Nobody asked me, but . . .
The fact that Suzuki is hugely successful in every market around the world—except for this one—says much about the fickle nature of the American market and the need for mega dollars to cut through the advertising clutter but nothing about how good Suzuki’s current offerings, the SX4 Crossover/SportBack and the midsize Kizashi 4-door sedan, are at providing fun, functional and affordable motoring.
I won’t spend words on the Kizashi here. If you’ve followed my missives on WheelsTV.tv you know how much I like this new sporty Suzuki sedan.
The SX4, on the other hand, has been around longer—since 2007—and might be considered the Rodney Dangerfield of small cars. Raise your hand if you’ve seen one in the past month. Drop me a note if you’ve actually driven one. It’s almost as if Suzuki has gone into stealth mode in the US, not intentionally, but the result is that when you take the temperature of the typical car shopper, Suzuki typically falls close to absolute zero on the consideration list.
That’s gotta be frustrating for Suzuki. The base SX4 sedan has an MSRP of $14,094 (All prices include $735 destination charges.) and the SX4 Crossover is the least expensive all-wheel drive on the market at an MSRP of $19,434. With wheelbase and overall length of 98.4 in. and 162.8 in., respectively, the SX4 hatchback competes with small cars such as the Honda Fit, Hyundai
Accent and Chevy Aveo. But it’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 150 bhp and 140 lb-ft of torque blows away its 1.5-1.6-liter small car competition. That power differential would cause some buyers to compare the SX4 to larger compact competitors such as the Ford Focus, Toyota Matrix and Scion tC. And, of course, if you are talking AWD, you’ve got to throw a Subaru or two into the comparison mix. In either case it competes impressively well, and if you are out shopping for an affordable small car, you’re not doing yourself any favors if the SX4 isn’t on your short list.
This short digression takes me to the SX4 shown in the pictures here . . . the red one with the racing stripes and a meatball on the hood. And if you think that means it’s hot and spicy, you take the checkered flag. This is what Suzuki calls an SX4 SportBack, the Back presumably referring to the functional hatchback. I, however, prefer to think of the Back as bringing sporting motoring back to affordable small hatches.
Essentially Suzuki has combined the fun-to-drive attitude of the SX4 Sedan with the utility of the SX4 Crossover at an MSRP of $18,684.
Suzuki places the first sporting brush stokes onto a bare SX4 hatcback canvas by applying the same chassis tweaks –sport-tuned suspension, lower ride height, sticky rubber—found on the Sport.
Next up is an exterior aero “tuning” package to help clothes the deal. A subtle but effective chin spoiler combines with side skirts to direct air flow under the car, while a tweaked rear spoiler mounted above the backlight helps channel air over the car.
Inside, the SportBack is decked out with power windows, door locks and mirrors, tilt steering wheel, an all-new gauge cluster, “aluminum” accents, an audio system with MP3 and XM satellite compatibility and a standard nav system.
Some of the Boyz will wanna look under the hood. And that my Bro is all to the good. (And, no, I’m not cruizin’ for a job on 8 Mile in Deetroit!) Two liters of displacement is not Mr. Norm for a small car such as the SX4, but it’s been de rigueur in the Suzuki since its introduction. The SX4’s 2.0-liter twincammer is all new for 2010 and it packs a heftier punch with 150 bhp and 140 lb-ft of torque. You can mate the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder to either a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a more fun 6-speed manual. Guess which one I would choose? Either way you’ll get low 20s mpg in around-town driving and about 30 mpg on the highway. Even with my notoriously heavy right foot working the throttle, I averaged 27 mpg for my week of driving.
Oh, you were wondering about the graphics? No, they are not Suzuki stock. They are simply a less-than subtle red flag waved in the windshield of every other small or compact sedan, hatch or sports car that considers itself king of the twisty tarmac.
And be advised. This SX4 SportBack is no mere poser. Lurking under every fender is a Road Race Motorsports performance coil spring and a wider Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 215/45R17 radial. These tires have a magical a-track-ion to pavement even when the SX4 is motionless. Grip and stick are its middle names. Add a Road Race Motorsports rear anti-roll bar and a set of racing brake pads and you’ve got yourself one heck of a G-whiz hatchback.
And just to make sure every other Honda, Acura, Mazda, Mitsu and Sube turner car knows you are in the neighborhood, Suzuki bolted a less restrictive catback exhaust and cold-air intake to the motor.
The federally mandated Monroney sticker for this car should have a warning that reads:
CAUTION: Drive At Your Own Risk. This Car Is Rated Unsafe At Any Speed Because of It’s Uncontrollable Tendencies Toward Unintended Exhilaration! The Driver Must Throttle These E-motions Immediately or Face Prosecution for Arrested Development.
The first few times I tossed this SX4 around some freeway onramps I thought it had to be an all-wheel-drive model because of its precise turn-in and lack of understeer. But, no, Suzuki wasn’t lying; it’s only got power to the front wheels. But the grip and balance say otherwise. It corners like a go-kart with a roof . . . and rear seats.
It’s also got excellent 4-wheel disc brakes: No dive; strong, linear braking power; a firm, responsive brake pedal; plus ideal positioning of the brake and throttle pedals for heel-and-toe downshifting.
Oh, it also has hide-and-seek stability control: I couldn’t find it during my search for its intrusion while engaging in a series of aggressive dynamic maneuvers. Nor did I feel the need for it. Maybe I’m the one that needs ESP.
There’s not a lot of torque below 2000 rpm, but so what, that’s only a drag if you’re going to the drags. Otherwise, you’ve got a rev limit of 6500 rpm, an engine that’s eager to play at those elevations and six well-spaced ratios in a gearbox that shifts as smoothly and as quickly as you can move the lever.
The exhaust is a guaranteed head turner. Pedestrians tend to give you a wide berth. Other drivers take it as a challenge. Most are surprised at the SX4’s straight-line performance. Those that hang with you are generally far behind after the first corner.
During one of my drives, a passenger commented on the small amount of puckering of the sun visor plastic at its attachment to the headliner. That was about the only flaw in an interior that otherwise has very good fit and finish. And it also allowed me to quip: “That’s the only pucker factor you’ll find in this car. It’s about as idiot proof a car as you can find these days.”
The Road Race Motorsports modified SX4 is so much fun I wished there had been a nearby autocross or some other track event during the time I was evaluating the car. I’m sure it would have embarrassed a lot of more exotic and expensive equipment. But that will have to wait for sometime in the future.