Just like the annoying kid from high school who did every extra credit assignment possible, cars can be overachievers, too. That's the case with the SX4 Sport (the overachieving part, mind you, not the annoying one). It's a new front-wheel-drive compact sedan that's related to Suzuki's all-wheel-drive SX4 Crossover hatchback, and its combination of value and sportiness make it an attractive entry in the crowded small-car segment.
From the B-pillar forward, the SX4 Sport is a dead ringer for the SX4 Crossover hatchback that Suzuki launched last year. It features the same stylishly assertive face with creased bodywork. It's a likable look and one that's appropriate for a car with sporty ambitions.
The sedan has a distinctive profile thanks to its 60.8-inch-high roof, which is taller than those of competitors like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Mazda3. The shape is not unlike Suzuki's old Aerio small car, and the tall roof pays headroom dividends for both front and rear occupants. The SX4 Sport isn't as sleek as a Civic, though.
Ride & Handling
The SX4 Sport is an impressive performer on winding country roads, which is where I spent the majority of my time driving it, along with some city and suburban motoring. The MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension aren't revolutionary designs, but Suzuki has done a magnificent job tuning them to satisfy the whims of sport-inclined drivers.
During spirited driving on winding roads, the SX4 Sport carves through turns with ease, and the taut suspension tuning keeps body roll to a minimum and lets the car recover quickly when you hit a bump or dip in the road. The sport-tuned suspension and standard 17-inch alloy wheels and tires deliver decent damping on pockmarked roads, but ride quality is still rather stiff. With the incorporation of lively, light steering effort, the SX4 Sport rewards drivers with a level of performance that's disproportionately higher than its price.
Going & Stopping
The SX4 Sport is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 143 horsepower and 136 pounds-feet of torque. The engine teams with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, and the front-wheel-drive sedan achieves an EPA-estimated 23/31 mpg (city/highway) with the optional automatic transmission and 22/30 mpg with the manual. When compared to estimates from the SX4 Sport's key competitors, the Suzuki ranks near the bottom of the pack.
|Gas Mileage Compared|
|2008 Toyota Corolla||26/35||28/37|
|2007 Honda Civic w/1.8-liter 4-cyl.*||25/36||26/34|
|2007 Nissan Sentra w/2.0-liter 4-cyl.*||25/33**||24/31|
|2008 Kia Spectra||24/32||23/30|
|2008 Mazda3 w/2.0-liter 4-cyl.||23/31||24/32|
|2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport||23/31||22/30|
|2007 Chevrolet Cobalt w/2.2-liter 4-cyl.*||21/29||22/31|
*Recalculated to comply with 2008 testing standards.
**Continuously variable automatic transmission.
The smooth-revving four-cylinder makes decent power, but it's nowhere near as dynamic as the SX4 Sport's chassis and doesn't deliver the most appealing sound at high rpm.
I had the chance to drive both manual- and automatic-transmission versions of the SX4 Sport. The five-speed manual has a heavy quality to it, as gear changes require a deliberate prod of the shifter. The manual works with a comparatively light, easy-engaging clutch that makes launching the car second-nature. The automatic's shifts are succinct and remain composed when accelerating hard.
The SX4 Sport features standard all-disc antilock brakes that, like the clutch pedal on manual-transmission models, require only light pedal effort to operate and are receptive to changes in pedal pressure.
The SX4 Sport is relatively large on the inside. The front seats have manual adjustments that get the job done, but a seat-height adjustment would be nice to have to take advantage of the headroom afforded by the tall roof. The same goes for a telescoping steering wheel; it would have allowed me to pull the wheel closer for a more comfortable arm angle.
The view forward from the front seats is great, but the large A-pillar on the right side is in the driver's line of sight when checking for pedestrians and cars at intersections. It obstructs the view despite the narrow, triangular window in it.
While the cabin has some downmarket elements, like release levers for the fuel door and trunk that protrude from a roughly cut hole in the floor carpet, most interior trim pieces are better finished. This puts the SX4 Sport in the middle of the small car pack in terms of interior quality, alongside the likes of Mazda.
Backseat passengers enjoy a raised seating position that affords good forward views. I'm 6-foot-1, and I had enough room to sit comfortably in the back with the front seat adjusted for me, but I was definitely approaching the cabin's limits; I didn't have much legroom to spare. There is, however, lots of foot room under the front seats.
The SX4 Sport's trunk is a sizable 14.3 cubic feet, which is larger than the cargo area of the Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. The front wall of the trunk has the consistency of cardboard, and one staffer's piece of rolling luggage punctured a hole in it, which doesn't bode well for its long-term durability.
The SX4 Sport has standard side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags. An electronic stability system is optional. As of this writing, the SX4 Sport hadn't been crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The standard features list includes air conditioning, remote keyless entry, a CD stereo and power accessories. Selecting the optional Convenience Package adds cruise control, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, automatic air conditioning and heated mirrors. The Touring Package features SmartPass keyless start, a six-CD audio system, traction control, the stability system and a rear spoiler.
SX4 Sport in the Market
After walking away less than impressed with the last two Suzukis I tested — the Grand Vitara and XL7 SUVs — the SX4 Sport didn't raise much anticipation in me. Its entertaining personality is endearing, though, and it definitely has the moves to take on the best entries this class has to offer. If the SX4 Sport signals the kind of cars we should expect from Suzuki in the future, the brand has a shot at becoming a household name for U.S. car buyers.
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