Suzuki SX4 First Drive
Small changes to a small SUV make it even more appealing than ever, but the CVT auto box won’t be to everyone’s taste, says Paul Murrell.
Suzuki has always tended to fly under the radar. The big seller, of course, is the Swift, but over the years any car with the big S on the grille has always delivered good value for money and bullet-proof reliability.
The SX4 is more small wagon than SUV, especially if you specify the simpler and lighter two-wheel drive version, and since few people will see the baby SUV as a genuine off-road proposition, this makes good sense.
The SX4 is nearing the end of its model life and so has undergone a gentle facelift and some snipping away at prices. Front-wheel drive models start at just $18,990 (+ORC), with switchable four-wheel drive adding $3000. Constant variable auto transmission is an additional $2000. The new front-wheelers get the flared wheel arches that used to be unique to the AWD models, so at least your neighbours won’t be able to tell which model you bought.
The front bumper is new, wheels are different, Bluetooth is included and there are mirror-mounted indicators. The higher spec S models justify their $3000 price premium by coming standard with cruise control (with Australia’s “take no prisoners” speed limit enforcement, why would you live without it?), sat nav, climate air conditioning, keyless start, paddle shifters with the auto CVT gearbox, USB connectivity, fog lamps, rear spoiler and a nine-speaker sound system. The base model makes do with 16-inch steel wheels (including hub caps), cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Inside, the Suzuki SX4 shows up its age with hard plastics and fairly unsupportive seats. Like other Suzukis, it feels robust and functional, but not particularly welcoming. Keyless start on the S models bring about the usual conundrum of where to put the key… sit it in any of the most obvious places and it rattles around on the hard interior plastics annoyingly, and then there’s always the chance of leaving it behind.
The engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit that led the class when it launched with 112kW of power and 190Nm of torque. These days, the competition has caught up, but the little Suzuki still hustles along more than adequately, reaching 100km/h in nine seconds.
The all-wheel drive versions incorporate a lock function that splits power distribution 50/50 front to rear. Most buyers will leave the switch in the auto mode. Ground clearance is acceptable at 175mm, helped by the short front and rear overhangs. The stubby dimensions of the little Suzuki naturally cause some limitations, but not for front seat passengers. The rear seat is mounted higher than the fronts; great for kids to see out, but bringing the roof a little close to the heads of taller passengers. Luggage capacity is also somewhat compromised at 250 litres where 300-350 is the norm in this class.
On the road, the Suzuki feels more well-mannered than its short wheelbase would suggest, although pot holes will be transmitted through the cabin and our woeful coarse-chip road surfaces bring about considerable road noise. Steering feel makes no claims to sports car delicacy, but is weighted very light and not totally reassuring at the straight ahead.
Mated to the CVT transmission, the engine performs well, if noisily, but vigorous use of the throttle brings about the usual “winding up” of the revs to match road speed. Travelling along a freeway at a constant 110 km/h sees the revs rising and falling with any change in gradient, often reaching 3000rpm, then dropping back to 2000rpm. It is always disconcerting and not particularly pleasant. Spirited acceleration from standstill has the gearbox hunting up and down through the rev range, no doubt having an effect on fuel economy. We’d go for the manual every time.
Safety is well covered with six airbags, electronic stability including traction control, anti-lock brakes and three-point ELR seatbelts front and rear
The Suzuki SX4 is starting to show its age, but still represents good value. The impending arrival of a new-generation SX4 may give buyers some negotiating muscle but with tight profit margins and rapid turnover, Suzuki dealers have never been a pushover.