2008 Suzuki SX4 Crossover Touring AWD Review
By Kevin Miller
I recently spent a week in an Azure Gray Metallic 2008 Suzuki SX4 Crossover Touring AWD. The Suzuki SX4 Crossover is touted as “The most Affordable AWD in America”. It is also the smallest AWD vehicle sold in America. Those facts are both in the little Suzuki’s favor.
The SX4 Crossover starts at 14,770 for a base front-wheel drive five-door with 22/30 MPG fuel economy rating. The full-loaded Touring AWD model I drove (rated 21/28 MPG) sells for just $16870, and in addition to the AWD includes leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls, cruise control, heated exterior mirrors, and air conditioning with automatic climate control, AM/FM/XM/CD audio system with 6-disc in-dash changer and 9 speakers including under-seat subwoofer, SmartPass keyless entry/start, Electronic Stability Program, front fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels, and rear spoiler.
When I first started driving it, the SX4’s tall body and driving position reminded me of the useful little mini-MPV class of vehicle I’ve rented before in Europe. It turns out that it is one of those vehicles. The SX4 was jointly developed by Suzuki and Fiat (whose version is named Sedici), and was intended mainly for sale in Europe. Design was handled by Giugiaro’s Italdesign studio. Around the world, the SX4 is offered with a 1.6 liter gas engine rated 107 HP, and a 1.9 liter diesel four rated 120 HP.
The SX4 sold here in the US uses a 143 HP, 136 lb-ft 2.0 liter four with a five-speed manual transmission. With a curb weight somewhere around 2900 lbs, the SX4 has more than enough power to get out of its own way, and the engine is eager to rev. Gearchanges are made using a short-throw gear lever mounted a bit farther forward than would be optimal. The gearbox has a very notchy, mechanical feel to it; Honda powertrain engineers won’t lay awake at night worrying about shift feel competition from Suzuki. Clutch pedal travel was short (compared to the manual transmissions I use in Saab and Volvo cars) and it took me a few days to get the hang of smoothly engaging the clutch. Once I did, I really had a lot of fun driving the relatively light, nimble SX-4 around.
The i-AWD (intelligent All-Wheel Drive) system cleverly allows the driver to use front-wheel drive, automatic AWD, or locked-in AWD, to balance fuel economy with traction needs. Selection between the modes is by a toggle switch next to the handbrake. When driving the SX4 in 2-wheel drive mode, it is easy to spin the front tires when setting off from a stop, especially when the pavement is wet. Under the same circumstances in auto AWD mode, the fronts briefly slip and then the rear tires pitch in to get the car moving. In addition to using the car on wet and dry roads, I drove in a hilly gravel lot; all four wheels dug right in and clawed the SX4 up the grade without incident.
The SX4’s suspension is tuned very softly. Every time I set off from a stop the rear of the vehicle “squatted” before the car started moving forward. The positive trade-off is a very nice ride on pretty much any road surface.
From the driver’s seat, the fixed front-corner windows provided a nice extra bit of view, though my height meant that I did have a fairly large blind spot at the top half of the car’s A-pillar. My wife sat in the driver’s seat and found the front-quarter window to be tall enough to eliminate any significant blind spot.
The door panels, console, and dash top are made from a very hard plastic, though it is nicely grained for an appearance that doesn’t look cheap. The armrest and top sill on the driver’s door are also both made from hard plastic, but they are shaped such that they don’t cause discomfort from prolonged use. Each door has a nice fabric insert which breaks up the monotone gray plastic. The leather-wrapped steering wheel was a very nice touch in the SX4.
Seats are upholstered in black fabric with contrasting charcoal center sections. The charcoal fabric appears rugged, but the black fabric seems rather thin. The front seat was comfortable and had pretty good legroom for my long legs. The SX4’s tall profile allows for seats which sit fairly high above the floor, for a chair-like seating position in keeping with its identity as a crossover. While the rear seats looked like they were short on knee room, the fabric on the back of the front seats is stretched across the seat and supported only on its outer edges; the fabric is very stretchy and allowed my knees to push the fabric in without actually ing any seat frame material. So though my knees rubbed against the seatback fabric, they weren’t ing any hard parts. Sufficient room existed for installing a forward-facing car seat, and the LATCH attachment points were easy to use.
The front seat featured two cupholders molded into the center console forward of the gear lever, and rigid water bottle holders at the forward end of the generously sized door pockets. Rear seats had cup/bottle holders molded into the door pockets. All three rear positions have individually adjustable headrests and three-point seatbelts.
