev beyond 6000 rpm, but there’s no real point as it does its best work between about 2500 rpm and 5000 rpm.

It is a better version than that previously sampled in the Grand Vitara. No doubt a variable intake manifold helps here. The manual gearbox is a neat and clean shift and the clutch action well weighted and co-operative.

In fact, the SX4 is better than you expect without actually being particularly good at anything. If there are notable weaknesses they are the rear suspension’s tendency to crash through on broken bitumen and an annoying amount of wind noise around the A-pillar.

The interior is a simple and straightforward Suzuki design. It feels a little lightweight, a tad flimsy – one of the air-conditioning dials fell off – and there is none of the elan that fellow Japanese like Honda and Mazda present in their interiors.

But plenty of storage opportunities compensate. There are door pockets with cupholders, a storage tray under the front passenger seat, a couple of bins in the centre stack and a decent glovebox. In the back there is one seat pocket and two door bottle-holders.

The rear seats split-fold and flip forward to increase the limited boot space. A mountain bike just fits in with its front wheel removed.

There is space for two adults in the rear – but little headroom – and the driver might get tired of knees poking into his back through the soft seat-back.

The driver might also wish for more width and support in the seat backrest, although cushion size seems about right. The three-spoke steering wheel includes controls for the audio and cruise control – a system that works very well, holding the car effectively downhill.

Cruise is part of a decent but hardly compelling equipment list. Obvious omissions are stability control, a full-size spare tyre and steering wheel reach adjustment.

Something more esoteric is missing and that’s character. The SX4 is competent without inspiring an emotional response. Suzuki can do such vehicles – look at the popular Swift.

Add in pricing above the bargain basement and the SX4 could struggle for attention.

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