2012 Suzuki SX4 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 20, 2012

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 remains the lowest-priced car with all-wheel drive, and it's one of the best small-car values for the money.

With two roomy, well-designed body styles, a perky driving feel, and lots of features for the money, the 2012 Suzuki SX4 remains one of the stronger small-car entries for value-conscious shoppers--and one of the most often-overlooked possibilities for comparison shoppers.

The 2012 SX4 is available in several different configurations, as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. Both SX4 Sedan and SX4 SportBack (hatchback) models are front-wheel drive, but the hatchback is also offered in SX4 Crossover guise; as such, the SX4 is the lowest-priced new car with all-wheel drive.

We tend to think that the SX4 works best, design-wise, in either of its hatchback forms; the silhouette of the Suzuki SX4 sedan can appear a little too pert and truncated at the back, giving it an anonymous, rather tall-and-narrow look (and greater anonymity in parking lots); both the SX4 Crossover and its sportier front-wheel-drive twin, the SX4 SportBack, are more distinctive. Inside, the instrument panel is upright and businesslike yet sporty, and while materials are on the hard-and-cheap side, they're a bit more impressive than in other affordable rivals thanks to judicious use of textures and just a little bit of brightwork.

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Compared to most other on-a-budget subcompact cars, the 2012 Suzuki SX4 is simply more enjoyable to drive. Both versions of the 2011 Suzuki SX4 come standard with a 150-horsepower version of Suzuki's 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, along with a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Models with the manual gearbox are especially strong and zippy, and the CVT escapes the acceleration drone that plagues larger four-cylinder models with this type of transmission. Suzuki's Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive (I-AWD) system is standard on the Crossover, whereas the SportBack, the entry Sedan, and the fancier Sport sedan make do with simpler front-wheel drive. Handling and maneuverability is impressive throughout the lineup, and with decent outward visibility, the SX4 is easy to park. The SX4's least desirable trait is fuel economy, though; EPA ratings run just 25 mpg city, 32 highway with the CVT or 23/33 with the six-speed manual.

Front seats in the SX4 are well-bolstered, with a nice, upright position--better than typical for a budget-priced small car, and while the seat fabric is far from elegant, it's comfortable and seems durable. In back, theater-style elevated seating gives both more legroom and a less claustrophobic feeling; there's enough space for two adults in a pinch. One of the key differences between the two body styles is that the sedan has a roomy trunk, while the shorter overall length of hatchbacks means that cargo space is limited--unless you're not planning to carry rear passengers and can fold the rear seatbacks. Ride quality is on the firm side but comfortable; the only aspect that isn't as charming are that the engine gets quite coarse when pressed. Wind noise and even road noise aren't bad.

While safety ratings for the SX4 haven't been particularly impressive, features certainly are, and most of the models are very strong value for the money. For 2012, Suzuki SX4 Sedan models get an upgrade to four-wheel disc brakes across the lineup (formerly rear drums), and a Garmin navigation with voice recognition is available throughout the model line (standard on the Sedan and optional on other models). With a Technology Package, the system includes Google search, plus real-time traffic and weather.

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2012 Suzuki SX4

Styling

Drive a silver 2012 Suzuki SX4 sedan, and you may lose it because it's so average, but the five-door hatchback model--with or without all-wheel drive--is far more visually distinctive.

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 line has two rather different models. The sedan has a boxy, upright trunk at the rear, making it seem rather tall for the rest of its lines--but it will still fade into utter anonymity among the small silver sedans found in any suburban parking lot.

The two five-door hatchback models, however, the all-wheel drive Crossover and its sportier front-wheel drive twin, the SportBack, are far more distinctive. The dropped front beltline, bobbed tail, and almost wagon-like profile is unusual and memorable. The sportier half of the duo adds a few subtle bits of aero trim, a slightly lower suspension, and foregoes the roof rack found on the taller and butcher all-wheel drive contender.

The interior of both body styles is conventional Asian subcompact, circa mid-2000s, but the lines and trim materials look a bit more upscale than you'd expect from the sticker price. A recent addition is aluminum surround trim, and we particularly liked the large, knurled knobs that control the ventilation system--no sliding levers or up and down buttons to push. They're intuitive, simple, and easy to use.

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2012 Suzuki SX4

Performance

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 front-wheel drive models handle well and feel nimble behind the wheel, while the taller, heavier all-wheel drive Crossover is biased more toward all-weather traction.

Considering its low price, the 2012 Suzuki SX4 delivers more driving enjoyment than most budget small cars. The roadholding is good, the car is easily tossed through corners, and the all-wheel drive model remains the least expensive way to get four-wheel traction.

The sole engine across the lineup is a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four. It can be fitted with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or  a six-speed manual gearbox. The entry-level Sedan, the fancier Sport sedan, and the SportBack five-door hatchback have front-wheel drive, while the Crossover model offers Suzuki's own all-wheel drive system. It comes with an unusual feature, a front-wheel drive mode that delivers better fuel economy on smooth, dry roads. In its regular mode, however, the all-wheel drive system can send up to 50 percent of available torque to the rear wheels.

That engine provides enough torque to give the SX4 a responsive feeling with either transmission, and it's smooth and zippy during most kinds of regular driving--especially as a regular commuter car. The manual transmission may be the best way to use the engine's mid-range torque and responsiveness, but the CVT is fitted with paddle shifters that simulate fixed ratios, letting the driver "upshift" or "downshift" to control the power delivery as needed.

Steering feel is good, and there's little body roll in the front-wheel drive models. The Crossover all-wheel drive model sits higher and provides more suspension travel, feeling both tippier and noisier in spirited maneuvers. Its aggressive accelerator tip-in may fool drivers into thinking they have unlimited power, but they'll find that especially on the heavy Crossover, they quickly run out of urge and find their foot flat on the floor.

