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


Article and photos By Lesley Wimbush

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Toronto, Ontario – Back in December when there wasn’t a snowman to be seen, I made do with the numerous Inukshuks topping sheer rock walls along the road through Parry Sound. I was nearing the end of a two-day, 1400-kilometre trek that wound around Sudbury and up through the quiet remoteness of Elliott Lake. The trip was a fitting end to two weeks spent testing the 2007 Suzuki SX4 AWD JLX and I was soon to exchange it for a 2WD model. With so much concentrated time spent behind the wheel, I’d come to appreciate the sure-footedness of the little car and its tight handling.

My first encounter with the Suzuki SX4 was at last fall’s AJAC Car of the Year Testfest, where I was underwhelmed by the tester’s automatic transmission. Nonetheless – I liked the car and was eager to try it in manual format. It had an inherent stiffness that was promising and hinted at a playful side.

After saying goodbye to my little copper coloured AWD friend, I bid hello to its sibling: the SX4 front wheel drive. It’s a measure of how spoiled I’ve become that it took me a while to locate the car (my usual method entails pressing the remote locking button, and heading toward whichever one beckons). I looked dumbly at the key fob for a few minutes before it registered that it was, simply, a key.

2007 Suzuki SX4 FWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 FWD
2007 Suzuki SX4 JLX AWD (top) and SX4 FWD. Click image to enlarge

This week’s SX4 tester was a no-frills base model that stickers at $15,995, and keyless entry is obviously not one of its options. Outwardly, it’s the same tall hatch as the more upscale model I’d just returned, but a closer look revealed smaller wheels, and drum brakes at the rear. It also lacked the roof racks and hard rubber fender flares of the more buff AWD JLX .

The line-up of spanking new SX4s looked like nothing so much as a row of colourful, oversized jellybeans. Tall and rounded, somewhat egg-shaped, they were, dare I say it “cute.” Developed jointly by Suzuki and Fiat, the SX4 owes its appearance to Italdesign Studio. Originally intended only for the European market (where it’s known as the Sedici) the Hungarian/Japanese built car is now distributed in Japan and North America as well. Although marketed as a crossover, it fills the gap left by the vacating Swift hatchback. The SX4 appears small, but with a 98.4 inch wheelbase, it’s longer than the Honda Fit. Still, it’s shorter than others in its segment, such as the Toyota Matrix and Nissan Versa. Legroom however, is almost identical to that offered in the competition. An extra wide stance not only gives it stability, but opens up the cabin for more shoulder room.

Thanks to its height and resultant headroom my loftier companions weren’t bumping up against the headliner. This height allows the upright seating position so popular with SUV and truck owners, and second row is “stadium style” raised seating.

Visibility is good thanks to an enormous windshield, although side views are a bit compromised by those oddly forked A-pillars. The tiny window inserts help somewhat. The tall expanse of glass creates a large greenhouse, adding to the open and airy feeling inside.

The interior, although decidedly budget oriented, is nonetheless quite attractive. It’s plain but clean, without fussiness. The plastic and cloth surfaces are quiet and understated, without pretending to be wood and leather.

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

Materials are well finished and meet with tight gaps. The cloth covered seats are on the firm side (which I prefer). But though they’re comfortable enough for daily use and trips back and forth to Toronto, I found that six hours into my northern exodus, my back was screaming for mercy – or at least some more lower support.

Cargo space expands to accommodate a maximum of 22.0 cu. ft. when the seats are folded down, but they don’t fold completely flat – and have a fuzzy cloth back rather than an easily wiped-down plastic.

Ergonomics are straightforward: the base SX4 is without some of the gadgetry of its JL and JLX siblings but the three-dial climate control knobs are large, easy to understand and easily operated with gloves on.

Strangely, seatbelt and door-open warnings are startlingly loud while the turn signals are like the dulcet tones of a golf announcer – and with the radio on – completely inaudible.

The audio system was decent enough for this admitted driving music addict (there’s an optional six-disc CD player and subwoofer, as well as XM satellite radio available). The previously tested JLX had blown a speaker early on and I spent a tortuous week deciding between driving tunelessly or enduring the annoying buzz. Fortunately, my second tester played on with no problems.

Behind the wheel, my first impression of the 2WD model in comparison to the AWD I’d just returned was that it felt lighter – due to the lack of a locking differential. The clutch engaged easily and the car moved off quickly.

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

I found the SX4 terrific on winding roads. The suspension, McPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam in rear, is rather firm. Although over bumpy surfaces, the ride is somewhat on the clattery side, the chassis rigidity provides impressive stability and a tight composed ride. Body roll is almost non-existent.

The (Japanese-built) 2.0-litre four-cylinder produces 143 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. This places it at the top of its segment for power output, since the Honda Fit puts out less than 110 hp, the Toyota Matrix 126, and the Nissan Versa is good for only 122 hp.

Although the gearing is short and the shifter somewhat wooden, it is fun. Strangely though, the revs seem to lag behind the shifter, dropping slower than otherwise expected after upshifting. I concluded it was due to the computer-controlled throttle response time of the drive-by-wire system.

The small-ish steering wheel is sensitive to slight inputs, and, connected to rack and pinion steering, provides adequate road feedback.

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

A crossover hatch… with aspirations of sportiness? Indeed.

Last year, Suzuki announced at the Geneva Motor Show that it intended to enter a WRC prepped SX4 in the FIA World Rally Championships in 2007. Those plans have since been postponed until 2008. With the involvement of X-Games bringing in a new and younger generation of rally fan, and elevating former aerobatic BMX-bike star now rally driver Travis Pastrana to near icon status – the reasonably priced SX4 could have a lot of appeal to young male buyers. And that is the very demographic that has made Suzuki’s race-inspired sport bikes so highly sought after.

But the street-bound SX4 will have to shed some weight to win the affections of the performance driving set. At 2800 pounds, it’s more than 136 kg heavier than the Fit, 54 kg heavier than the Matrix and 209 kg heavier than the Versa. This somewhat offsets the advantage it gained with horsepower output, and it’s less frugal at the pumps. However, the extra weight does give it a substantial and solid feel on the road.

Conclusion: the Suzuki SX4 is a reasonably priced, versatile hatch for the practical at heart, with potential appeal for young performance enthusiasts.


Pricing: 2007 Suzuki SX4 FWD


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