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2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Suzuki SX-4

SUZUKI SX4 AWD for 2007
A Bargain Crossover SUV
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

I remember vividly banging through the narrow blacktop roads in the hills of St. John, USVI in a rented Suzuki Samurai rescuing a lost yellow cat we found on a deserted beach. (I’ll share that travel story with you one of these days.)The Samurai was a little Jeepy thing that was fun and competent on pavement and the dirt. British heritage on these Caribbean islands means that we had to drive on the wrong side of the road – the left, that is. Getting acclimated to that was hard enough if it weren’t for native trucks that were way too big for these little roads crowding us lowly tourists off nearly into the ditch. Well, I didn’t hit the ditch but a couple of times barely avoided sideswiping these trucks. That Suzuki was tiny enough to squeeze through.

This week’s Suzuki SX4 is sort of tiny too – at least on the outside. The moniker means it’s a sporty little all-weather crossover SUV. The cute little thing in pure red sits in my driveway with a snow squall slowly turning it white. Not to worry - this little squirt comes standard with three-mode all-wheel-drive.

There’s something a bit VW Rabbit-like to its stance and ambiance. It’s a four-door with full-hatch in the rear that opens to reveal about 16-cu-ft of cargo area behind the second seats. With the seat backs flopped forward we could fit 22 cu-ft of stuff in there but if we pull the seats right out we’d have about 54 cu ft of space. The rear seats take up quite a bit of room even when folded. Still this is an efficient package for people and cargo.

Ingress and egress are very easy through the front doors. I barely have to scrunch – just slide right in. This Suzuki looks fresh and modern inside with a nicely trimmed center stack featuring simple large controls and vertical metal trip strips. Materials do not look cheap or tawdry at all. The fabric seats are comfortable and plenty firm. Fit and finish are good. I find nothing to complain about inside.

Not only does the SX4 come standard with AWD but lots of other content we’ve come to think of as essential comes standard as well. Features like: power windows, locks and mirrors, tilt steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system, AC, front and side air bags, ABS, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, trip computer, 16-inch alloy wheels with all-weather Bridgestones, remote keyless entry, roof rails and below-the-bumper trim front and rear. None of that stuff costs extra on this $14,999 sticker. In fact there is not even a charge for destination or handling. For $1,000 extra we could have a 4-speed automatic transmission that results in an extra mpg on each end of the spectrum. When I told my pretty blonde the price she said, “Let’s get one of these.”

The three-mode all-wheel-drive allows us a setting for just front-wheel-drive if we just want economy, automatic mode if we want the all-wheel-drive kicking in and out as needed when wheel spin is sensed, or locked-into four-wheel-drive if we want all the wheels pulling all the time. The system is controlled with a little rocker switch between the front seats. I pushed it on the new snow in the automatic mode with no perceptible wheel spin.

Power comes from a buzzy 2.0-liter four-banger developing 143 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque. That’s more power than most other competitors in this class but as a result the fuel mileage is a bit less as well. EPA estimates show 23-mpg city and 28-mpg highway. The trip computer shows a cumulative average of 23.3-mpg, though I’m not sure how long that figure has been calculating. I tried to reset it, but it didn’t work. With a little 11-gallon fuel tank the range is barely over 200 miles. I don’t like that much.

Acceleration is reasonably quick but certainly nothing to write home about. Our chunky 5-speed manual is fun but not especially smooth. In fact, it’s difficult to release the go-pedal quickly enough to prevent an obnoxious little surge of rpm on every shift. I wonder if the friction point on the clutch is a bit high. It wasn’t obviously so, but modulating shifts smoothly was not easy.

Handling is good. Suspension is independent in front with McPherson struts and semi-independent in rear with a torsion beam system. I didn’t feel comfortable diving too hard into a 90-degree turn but I confidently pushed it hard through our freeway cloverleaf entrance. I managed to get up to speed expeditiously in time to beat the 18-wheeler that was bearing down on me.

At the SX4’s media preview at the New York Auto Show about a year ago Suzuki’s VP of marketing and PR is quoted as saying, “The SX4 is truly the cross-trainer of compacts.” Notwithstanding that marketing hyperbole the SX4 is certainly a good performer in an array of categories, particularly price, but I find nothing particularly athletic about it.

At less than 15-grand, considering the quality and content of the SX4 I’d call it a first-rate value with enough fun that we won’t easily get bored. Fairly gratifying to drive full-throttle, we find it tough taking it to red-line because of the feeling that we’re abusing it. That little four is just too wheezy. At 2,800 lbs the SX4 weighs a tad more than its immediate competitors. But with more horsepower, AWD and a wider stance we won’t complain about that.

My only other complaint would be that the radio reception is a bit weak. I tend to listen mostly to an FM station from about 60 miles to the southeast. Most car radios pull that station in fine at my place then begin to fade by the time I get 15 to 20 miles west. Well, this Suzuki’s radio is OK in my driveway but starts to fade out within a few miles west.

When we compare it to the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Scion xB, I’d put the SX4 on the high side of that grading curve, particularly with the 100,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty.

While researching this piece I found some speculation that Suzuki may be working on a 320-hp turbo version for World Rally Championship competition. Now that would be a real hoot - to give Subaru WRX a run for its money.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved