2008 Suzuki SX4 base
2008 Suzuki SX4 base. Click image to enlarge
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Honda Civic
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Hyundai Elantra
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Kia Spectra
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Mazda3

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Suzuki Canada

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2008 Suzuki SX4

Oshawa, Ontario – As automakers go, Suzuki has a lower profile than most. Many buyers don’t even think of it when compiling test-drive lists; the company is more familiar to many for its motorcycles. A number of models shared with General Motors didn’t help give it a unique personality either, however several new offerings are bringing it out from under the General’s shadow, including the all-new SX4 sedan.

The SX4 is the replacement for the Aerio, an oddly-styled but sturdy little runabout. For 2007, only the SX4 hatchback was introduced; the Aerio sedan hung on for one more year, replaced last September by the 2008 SX4 sedan.

The SX4 sedan is available in two trim lines: my base tester, and a Sport model. Both use a 2.0-litre four-cylinder and start with a five-speed manual that had been optioned to a four-speed automatic in mine. That’s the only option available, as adding items means moving up the trim line. The base model is fairly well-equipped, including manual air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, power locks with keyless entry, and CD/MP3 stereo; the Sport adds four-wheel disc brakes, automatic climate control, six-CD stereo, leather-wrapped wheel, body kit, alloy wheels, heated mirrors, and fog lamps.

2008 Suzuki SX4 base
2008 Suzuki SX4 base. Click image to enlarge

Both models have numerous standard safety features, including anti-lock brakes, seat side and curtain airbags, and seatbelt pretensioners.

The base model’s $17,195 starting price is higher than the base Honda Civic ($16,990), Toyota Corolla ($15,785), Nissan Versa ($14,998) and Mazda3 ($16,895), but do your homework when comparing. The Suzuki’s 2.0-litre makes 143 horsepower, topped only by the Mazda3’s 148 horses; Civic makes 140, Corolla 126, and Versa 122 horses (unique to the group, Versa uses a six-speed manual). The SX4’s 136 lb-ft of torque is highest, over Civic’s 128, Corolla’s 122, Versa’s 127 and Mazda’s 135 lb-ft. As well, air conditioning is optional or unavailable on the other base models, and only Civic and Mazda3 provide six airbags and ABS as standard equipment – Corolla’s ABS is optional and side and curtain airbags are unavailable on the base model, while Versa has six airbags but charges extra for the computerized brakes.

Where the SX4 does fall down is on fuel economy, with an official rating of 9.0 L/100 km in the city and 6.5 L/100 km on the highway – Civic is 8.2/5.7, Corolla 7.1/5.3, Versa 7.9/6.3 and Mazda3 is 8.4/6.1. I didn’t come close to my tester’s published rating, averaging an extremely thirsty 10.4 L/100 km in combined, cold-weather driving.

Its love of fuel aside, the SX4 is a worthy successor to the Aerio. I like its styling, one of the few times where the sedan is better looking than the hatchback (which wasn’t the case with the Aerio). The belt line rakes upward, retaining the large greenhouse – visibility is great in this car – while reducing any resemblance to an AMC Pacer.

2008 Suzuki SX4 base
2008 Suzuki SX4 base. Click image to enlarge

Its height translates into considerable headroom – a 6-foot-2 passenger was nowhere near the headliner, even in the rear seat – but it doesn’t feel like a fishbowl inside. It’s also an easy car to exit and enter, thanks to the tall openings.

The torquey little engine is very peppy, and combined with the nicely-weighted steering, the SX4 has that fun, go-kart feel to it. I’ve driven the five-speed, which is very notchy and clicks into each gate with military precision; the engine’s got enough grunt that it requires very little shifting, a bonus in everyday commuter traffic. The automatic runs through its gears quickly; occasionally the shifts are a bit harsh, but overall, it’s performance you’d expect in this segment. The SX4 hatchback is available with all-wheel drive, but the sedan pushes the front wheels only.

Handling is quite good for an entry-level vehicle, with accurate tracking around corners and no need to be constantly correcting its path on the highway; the turning circle is very tight and it’s a cinch to park.

2008 Suzuki SX4 base
2008 Suzuki SX4 base
2008 Suzuki SX4 base. Click image to enlarge

The whole package is stiff and sporty, and it handles itself very well around tight curves, but the trade-off is the ride. It’s very harsh and you feel every minor bump, and it can get tiring on a long drive.

As expected, there’s a lot of plastic inside, but it’s fitted together quite well, and metallic trim on either side of the centre stack helps to break it up. More backlighting is needed, as only the driver’s window button lights up. The centre stack controls are simple and fall readily to hand, but the stereo dials need work: they’re stubby little numbers and very difficult to grasp and turn. The company’s Canadian executives told me that the Japanese head office still isn’t sold on the idea of auxiliary jacks, and so if you want to run your iPod or other device through the stereo, you need to buy a jack at the dealer. It’s very easy to install – it goes in the glovebox, which also lets you hide your player – and on the Sport model, you can control it through the wheel-mounted audio controls. Still, buyers today are expecting to be able to plug-and-play right out the door, and no matter how simple the add-on is, they simply don’t want to have to add it. It’s a little thing, but in the face of pricier systems like Ford’s SYNC or Chrysler’s MyGIG, a standard-equipment iPod interface could be a major selling point with the younger buyers who frequent the entry-level segment.

The heater dials are easy to work with gloves, and the heater is incredible: as the Aerio’s was, the SX4’s is a blast furnace. I’m happiest when my environment resembles the Sahara on a summer’s day at noon, but I was spinning the temperature dial back even on very cold days. A screen at the top of the stack provides the clock and fuel economy readout, but its red numbers can be hard to read in bright sunshine.

2008 Suzuki SX4 base
2008 Suzuki SX4 base. Click image to enlarge

The SX4 is impressively roomy, even in the rear seat; the chairs are firm, though, and they get hard on a long drive. Unlike the hatchback model, the sedan’s rear seat doesn’t fold down. The trunk is massive – very deep and 98 cm long – but folding seats are so common on small cars now that it’s surprising to find one lacking it.

Overall, the SX4 is a good little runabout, offering good performance, sporty handling, and a list of standard features that’s extremely well-rounded for the price. It’s important to weigh that list of features when test-driving, because its higher base cost is offset by items that must be added to the competition for a fair comparison. Only its taste for fuel holds this little Suzuki back when it comes to giving above-average value for the money.

Pricing: 2008 Suzuki SX4 sedan

Base price: $17,195
Options: $1,100 (Automatic transmission)

A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,250
Price as tested: $19,645
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: 2008 Suzuki SX4

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