2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack Review


2010 Suzuki SX4
 (select to view enlarged photo)
2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack

SEE ALSO: Suzuki Research Tools

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack

When you think of small, sporty cars the first brand to pop into your mind is probably not Suzuki. On four wheels, the Japanese manufacturer is best known in this country for small sport-utilities, like the Grand Vitara and Sidekick that came before it. The "sport" side of Suzuki is better known from the two-wheeled lineup, with serious machinery like the GSX-R series and Hayabusa, the world's fastest production motorcycle.

But... narrowly-focused product lines don't bode well for success, especially in uncertain economic times. As the Suzuki two-wheel lineup has had more to it than production racers (like some nice dual-sport DRs and sport-touring V-Stroms), so the four-wheel side has had more than trucks. Small sedans and wagons have been offered for years, and the SX4 crossover made its debut in model year 2007. Following that was the SX4 Sport sedan, a unique, and from my experience successful, take on the difficulty of combining a small footprint and low price with a good amount of interior space and a fun-to-drive character.

How to follow that? Well... since a crossover is really merely a tall wagon -- or tall four-door hatchback in the case of the SX4 -- if it's lowered a bit and given a more sport-oriented suspension calibration ("Eurocentric" says Suzuki) and some cosmetic modifications, and a new, more powerful and economical engine matched to either a six-speed manual or CVT transmission, it becomes a sporty hatchback. Like the SX4 Sport sedan, the SportBack trades the crossover's all-wheel drive system for front-wheel drive only. Product Development 101, really.

Pitfalls await on that path, though. Silk purses don't come from sow's ears, no matter how much marketing, um, muscle, is spewed. There have been far too many small "sport"models in the past that have had the look, only. The SX4 SportBack is not one of those. It has the look, in a pleasantly understated way, and it has the muscle to back that up. And it has an exceptionally complete list of standard equipment that could, if from established competitors, push the price through the roof. Standard fare includes not just power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks, but a keyless start/stop, a good climate-control system, cruise control, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/auxiliary input audio system with optional XM satellite radio, a trip computer, and, like other SX4 models, an integrated navigation system.

I spent a week with a pre-production SX4 SportBack a few months ago, and now that the car is readily available the story can be told. Put simply, the new kid on the block offers a fine mix of enthusiastic character and sprightly performance with a very useful amount of space for the right price. "Value" is a much-misused word in the auto industry, but does legitimately apply here. And the SX4 SportBack is not merely a car that will be bought on price alone, it can hold its own against anything in the class -- and some more expensive hot hatches as well. Suzuki is a name to watch on four wheels as much as on two.

APPEARANCE: How to turn a crossover into a hot hatch? Ditch the roof rack in favor of a small visor-type spoiler at the rear, increase the wheel size and decrease tire sidewall height, add subdued "aero kit" front air dam and side sills, and lower the suspension a bit. For a minimal investment on Suzuki's part, the car is transformed. A slightly rounded two-box design, it's still high by American standards, for good interior space. The tall greenhouse also offers very good visibility, improved further by Suzuki's trademark low side window line and front quarter windows, and the strong shoulder lines give a handsome look.

COMFORT: That tall greenhouse means excellent headroom, and the large glass area ensures great visibility. The upright seating position is comfortable and allows easy access for anyone, young or old. Interior styling and materials are typical for the small sport compact class, with a simple hooded instrument cluster with easily-visible backlit gauges in front of the driver and a prominent center stack with audio and climate systems. Since my test car was pre-production, there was no navigation system fitted. Seats are moderately firm, with grippy cloth upholstery. The leather-rimmed steering wheel has cruise and auxiliary audio controls, just like in a luxury-sports car costing significantly more, with shift paddles (for the automatic) mounted behind the horizontal spokes, downshift on the left and up on the right. The SportBack's crossover heritage can be seen in the number and size of the various useful interior storage spaces. They work just as well here. Rear seat room is among the best in class, with headroom nearly unlimited and knees and legs well provided for. The rear bench is split 60/40 for extra cargo duty when needed, with the excellent access given by the four-door hatchback body style. A retractable cargo cover hides items that should be hidden, as does a small space under the load floor.

SAFETY: The Suzuki SX4 SportBack has a reinforced unibody structure with front and rear crumple zones to protect passengers. Advanced front, front seat-mounted side, and full-length side curtain airbags offer further protection. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, ESP stability control with traction control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system are also standard equipment.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Suspension tuning 1A: to improve cornering ability, lower the ride height, stiffen the shocks, add stabilizer bars front and rear, and use larger, stickier rubber. Compared to the SX4 Crossover, the SportBack is lowered 15mm (about 0.6 inch) and gets firmer shocks and stabilizer bars, plus 205/50 VR17 Dunlop tires on alloy wheels. The result is smile-producing handling, and the ride quality is still quite good, even on poor pavement. Note that although the ride height is lower, there is still over six inches of clearance, so potholes and debris are minimal worries.

PERFORMANCE: As previously, the SX4 has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But it's an all-new powerplant, related to the 2.4-liter engine in Suzuki's new Kizashi flagship sedan. A dual overhead cam, 16-valve design in aluminum alloy, it makes 150 horsepower at 6200 rpm matched to a six-speed manual or 148 at 6000 with the CVT, with 140 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm for a strong and useful midrange. The stick would be my choice, but my test car had the CVT. And it was surprisingly quick, and pleasantly smooth and quiet. No, it's not the fastest thing on four wheels - but as the old saying goes, it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow. Not that the SportBack is slow, except maybe compared to a Hayabusa... No worries merging into aggressive traffic, and good handling and strong four-wheel disc brakes with ESP and traction control to keep things under control.

CONCLUSIONS: The Suzuki SX4 SportBack is low in budget and high in value and character. >

SPECIFICATIONS
2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack

Base Price			$ 17,949
Price As Tested			$ 19,959
Engine Type			dohc aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.
Horsepower			148 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			140 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission			CVT (optional)
Wheelbase / Length		98.4 in. / 162.8 in.
Curb Weight			2822 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.0
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				Dunlop SP Sport 700 P205/50R17 88V
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut/
				  torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		23 / 30 / 25
0 to 60 mph				est 9.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

CVT transmission			$ 1100
Floor mats & cargo net			$  175
Destination charge			$  735

SEE ALSO: Suzuki Research Tools

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