The Suzuki’s automatic climate control was effective at maintaining temperature in the car, and the stereo with 6-disc changer was easy to use, though its steering wheel controls were tiny. The head unit is XM-ready, though my test vehicle didn’t have the optional XM tuner. There is a display at the top of the center stack which shows time and outside temperature, and a selectable display to show instant MPG, average MPG, or distance to empty. That display has a cover made of very shiny plastic which fits unevenly, marring an otherwise well-assembled interior.
Upon first glance, the car’s “carpeting” was seen as a molded mat with minimum pile, confirming my suspicions that the Jaguar XJ’s trunk carpeting actually IS nicer than the carpet found in many mainstream cars. Of course, this is an AWD car for $16870, with a lot of nice features, so the cost saving has to come from somewhere. Which accounts for the abundance of visible fasteners in locations such as seatbelt anchor points and chair rail mounts.
The SX4 is not equipped with a Bluetooth phone system, so drivers must supply their own handsfree devices in states which require such systems by law. That will be changed next year when Suzuki adds a standard-equipment navigation system to the SX4. The Suzuki navigation system will feature a flip-up 4.3-inch screen and will be available with Microsoft Network features and Bluetooth capability, real-time traffic, weather forecasts, and a gas-price finder. That will be a nice addition to a car that is already feature-rich in its price class.
Cargo space is rated at just 8.1 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. I was surprised to find that my two large equipment cases fit in the SX4’s trunk. Opening the hatch revealed a cargo area which doesn’t look very large. I had to remove the cargo cover, and actually folded the rear seat forward to give myself room to angle the cases in, but then the rear seats returned to their upright position. Cargo volume swells to 64 cubic feet with the rear seats folded forward, which is done in a clever two-stage fold. First the 60/40 rear seatback folds flat against the bottom cushion and latches in place. Next the rear edge of the seat unlatches and the folded seat hinges forward. It is held in place by a strap which hooks to the front seat’s headrest support. Folding the rear seats forward doesn’t compromise the front seating position at all, as in some rear-seat-folding configurations.
Though the SX4 is a relatively inexpensive car, it has plenty of safety equipment, including front, side curtain, and front seat side airbags. It also includes pretensioners for the front seatbelts, antilock brakes (with discs on all four wheels) and the aforementioned Electronic Stability Program.
If the car has a true Achilles’ heel, it is the size of its gas tank. At 11.9 gallons in AWD SX4s, the tank is small for a car with a 21/28 MPG rating. The average MPG display on the dash, which couldn’t be reset, read 26.6 MPG the entire week and 250 miles I drove the SX4. That average MPG multiplied by 11.9 gallons is 317 miles. However, after just 190 miles the gas light turned on, with a DTE of 40 miles. Twenty miles later the DTE was 5 miles, leaving me with an empty tank after just 210 miles of suburban neighborhood driving.
It is tough to come up with direct competitors to the SX4 Crossover AWD. The Subaru Impreza hatch is a good match for AWD vehicles, though it is a bit larger than the SX4 and when equipped to compete with the SX4 on features it is significantly more expensive. The Impreza’s fuel economy numbers are only 1 MPG lower than the SX4 for both city and highway driving. Vehicles like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Scion xD are front-wheel drive competitors which are close in size to the SX4, but each of those vehicles gets significantly better fuel economy, and the cost a bit more than the Suzuki when equipped to the same specification level.
At less than $17k, this Suzuki has an amazing amount of equipment. There are cars costing four times the price of the SX4 that aren’t available with keyless entry/start. It is a feature I didn’t think was worth paying for until I used it for a week in the Suzuki. It is incredibly convenient to not have to dig for the key with a handful of bags or armful of squirming child. Being able to leave the key in my pocket or briefcase while I open the car, get in, and drive away is an unexpected luxury, and is a unique feature in this price class.
At the start of the week, I was expecting to come away less than impressed with the SX4, but the car quickly won me over. The car was fun to drive, extremely easy to park in the city, spacious, and full of nice features. It proves that you don’t need a two-and-a-half ton, 15 MPG SUV to get the convenience of all-wheel drive and a relatively tall seating position. At $16870, the SX4 with its 7 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty seems like a relative bargain.
The first quarter of 2008 sales results saw the SX4 come in at 7,586 units, up 93% over the same quarter previous year. Suzuki was also one of the few auto manufacturers who saw sales increase in May. With gas prices continuing to climb, the SX4 is nicely positioned in the market as a capable little car for people who need both its efficiency and its utility.
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