2008 Suzuki SX4
2008 Suzuki SX4. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2008 Suzuki SX4

Ottawa, Ontario – Suzuki’s close association with General Motors means that some of its vehicles aren’t actual Suzukis at all. Examples are the company’s XL7 sport utility vehicle, which is based on a Chevrolet Equinox, and the Swift+ hatchback, which is sourced from Korean maker Daewoo (GM-DAT is that company’s official name).

But happily the SX4 is all Suzuki, which means that it exhibits a somewhat quirky but endearing design, solid engineering, and a distinctive identity. It’s also a value leader in the compact car segment, featuring a range of driver amenities that are extra cost on its more mainstream competitors like the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Nissan Sentra.

First, the basics. Built in Japan, the base $17,195 Suzuki SX4 Sedan (with manual transmission; automatic adds $1,100) is a four-door, front-wheel drive, sedan version of the SX4 hatchback.

2008 Suzuki SX4
2008 Suzuki SX4. Click image to enlarge

That car – the hatchback – has available all-wheel drive (AWD) which may be all you need to recommend it. However, some people prefer sedans, and while our SX4 “Sport” loses the AWD, it comes standard with just about all the options that Suzuki can offer at $20,095, including automatic transmission. In other words, you get a lot of car for your money.

Power comes from a four-cylinder, 16-valve engine of 2.0-litres displacement, making 143 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, and 134 pounds-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. This is the engine found in all SX4 variants.

Standard equipment on the SX4 Sedan is generous (even without the “Sport” package), including a block heater, front disc/rear drum brakes with antilock, brake assist (to help in emergency stops) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD, which also helps keep the car stable when stopping); six airbags, a dash-mounted information display (fuel consumption, clock, outside temperature), power windows, power doorlocks with remote entry, power mirrors, and air conditioning.

The “Sport” package adds automatic climate control, a six-disc CD changer with eight speakers plus subwoofer, XM satellite radio readiness, 17-inch alloy wheels, four wheel disc brakes with antilock, brake assist and EBD; steering wheel mounted audio controls, body kit, fog lamps, cruise control, leather wrapped steering wheel and heated mirrors.

Our test vehicle arrived wearing a snappy Pearl White Metallic exterior with grey fabric interior.

2008 Suzuki SX4
2008 Suzuki SX4. Click image to enlarge

One of the key things to note about the SX4 Sedan is the extraordinary ease of entry and exit for driver and passengers. True, front headroom at 1006 millimetres is effectively the same as that found in a Honda Civic, but the SX4 is a significant 110 mm taller than the Civic. This means that the seat is positioned considerably higher in the car, which minimizes the risk of banging your head while getting in our out. Also, the front and rear doors open wide, to further facilitate easy entry and exit.

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

Once inside, the chair-like seating offers a good view of the road ahead, and the SX4’s big windows afford great visibility to the sides and rear. Complementing the side windows for driver and front-seat passenger are what used to be called “quarter-lights;” triangular windows located between the windshield and A-pillar. A final touch is the huge size of the outside rear view mirrors. These are notably bigger than mirrors found on most sedans, and very helpful when checking the location of surrounding traffic.

The trunk, too, is very big. Its 439 litres are 25-percent more than typical competitors in this class. Compromising the space are its exposed hinges, however.

The interior of the SX4 is well presented; the lines are clean, controls are chunky and functional, instruments are easy to read (glowing red at night). There are bottle holders in the map pockets, grab handles for each outboard occupant, and a useful storage area below the climate controls. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and overall the interior, especially the dashboard, would look at home in a more expensive car.

On the road, the SX4 is nimble and quiet. The engine is peppy for around-town driving, and I had no trouble accelerating up to highway speeds (it’s not fast, but is sufficient). A drive on the highway at 120 km/h demonstrated the SX4’s reassuring stability and minimal road noise. On all surfaces and in all conditions the SX4 feels like it’s built out of a solid chunk of metal, such is its rigidity and substance. This car really feels like it’s bolted together for good.

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

At city speeds, the SX4 works its way through the four-speed automatic transmission very quickly — perhaps a bit too quickly — as if it is trying to get to fourth (to maximize fuel economy) without delay. Indeed, engine speed is commendably low in fourth, but often you’re not really ready to be in “cruise” mode, which causes a downshift rather too frequently. It’s not big problem, but the transmission can seem a little busy as you drive around town. My best fuel consumption reading was 9.5 L/100km, by the way, which seems somewhat high for this type of car.

While I’m picking nits, the operation of the electrically assisted power steering, especially on the highway, is too apparent for me. It’s hard to keep a steady “on-centre” feel, I found, and one is continuously making fine adjustments to keep the car straight. If you test-drive this car, pay attention to this.

And although I’ve lauded the SX4’s roominess compared with the Honda Civic, for instance, the Civic’s wheelbase is notably 200 mm longer than the SX4’s, with the overall length of the two cars pretty much the same. This results in a more compliant ride for the Civic over rough or uneven surfaces, where the SX4 will lurch and pitch a bit.

And here are a couple more small criticisms; not deal breakers, for sure, but things you notice after a while behind the wheel. First, the turn signal indicator is virtually inaudible, and the accompanying illuminated arrows on the instrument panel are very small; second the handy cubby below the climate controls needs a rubber mat to stop things sliding around. Finally, I’d like a centre armrest with storage container between the front seats.

So, not perfect (not much is…), but a good effort from Suzuki that should satisfy consumers looking for a competitively priced, very well-equipped and practical runabout for around-town errands. Distinguishing it is the long list of standard (and desirable) features and the supreme ease of entering and exiting the car. On the negative side, fuel economy should be better.

In conclusion, if you’re interested in the SX4 — and it does have a lot to recommend it — I’d still look at the hatchback version, if only because of the AWD option. However, demand is not strong for hatchbacks, and that’s a market reality. If only Suzuki would offer the AWD system in the SX4 Sedan; that would be a real competitive edge.

Pricing: 2008 Suzuki SX4 Sedan Sport


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