- Plenty of features for the money
- Almost fun to drive
- Rides fairly well
- Low fuel economy
- Engine sounds coarse
- Hatchback lacking in cargo space
A good value in the subcompact class, the Suzuki SX4 is one of the least expensive all-wheel-drive cars you can buy.
The Suzuki SX4 is a blip on the U.S. market, but it's probably not gotten the attention it deserves. Available as a sedan or as a hatchback--the latter body comes in Crossover and SportBack models--the SX4 has above-average handling, lots of standard features, and good interior room, making it a fine alternative to some of the other subcompacts now thriving on the newly small-car-savvy market.
The SX4 Crossover even has standard all-wheel drive, and it's the least expensive car you can buy with that feature; other sedan and hatchback body styles come with front-wheel drive.
As a piece of design, the Suzuki SX4 is at its best as a hatchback. The sedan's a little too abbreviated, like most sedans in this segment, and the very short trunk gives it a narrow, tall look that doesn't really look less anonymous, even with the redesigned grille. The five-doors are more distinctive, with glassy greenhouses and a tidy appearance that instantly identifies them as Japanese cars, in the best way.
The SX4's cabin is less like other Suzukis, in that it's primarily finished with glossier, tougher plastics. The dash itself is workmanlike and upright, but some sporty lines and touches of brightwork relieve the drabness and make it nicer than it could be otherwise--though it's hard-pressed to rival the best subcompacts introduced in the past two years, cars like the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent and Chevy Sonic.Compared to most other on-a-budget subcompact cars, the SX4 is simply more enjoyable to drive. All versions of the 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 23 mpg city, 30 highway with the CVT-equipped hatchback, or 22/30 mpg with the six-speed manual in the same body style.
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 (four stars overall, three stars for side impacts), features certainly are, and most of the models are very strong value for the money. Last year, the Suzuki SX4 got an upgrade to four-wheel disc brakes across the lineup (formerly it wore rear drums), and a Garmin navigation with voice recognition became available throughout the model line (it's standard on the Sedan and optional on other models). With a Technology Package, the system includes Google search, plus real-time traffic and weather. This year, the GPS in the sedan adds voice controls and streaming audio.