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By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

You've got to love (or laugh) at the crossover competition. Every carmaker on the lot is attempting to come up with the one vehicle that offers the best in two driving worlds: An SUV-looking shape with all-wheel drive capability, but much smaller in proportion and decent on the gas mileage.

That pretty much describes the 2008 Suzuki SX4, but with one more sparkling bonus – try $16,870 brand new.

The SX4 first made the scene in 2007, replacing the Aerio. The five-door hatchback SX4 I drove came with the 143-horsepower 2.0-liter engine. It had a 5-speed manual transmission and 3-mode all-wheel drive. Every single feature on my test drive was standard (or included) in the SX4 price: all-wheel drive; rear spoiler; fog lamps; keyless entry; power windows and locks; power heated mirrors; 6-disc CD player; 9 audio speakers; aluminum-accented roof rails; steering wheel audio controls; leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Suzuki is great at leading the way in terms of what should come standard for the consumer. In fact, next year navigation systems by Garmin, offering Bluetooth, weather, and a gas locator, will come standard.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: It's a compact – space is limited but the rear seats fold down for additional space. In addition windshield visibility is excellent from all angles. For a vehicle this small, it amazingly retains the shape of a sporty crossover rather than a compact car. Suzukis in general have gotten sleeker and less nerdy – I love their Grand Vitara. Branding is getting stronger.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The SX4 is a solid Suzuki choice. The SX4 has four and five-star crashing ratings for its class, but cars this small are never all that safe. Thus, the all-wheel drive feature is a bonus for stability during inclement weather. I like Suzuki's warranty: 100,000 miles/7-year powertrain warranty (whatever comes first); 24/7 roadside assistance; warranty repair courtesy car.

Cost Issues: There aren't many cars today you can get for $16,870 – and with all-wheel drive. If you compare it to the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa or Honda Fit, the all-wheel drive option is where the SX4 has an edge.

Activity & Performance Ability: For an engine with only 143-horsepower, I developed a lot of confidence during immediate acceleration situations – excellent grip and go – but next to nothing happened when flooring the SX4 at high-speed highway driving. With 16-inch wheels, you're unfortunately going to feel every bump on the road. Expect interior road noise at high speeds. This model offers anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control. You can keep the car in front drive or switch to all-wheel drive at the press of a button. All-wheel drive distributes 50 percent of the power to the back wheels. It's a fun little drive.

The Green Concern: With 21-mpg city and 28-mpg highway driving, you'll get an average of 21 to 22-mpg overall. This is a typical all-wheel drive gas mileage estimate when weighing in vehicle size and off-road components.

FINAL PARTING WORDS: Very simply put, if you're looking for an economical crossover that can park easily and reduce gas consumption in the city on the weekday, but drive up to the snowy mountains in a flash on the weekends, the SX4 is for you.

2008 Katrina Ramser