2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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Photo Gallery: 2007 Suzuki SX4

New for 2007, the Suzuki SX4 replaces the Aerio hatchback and is one of only three cars with all-wheel drive priced under $20,000 (the other two are the new Jeep Compass ($19,995) and the upcoming Jeep Patriot ($18,995)). While AWD is not available on the base SX4 FWD model ($15,995), it is an option on the mid-level JX AWD trim ($19,995) and standard on the top-of-the-line SX4 JLX model ($21,495).

Like the Aerio, the SX4 is a difficult vehicle to classify – it’s sort of a tall subcompact hatchback with the optional all-weather capability of all-wheel drive and a 165 mm (6.5 in.) ground clearance, plus the urban manoeuvrability of a short wheelbase and a tight turning circle. However, its 143-hp 2.0-litre four cylinder engine is not as economical as most subcompacts.

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

In my view, the SX4 AWD would make an ideal vehicle for people who live in rural areas where the roads aren’t always paved or ploughed; skiers and snowboarders who need an affordable vehicle with traction to get to the hills; or even just suburbanites who want better traction on winter’s slippery roads. Those considering a small SUV may also warm to the SX4’s features and lower price.

Standard and optional features

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

Base SX4 front-wheel drive models ($15,995) are surprisingly well equipped: standard are a 143-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, P195/65R15 all-season tires, front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist; front, side and side curtain airbags; power windows with driver’s ‘express-down’, power door locks, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA player with four speakers, tilt steering wheel, tachometer, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, rear wiper with intermittent wiping and washer, and engine block heater. An optional four-speed automatic transmission is $1,100, and air conditioning is another $1,000.

Mid-level SX4 JX front-wheel drive models ($18,195) and JX AWD models ($19,995) add 16-inch tires and alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, air conditioning, heated mirrors, and roof rails.

Top-of-the-line SX4 JLX models ($21,495), available only with AWD, add automatic climate control, AM/FM /6 CD/MP3/WMA stereo with eight speakers including a subwoofer, steering wheel mounted audio controls, leather wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, and two tone silver/black roof rails. Electronic Stability Program is a $1,000 option, but only on the JLX with the automatic transmission.


Interior impressions

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

Though it’s a small car, the SX4 is surprisingly roomy inside. All four doors are large with tall, wide door openings for easy entry and exit. The seats have a high hip point which makes it easy to slide in sideways rather than drop down onto the seats. Headroom in the front and rear seats is plentiful because of the tall roof, and rear legroom is adequate for adults because of the chair-like seating positions which allow the passengers’ legs to be positioned vertically rather than splayed forwards. However, the rear seat is really only wide enough for two adults.

The quality of the interior plastics and plastic metal trim is not quite up to the standards of other Japanese or Korean subcompacts, but the layout of the controls is practical and they’re easy to use. The seats are covered in a black fabric with sporty black and white seat inserts, and a sporty three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel features audio controls on the left spoke and cruise controls on the right spoke that can be operated with the thumbs without taking your hands off the wheel (JLX only).

At the top of the centre instrument panel is an LCD display with a clock, outside temperature gauge, average fuel economy readout and driving range, but these red displays are sometimes difficult to read in the daytime because of the glare.

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

While SX4 base and JX models have an AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA player with four speakers, my JLX test car had an AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system with a built-in six-CD changer and XM satellite radio compatibility (receiver and antenna are extra). This stereo includes seven speakers and a subwoofer, and the sound is deeper and richer with the convenience of the dash-mounted six-CD changer.

The SX4’s heater warmed up the interior quickly in my test car, and I found the three large dials on the centre dash easy to operate. Base and JX models have a standard heater while JLX models have automatic climate control. Seat heaters, though, are not available.

At the bottom of the centre stack is a small slot for a phone or PDA next to a handy 12-volt charging socket. The twin cupholders just ahead of the shift lever feature adjustable flaps for holding cups steady and slots for cup handles, and there are bottle holders in front and rear doors, and one cupholder in the rear.

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The rear hatch is large and easy to open, and the 60/40 rear seatbacks can fold down (but not flush with the cargo floor) or flip and fold forward for extra cargo space. With the rear seats flipped, the cargo length is 128 cm (50.6 in.), width is 103 cm (40.4 in.) and height 89 cm (35.1 in.) With the rear seats up, the trunk is not that big, with a load length of 43 cm (17.1 in.). A standard privacy cover hides the trunk’s valuables.

The inclusion of six standard airbags in all SX4 models is a good value for this price. These include the mandatory driver and front passenger airbags, plus seat-mounted front side airbags, and roof-mounted curtain airbags for both rows of passengers. The SX4 also includes five three-point seatbelts with height-adjustable front straps and pre-tensioners, three rear height-adjustable head restraints, three rear tether anchors for child seats, two rear ISO-FIX attachments, and rear door child locks.


