Full 2008 Suzuki SX4 Review
What's New for 2008
Suzuki expands the model line to include a front-wheel-drive sedan dubbed the SX4 Sport on the basis of its aero body kit and more firmly tuned suspension. Otherwise, the 2008 Suzuki SX4 sedan is equipped similarly to the all-wheel-drive SX4 hatchback introduced last year. The latter carries over unaltered, save for a taller 5th-gear ratio on its manual transmission and assorted packaging changes.
Although Suzuki is a small-time player in the United States, it's among the automotive giants in Japan -- and its success is based largely on its ability to build desirable small cars. Oddly enough, Suzuki has struggled to come up with subcompact and compact entries Americans want to buy. In recent years, the company has even turned to its partner General Motors, and sourced cars from the GM Daewoo Auto & Technology (GMDAT) plant in Korea. However, Suzuki finally turned the corner last year with the introduction of the SX4 hatchback, an attractively styled four-door hatchback with solid performance, an ample features list and standard all-wheel drive. It's not a best-in-class entry just yet, but for buyers in need of a low-cost snow vehicle, the Suzuki SX4 makes a lot of sense.
For 2008, the company is attempting to give the SX4 line broader appeal with the debut of the 2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport. Offered only as a front-wheel-drive sedan, the SX4 Sport will eventually supplant the Forenza/Reno siblings as Suzuki's mainstream economy sedan entry. The "Sport" in the sedan's name is intentional, as Suzuki hopes to emphasize that its lowered and more firmly tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and lower body kit add up to a sportier driving experience. Suzuki even fitted a rear crossbrace in the sedan's trunk for a 15 percent increase in structural rigidity over the hatchback. Unfortunately, this stiffening measure also prevents the rear seats from folding. Otherwise, the SX4 sedan is mechanically identical to the hatchback, using the same 143-horsepower 2.0-liter engine. This new SX4 iteration performs competently in most respects, but it's a stretch to call it sporty.
In terms of size and market positioning, the 2008 Suzuki SX4 sedan and hatchback fall somewhere between traditional subcompact and compact classifications. On one hand, they're built on Suzuki's global B-segment platform (also used for the Swift hatchback outside the U.S.) and naturally compete with the Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent/Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, Scion xD and Toyota Yaris. On the other, they're longer, wider and taller than most of these cars and arguably more in line with less expensive compact entries like the Chevrolet Cobalt, Dodge Caliber, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Spectra.
This is a large, competitive field, and although the SX4 sedan offers a sufficient features list and plenty of interior room, there's not much to set this newcomer apart from other budget four-doors. The driving experience is decent enough, but the quality of its cabin materials is merely average at best and its fuel economy numbers are below average at a time when small-car buyers are giving EPA estimates extra scrutiny. The Suzuki SX4 hatchback is the stronger sell in our view, as its standard all-wheel drive and pint-size SUV styling make it an appealing option over AWD versions of the Caliber, Subaru Impreza and any number of small sport-utilities.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Suzuki SX4 is a compact car available in four-door hatchback and four-door sedan body styles. Known as the SX4 Sport, the sedan is front-wheel drive only, while the SX4 hatchback is all-wheel drive. Both body styles come in base, Convenience and Touring trim levels.
Standard features on the base SX4 hatchback include 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, air-conditioning, a CD/MP3 player and full power accessories. The base SX4 sedan has 17-inch alloys, a lower body kit and a lowered suspension with firmer tuning. Equipped with the Convenience Package, both SX4s gain cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. In addition to that, an SX4 with the Touring Package offers automatic climate control, an upgraded nine-speaker audio system with an in-dash CD changer, heated outside mirrors and the SmartPass keyless entry and engine-start system.
Powertrains and Performance
Power for all Suzuki SX4s comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 143 hp and 136 pound-feet of torque. It's connected to a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic.
The EPA's 2008 fuel economy estimates for the all-wheel-drive SX4 hatchback are 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway with either transmission. The front-drive SX4 Sport sedan fares a bit better in this area, earning a 23/31 rating with the automatic and 23/30 with the manual. Still, all those numbers are at the bottom of the barrel in terms of subcompact sedans and hatchbacks.
Every 2008 Suzuki SX4 comes with antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags and head-protecting side curtain airbags for all outboard passengers. Traction and stability control, an unusual feature for this class, is standard on SX4 Touring models only.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Suzuki SX4's cabin has a clean design with large, three-dial climate control knobs that sit just below a compact, well-labeled CD stereo. Unfortunately, said stereo doesn't include the auxiliary audio jack younger buyers will be looking for, and the quality of the surrounding plastics is a step or two below the materials in rivals like the xD, Fit and Versa. However, those who are very tall will appreciate the Suzuki's voluminous headroom in both the front and rear. The propped-up driving position may feel a bit awkward to some consumers, but ex-SUV owners will find it familiar and beneficial to outward visibility. Knee room can be tight for adults seated in back, but the high-mounted bench provides good thigh support. In the hatchback, the 60/40-split rear seat can be lowered and tumbled forward to open up an ample 38 cubic feet of cargo room. In the SX4 Sport sedan, the rear seat is fixed in place, but the large 14-cubic-foot trunk provides a deep well of usable space.
Though it has a powerful engine compared to its subcompact competition, the 2008 Suzuki SX4 is no hot rod. A bulky curb weight negates any advantage and the engine is light on low-end torque. As a result, acceleration is no better than other less powerful competitors -- we've timed an automatic-equipped hatchback at a leisurely 11.3 seconds for the 0-60-mph run. Buyers so inclined would be wise to stick with the manual gearbox: It makes better use of the engine's power while offering a satisfyingly snappy gearchange.
The extra pounds help give the SX4 a smooth, refined ride quality at least, and the standard antilock disc brakes don't seem to mind the extra heft. Big bumps barely upset the suspension and the hatchback's sizable 16-inch tires provide solid grip. With its lower-profile 17-inch tires and firmer suspension, the SX4 Sport sedan is the better handler of the two, and body roll is well managed through the corners. For a car with "Sport" in its name, however, its steering feedback is disappointingly minimal. Buyers seeking a truly sporting drive in an inexpensive car will do better with a Honda Fit or a lightly optioned Mazda 3 i.