2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport
Conventional wisdom says that if you want decent performance and a fun-to-drive character in a compact sedan, it'll cost you, and you may end up in a subcompact rather than a compact if you can't meet that cost.
Suzuki ignores conventional wisdom with its SX4 Sport, the sedan derivative of its SX4 tall-hatchback/small crossover. In the current European/Asian styling idiom, it's tall and boasts a large passenger cabin, for far more interior room than its modest exterior size would lead your to believe. And the chassis tuning is very European, with a moderately firm suspension tuning that offers a great compromise between nimble handling and comfort on poorly-maintained roads. With a base MSRP ranging from $14,270 to $15,770 fully-equipped (plus add $625 for destination processing, and another $1,100 to replace the standard five-speed manual with a four-speed automatic if you must) the SX4 Sport undercuts its competitors in price, with no loss of space, comfort, amenities, build quality, or performance.
A 2.0-liter, 143-horsepower engine puts it at the top of the class in the power department, while still returning fine fuel economy - 27 mpg for my week, according to the trip computer. Trip computer? As in more expensive cars? Yes. While my test car was the top-of-the-line version with the comprehensive "Touring Package 2" option pack, even the base specification gets four-wheel antilock disc brakes, a full complement of airbags, including front seat side and full-length curtain, air conditioning, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3-WMA XM-ready audio system, and remote keyless entry with a security system. Not bad at all, especially for under $15k. Headroom is no problem, even in the back seat. And it's a real Japanese Suzuki, not a rebadged Korean Daewoo.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the SX4 Sport. Here in the United States, "performance Suzuki" brings to mind something with two wheels, while "four-wheeled Suzuki" inspires thoughts primarily of small SUVs like the Grand Vitara. Or perhaps subcompacts like the late Swift... which is "late" only on this side of the Atlantic, as the current version has a notable performance heritage in Europe. And for that market it, in slightly larger size, spawned the SX4. For the North American market, the SX4 gets more power and more features, cause for complaint only from the established players in the compact sedan class. The Suzuki SX4 may not be the first car to mind when thinking of a small sedan, but it's definitely worth a look.
APPEARANCE: In the lands where fuel is expensive and road space is at a premium - everywhere but North America - the dominant trend for small, inexpensive sedans and hatchbacks has been to grow in height for maximum space utilization. Such is the genesis of both varieties of SX4. "Longer, lower, wider" is nowhere to be seen, but the Sport is a good-looking vehicle regardless. Its lines are clean and uncluttered, with a short hood and trunk, oversized L-shaped headlights, and a rounded-trapezoid black-mesh grille featuring the Suzuki "S" among its distinguishing features. Most unusual are the side windows, which drop toward the front in the manner of some Italian exotics - or the old Suzuki Sidekick - for improved driver visibility. Also aiding visibility to the all-important front quarters are the small triangular windows between the leading edge of each front door and the A-pillars. Sporty "aero kit" extensions of the front and rear fascias and side sills visually lower the car, and oversized taillights add to style, safety, and visibility.
COMFORT: Tall people on a budget, rejoice! You need headroom? You've got it here. And good seats and a pleasant interior design. Yes, materials are unsurprisingly quality synthetics, with leather only for the steering wheel rim with the Convenience Package and above. But that wheel is tilt-adjustable, and in the upper trim levels includes cruise and auxiliary audio controls. Instrumentation is complete, and easily visible, with no gimmicks. Air conditioning and at least an AM/FM/CD/MP3-WMA audio system come standard in all trim levels, with upper ones having a 9-speaker audio system and automatic climate control. The front seats are moderately bolstered for support in enthusiastic driving (and looks). The rear seat cushion is a little higher than the fronts, for "theater seating", but there is still plenty of headroom back there. And legroom as well. Unusually, the rear seat does not fold. Presumably Suzuki figured Sport drivers would prefer the extra structural rigidity of a fixed bulkhead, with those potential customers who have cargo in mind directed to the SX4 Crossover. The Sport's trunk is large enough for most any normal car need.
SAFETY: The SX4 Sport has all of the safety features expected from a car costing twice its price. Crumple zones protect the front and rear, with reinforcement around the passenger cabin. Six airbags - dual front, front seat-mounted side, and full-length side curtain - further protect passengers. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and a tire-pressure monitoring system are also found in all examples. SX4s with the Touring Package 2 option group have the ESP electronic stability control system and traction control.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Compared to the SX4 Crossover, the Sport's MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension is a little firmer, lowered 10mm (0.4 inch), and features stabilizer bars and KYB sport shocks. Tires are speed-rated (and reasonably sticky) Dunlop SP Sport 7000s, size 205/50 VR17 on alloy rims, and brakes are four-wheel disc. The ride quality is still quite comfortable, even on "pavement" that hasn't seen maintenance since the muscle-car era, and cornering performance is much better than usual for a small, low-budget sedan. That benefits active safety as well as driving pleasure.
PERFORMANCE: It won't impress its two-wheeled cousins with names like GSX-R and Hayabusa, but the SX4 Sport is the most playful and energetic car in its price class. A two-liter twin-cam, 16-valve alloy four-cylinder engine sees to that, with 143 horsepower (at 5800 rpm) and 136 lb-ft of torque (at 3500 rpm) on tap. There is no fancy (and expensive) variable cam phasing, but it pulls fine from a standstill in lower gears, wakes up above 3000 rpm, and has a nice, and useable, top-end surge that comes online around 5000. Very good linkage for the standard five-speed manual transmission encourages use of the gears, as does a better than average pedal arrangement. Don't tell your insurance agent, but the "Sport" moniker is deserved. And it has no penalty at the pump. EPA estimates are 22 city and 30 highway. Split about 50/50 and with as much enthusiasm as I could manage on on- and off-ramps and the odd uncrowded road, I still got a 27mpg average.
CONCLUSIONS: The Suzuki SX4 Sport is a sporty and attractive newcomer in the low-budget compact sedan class.
SPECIFICATIONS 2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport
Base Price $ 15,770 Price As Tested $ 16,395 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.0 liters / x cu. in. Horsepower 143 @ 5800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 136 @ 3500 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 98.4 in. / 177.6 in. Curb Weight 2668 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.7 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 87-octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P205/50 VR17 Dunlop SP Sport 7000 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS and EBD standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam axle Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 30 / 27 0 to 60 mph 9.2 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES (base price includes Convenience Package: leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control and auxiliary audio controls, automatic climate control Touring Package 1 adds: upgraded audio with CD changer, front foglamps, rear spoiler Touring Package 2 adds: SmartPass(tm) remote fob with remote start, ESP, TCS) Destination charge $ 625