Driving impressions

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

From the tall, upright driver’s seat, the SX4 driver has excellent outward visibility through the SX4’s extensive ‘greenhouse’. Though the driver’s seat is not height adjustable, I think most drivers will be able to find a comfortable seating position – the steering wheel tilts up and down for a good view of the instruments. The SX4’s unusual front quarter windows may look odd, but they are useful for seeing around corners when making a 90-degree turn; as well, the extra third side window at the rear helps when changing lanes.

The SX4’s standard 2.0-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine puts out 143 hp at 5800 rpm and 136 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. Independent acceleration tests of the SX4 AWD model with an automatic transmission conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada last Fall showed a 0 to 100 km/h time of 11.5 seconds. That’s slower than the Jeep Compass AWD (automatic) with 10.3 seconds, the Dodge Caliber FWD (automatic) with 9.9 seconds, the Nissan Versa FWD (automatic) with 10.8 seconds, and the Toyota Yaris FWD (automatic) with 10.8 seconds.

However, the SX4 AWD did well in braking tests with a 100 km/h-to-0 braking distance of 41.5 metres. For comparison, the Compass took 45.6 metres, the Caliber 44.8 metres, the Versa 45.2 metres, and the Yaris 41.8 metres. The SX4 JX and JLX feature disc brakes at all corners with Brake Assist for panic braking, and electronic brake force distribution to even out front/rear braking forces. Base SX4 models have rear drums.

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The optional four-speed automatic transmission is quite smooth but requires a foot-to-the-floor mash to engage third or second for serious passing. The floor shifter allows the driver to shift from 4th to 3rd gears and back by flipping the shift lever sideways. I found myself doing this all the time in situations where I was preparing to accelerate, such as when passing or accelerating onto the freeway, and needed a lower gear right away.

In addition to the PRND32L display next to the shift lever, there is another display in the instrument cluster, allowing the driver to see what gear they’re in at a glance.

The engine is a bit noisy when accelerating but reasonably quiet on the freeway, revving at just 2,300 rpm at 100 km/h. Fuel economy is not quite as good as other small cars, but it’s not unreasonable either. With the five-speed manual transmission, the AWD SX4 offers fuel economy ratings of 10.1 L/100 km (28 mpg) city; and 7.6 L/100 km (37 mpg) Highway. With the automatic transmission, fuel economy is slightly better: 9.9 L/100 km (29 mpg) City, and 7.1 L/100 km (40 mpg) Highway. Compare this to the Jeep Compass AWD which has a 172-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine with ratings of City 9.3 L/100 km (30 mpg) and 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg).

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The SX4 is quite a nimble handling car, and despite a tall roof it doesn’t feel ‘top heavy’. Its semi-independent suspension consists of front MacPherson struts and rear torsion beam, and combined with meaty Bridgestone Turanza 205/60R-16 all-season tires, provides a comfortable ride, good grip, and minimal lean in the corners. Its turning diameter of 10.6 metres (34.8 ft.) makes it easy to park and manoeuvre in the city.


Testing the 4WD system

The SX4’s AWD system is unlike most other AWD systems. With the press of a button located near the hand brake, the driver can choose front-wheel drive only (2WD); on-demand all-wheel drive which operates in front-wheel drive most of the time and sends up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels when the front wheels slip (Auto); or a locked front/rear 4WD system that reverts to AWD at speeds greater than 18 km/h (Lock).

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The first option maximizes fuel economy when AWD is not needed, and I found myself using this when roads were dry and driving conditions didn’t require extra traction. The second option, on-demand AWD, is useful when road conditions are slippery or unpredictable, such as when there are intermittent icy patches on a paved road. The third option, 50/50 locked differential, is very useful when driving through deep snow or mud or sand at slow speeds.

To test this out, I took the SX4 to a deserted parking lot covered in ice and snow and set up a slalom course. My car was equipped with all-season tires, so I wasn’t expecting great traction, but even so, I did find a big difference in traction and stability between FWD-only and AWD, particularly when cornering while accelerating. In FWD-only mode (2WD), the rear end tended to spin out while turning requiring me to back off on the throttle; but in AWD (Auto), the rear wheels bit into the snow keeping the car going in the direction I wanted to go and with more stability. In AWD Lock mode, traction was even better with improved stability – up until 18 km/h. Electronic stability control is also available as an option on this model, and that should improve the SX4’s stability even more.

2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD. Click image to enlarge

Traction and stability while braking into a corner however, was not much better in any AWD mode. AWD is not designed to eliminate understeer if the car is going too fast, however the available electronic stability control would help correct understeer.

Overall though, I think the AWD option is a big safety advantage for driving in the Winter. Where FWD cars might spin out or get stuck, the SX4 AWD will keep going.


Verdict

Considering its all-weather traction, generous standard equipment, and versatile interior, the new Suzuki SX4 AWD is a good value in the marketplace. It’s a bit underpowered and not as fuel-efficient as most small cars, but these are small trade-offs for its versatility.


Pricing: 2007 Suzuki SX4 JLX AWD


Specifications

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