14 Oct 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on SUZUKI SX4|

Jez Spinks

Suzuki SX4 pseudo-SUV

Suzuki will launch its biggest passenger car yet (the mid-sized Kizashi) in May, but for now the Japanese brand has unfinished business in the small-car segment.

While the Swift continues to kick goals in the light car market with a 10 per cent share, the company’s SX4 has struggled to penetrate a formidable defence that comprises the likes of the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Mitsubishi Lancer.

Suzuki Australia, however, believes it can double sales of the SX4 with its first major update since its January 2007 launch.

Cosmetic changes, though, are as minor as they come (mostly a revised grille); Suzuki says fuel efficiency improvements brought by an updated drivetrain plus improved safety features will instead be the key to transforming the SX4’s local sales form.

Suzuki says differentiation from most competitors also remains a vital element, so the vehicle retains its pseudo-SUV styling, elevated ride height and choice of front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive or models.

It’s not a surprise the launch drive through Victoria’s Yarra Valley incorporated long stretches of dirt and gravel roads to show off the AWD version’s simple yet effective electronic all-paw hardware.

Fling the SX4 into a corner at a slight angle, apply some opposite lock then press hard on the throttle pedal and the system recognises the front wheels don’t have sufficient purchase on the surface and more torque is sent to the rear wheels to help propel the car out of the corner.

Any rally driver will tell you that torque, rather than power, is king for such scenarios and the SX4 now has a little more to work with.

The revised 2.0-litre four-cylinder gains a lighter, alloy cylinder block, variable valve timing and a higher compression ratio that results in slightly increased outputs of 112kW (up 5kW) and 190Nm (up 6Nm).

The engine is still not the most refined in the small-car field, either, though it’s a willing unit that teams most effectively with the new continuously variable transmission (replacing a conventional four-speed auto) that dispenses with fixed gear ratios.

Combined with either a new six-speed manual or that ($2000 extra) CVT auto, fuel economy improvements vary between 10 and 17 per cent depending on which model is chosen from a range consisting of hatchback (AWD or FWD) and sedan (FWD only) body styles.

The front-drive hatch and sedan manuals are the thriftiest at 7.3L/100km, the auto AWD hatch the least frugal at 8.0L/100km. The improvements are welcome, though the SX4 is still thirstier than some rivals that are both bigger and heavier.

With no changes to the SX4’s steering or suspension, the small Suzuki also doesn’t address some issues regarding its ride quality and handling.

The rear suspension can still be ruffled by mid-corner bumps, while bumps and potholes are not absorbed as well as they could be on typical Australian country roads.

Tyre noise is minimal, but wind noise becomes noticeable as speeds rise.

The SX4 is reasonably fun to drive on winding bitumen roads, particularly with the AWD version that provides better traction out of corners. But the steering is gluggy and vague, while the SX4 lacks the poise and sharpness of a Mazda3 or VW Golf.

The driving position is a ‘sit-on’ rather than ‘sit-in’ affair, and the steering wheel adjusts for height but not reach. Some buyers will find appeal in the seats that are more elevated than in your average small car, and the SX4 doesn’t feel cramped.

More storage options would be welcome, and rock-hard plastics dominate an interior that still lacks inspirational design despite some minor updates to the dash.

There’s decent space in the rear, though, considering the hatch’s 4.1-metre length(4.5m for the sedan), with the tall-body design providing generous headroom. The boot is quite small, though, but features a secondary compartment under the flat cargo floor.

Value remains strong, with only a minor price increase for the revised two-tier range that starts at $20,490 for the front-drive hatch, $23,490 for the (best-selling) AWD hatch, and $23,990 for the front-drive-only sedan.

The base model FWD hatch sacrifices four airbags (to feature front airbags only) for the sake of being a price leader model, but all SX4s now come standard with stability control.

Stepping up to the S trim level – for another $3000 – brings the extra four airbags, 17-inch alloys (16s for AWD, though), cruise control, climate control, leather-covered steering wheel, foglights and nine-speaker audio.

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