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2012 Suzuki SX4

Comfort & Quality

A good ride, comfortable front seats, and a roomier cabin than you'd expect make the 2012 Suzuki SX4 range a pleasant place to spend time--but it's remarkably noisy at real-world freeway speeds.

In its sixth year, the 2012 Suzuki SX4 is falling a little behind the pack in refinement, but it continues to deliver accommodating seats in a well-configured cabin.

The front seats are nicely bolstered, and the driving position is upright. The seat upholstery in base models is nylong, and while it's hardly luxurious, it's surprisingly comfortable. In the rear, elevated "theater-style" seating avoids the knees-under-chin position found in many small cars and offers lots of legroom and an open, airy feel. Two adults can be accommodated, but you won't want to try three in back. The interior is largely composed of hard plastics, but at least they're good-looking hard plastics.

The trunk of the SX4 Sedan holds 15.5 cubic feet, decent for the compact class, but the bobbed tail of the five-door hatchback models (Crossover and SportBack) offers a measly 10 cubic feet with the rear seat up. They offer 54 cubic feet of load space if you put the split rear seat-back down and fill every last space, but you'll trade people carrying for cargo space.

For such a small car, the Suzuki SX4 rides well, with good damping despite its short wheelbase. Interior noise isn't too bad until you press the engine, when the car becomes positively raucous and coarse--even just in the middle of its rev range. Travel above 70 mph is uniformly loud, making long trips more tiring than they should be.

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2012 Suzuki SX4

Safety

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 has all the requisite safety features, but its crash test ratings aren't as good as they could be.

When it was launched in 2007, the Suzuki SX4 offered good safety features and got good ratings. In its sixth year, however, tests have gotten tougher and the SX4 is no more than average--if that.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the SX4 its highest rating of "Good" in frontal offset and side impact crash tests. But the little Suzuki received only "Marginal" scores (two notches down) for rear crash protection and roof strength.

Results are more varied in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash-test ratings. The 2012 SX4 gets four stars out of five for overall safety, frontal impact protection, and rollover protection. But its rating for side-crash safety in newer, tougher testing is just three out of five stars, versus the perfect five-star rating earlier models received in less stringent tests.

The small size and upright design of both SX4 body styles make them easy to see out of, aided by an upright seating position and a low beltline that drops toward the front. The 2012 range has four-wheel disc brakes, an admirable feature in a class where many contenders make do with drum brakes at the rear, and electronic stability control is standard. Last year, rear head restraints were enlarged and Suzuki added side-curtain airbags to the existing front and side bags for front-seat occupants.

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2012 Suzuki SX4

Features

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 offers a lot for the money, especially in the better-equipped higher-end models.

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 is an often-overlooked contender among some of the lowest-priced cars on the market, especially in its base Sedan model. And its better-equipped models--the SportBack and all-wheel drive Crossover in particular--compete well in the higher portions of the small-car segment.

The base Sedan model of the SX4 is a simple, stripped-down, and inexpensive small car that still manages to include power windows and mirrors. It forgoes a sound system, however. An option package bundles together four popular items: keyless entry, air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a four-speaker sound system with CD player.

As it has been for several years, the base 2012 Suzuki SX4 Crossover model remains the least expensive all-wheel drive vehicle sold in the U.S. It comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, plus that bundle of four features that's optional on the base sedan.

Then there's the front-wheel drive SportBack model, which adds a six-disc CD changer and an AM-FM-CD-MP3 audio system that's equipped to handle SIrius Satellite Radio, along with a trip computer, air conditioning, keyless entry, and those 17-inch alloy wheels.

Rather than engineer a fully integrated navigation system, Suzuki offers a removable Garmin system with a 4.3-inch touchscreen that can be included in models fitted with the Technology package. It's delivered with databases of restaurants, hotels, ATMs, gas stations, and real-time traffic and weather data, plus Google search. It's fully integrated into the audio system. Both an iPod interface usable via steering-wheel controls and a TRIP system for hands-free calling plus audible text messages are optional.

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2012 Suzuki SX4

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 is slightly above average for gas mileage compared to all cars for sale, but in its segment, it's inefficient and not very green.

The small but heavy 2012 Suzuki SX4 is rated fairly low in fuel efficiency by the EPA, with just 22 to 25 mpg in its city ratings and 29 to 33 mpg on the highway. Not surprisingly, the base front-wheel drive sedan does the best, at 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) or 23 city, 33 highway with the six-speed manual transmission.

The worst figures are posted by the all-wheel drive five-door hatchback, with a six-speed manual, at just 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Oddly, the CVT-equipped all-wheel drive model does 1 mpg better in the city but actually 1 mpg worse on the highway cycle--the reverse of the pattern for the front-wheel drive sedan.

By contrast, the all-new 2012 Subaru Impreza five-door compact hatchback--which comes standard with all-wheel drive--is rated as high as 27 mpg city, and 36 mpg highway when fitted with its own CVT. That blows away the less sophisticated Suzuki SX4.

Weight is the culprit here, with the top-of-the-line models tipping the scales at almost 3,000 pounds. That's a lot for a vehicle that's on the small size for a compact, at just 163 inches long.

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May 13, 2015
2012 Suzuki SX4 5-Door HB CVT Crossover Technology AWD

It´s a great car

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The car is very good, I like it a lot, enjoy doing all my chores and driving in the highway. It is safe and that is very important. Most of all it is a all wheel drive that at a time of a blizzard will make... + More »
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Styling 7.0
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