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2009 Suzuki SX4 Crossover
Playing Small Ball and Winning
By Dave Boe, Photography by Suzuki, Feb. 10, 2009

FAST FACTS

1. The SX4 is offered as both a compact four-door sedan and five-door hatchback.

2. One engine is offered, a 143hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder.

3. The SX4 Crossover can be had in 2WD or AWD and gets 21/30 and 21/28 mpg (city/highway) respectively.

4. A Garmin navigation system is standard equipment and can be removed from the car for portable use.

Suzuki may not be the biggest Japanese automaker, but it may be one of the more agile.  The same could be said about the relatively new SX4; not Suzuki’s largest offering, but certainly one of its most agile.

Suzuki might be known better for its motorcycles and marine engines in the United States, after all, the company did start selling two-wheelers here in 1963. It wasn’t until 1985 that Suzuki first started selling four-wheeled cars in America.

Unlike the Japanese big three, Suzuki has primarily focused on fuel-efficient vehicles during its time in the states, with no minivans or full-sized pickups in the lineup.

FOUR-DOOR OR FIVE-DOOR CROSSOVER

The 2009 SX4 is a cute, affordable, fuel-efficient mode of transportation that’s a safe bet no matter what the price of unleaded fuel lists for at the corner gas station. Two body styles are available: a four-door sedan (SX4 Sport), which debuted in 2008 and a five-door wagon (SX4 Crossover) bowing one year earlier. Suzuki bid farewell in the 2008 model year to the Forenza and Reno, two compact vehicles that did little to create a buzz with the general public. Dollar for dollar, the spunky SX4 costs significantly less than a comparably equipped Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic.

Besides the obvious body style, the key difference between the SX4 sedan and crossover is that the sedan is exclusively front wheel drive while the crossover is offered in both automatic on-demand all-wheel-drive and front-wheel drive. The SX4 Crossover holds the distinction of being the lowest priced all-wheel drive vehicle sold in the U.S. Another first for both SX4 body styles in 2009 is a standard navigation system. Suzuki becomes the first automaker to offer a Garmin touch screen navigation system standard in a vehicle starting under $16,000. It’s also portable. The device can be moved from vehicle to vehicle.

Three trim levels are available in the SX4 Crossover:  Base, Technology and Touring.  All wheel drive is standard in all three trims while front wheel drive is optional in Base and Technology. We got our hands on a SX4 Technology trim for a week’s worth of driving. Starting price was $16,789 with a bottom line of $17,223 including the destination charge. A Base SX4 Crossover starts at $15,289.

WELL-EQUIPPED FOR A COMPACT, INCLUDING PORTABLE NAVIGATION

For a compact offering, SX4 comes well equipped with air conditioning, power windows, a rear defroster, keyless entry, power outside mirrors and a compact disc player. Satellite radio and iPod interface are dealer-installed options. Also standard are traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, daytime running lights, front seat side air bags, side curtain air bags and child safety rear door locks. Cruise control is standard in Technology and Touring trims.

The sole engine available in sedan and crossover body styles is a 2.0-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine delivering 143 horses. Fuel economy checks in at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway with all-wheel drive and four-speed automatic transmission. Highway mileage tops 30 mpg in offerings with front-wheel-drive.

At night, the instrument panel, along with the rest of the dash, features attractive red backlighting. The flat instrument analog panel has a large central speedometer flanked by two smaller gauges. Two circular air vents reside on the far sides of the dash while square vents reside front and center. In between the front bucket seats are dual beverage holders, transmission shifter and hand-operated parking brake. Also in the area is a switch where drivers have a choice of selecting two-wheel or all-wheel drive. No arm rest/storage bin is available, but both seats have slender, fold down armrests.

THE SAFETY OF ALL-WHEEL DRIVE

The three-mode intelligent all-wheel-drive system directs all power to the front wheels when set in the 2WD mode. When desiring more traction, drivers simply press the toggle switch to AWD where up to 50 percent of torque gets sent to the rear wheels. The system may also be ‘locked’ into all-wheel drive where 30-50 percent of the torque is sent to the rear rubber. The all-wheel-drive system handled snowy Chicago-area roads adequately.  Keep in mind that although it’s all-wheel-drive, its unibody design (a car-based platform) designates this as an on-road, not off-road vehicle. The unibody platform Suzuki uses for both the SX4 Sport and SX4 Crossover is the Suzuki Swift platform. Although the compact Swift is no longer sold in the U.S. it is popular in Japan and Europe.

Below the sound system and three ventilation dials in the center dashboard area is a large open storage region. Near the top of the central dash is a narrow rectangular information window with station pre set information and time. The portable touch-screen navigation system is mounted on top of the dash. Depending on the extent of one’s horizontal reach, the system can be a stretch for some to operate. A lever/tab unlocking the circular, left-side fuel door is on the floor, left of the driver’s seat.

Cloth seats come standard. Front bucket seats provide a relatively high seating position and keep occupants well grounded during turns. Thanks to spacious windows, blind spots are kept to a minimum.  Headroom is generous, but legroom can be tight in back for some folks. Second row seat backs, with a 60/40 split, fold relatively flat onto the seat cushion, opening up storage access to the hatch area. A sturdy, removable shade cover keeps items in the hatch area cloaked when necessary. The second row is best left for two adult travelers.

The rear hatch, when opened, provides enough head clearance for those six feet and under. A rear wiper comes standard.

THE VERDICT

When compared to other Japanese rivals, Suzuki boasts the most comprehensive warranty. The powertrain is covered for seven years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first). A key bonus to this zero deductable coverage is that the warranty is transferable to the next owner, adding to the overall value of the purchase. Most other warranties offered by other manufacturers are not transferable.

The SX4 Crossover is a viable alternative to the Toyota Matrix four-door hatchback (based on the Corolla platform) and its Pontiac Vibe twin. With its more aggressive stance, the SX4 is move visually appealing then Vibe or Matrix, both of which are offered with a choice of two four-cylinder engines, a 1.8-liter or a 158hp 2.4-liter engine. Both are also available with all-wheel drive. Keep in mind though, an all-wheel drive Toyota Matrix starts at $20,500, about $4,000 more than the SX4 Crossover.

Overall, when you combine the looks, the sophisticated all-wheel drive system and standard navigation system, the SX4 Crossover stands out.  And the price is tough to beat, too.

POSITVE

Lower price that comparably-equipped Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic
Lowest-priced, all-wheel-drive crossover sold in the United States
All SX4s have Navigation system standard

NEGATIVE

Rivals offer more engine choices
Suzuki's four-cylinder engine not as proven as Toyota’s or Honda’s
Limited back seat room