First times are always special. It's the wave of release after the seemingly endless ascent -- longing and looking, reaching and waiting. It defines a truly special time in a young Web site's life, and it's how we felt as we took the keys to our very first long-term Suzuki, a 2009 SX4.
Loaded with all-wheel drive, an automatic transmission and a built-in Garmin navigation system, the 2009 Suzuki SX4 crossover represents a right-car-at-the-right-time proposition for a small carmaker existing on the fringe of a shrinking market. Crossovers have been the height of cool, the Honda Fit has been selling strongly and global warming was sure to kill us all, so we expected the Suzuki SX4 would speak to us about the future of small cars.
But that was a year ago. In that time we rolled the little Suzuki across 20,000 miles of real-life pavement; did the reality of owning a Suzuki meet our expectations?
Why We Got It
While new to our long-term fleet, the SX4 is not exactly a new vehicle. It debuted in 2007 and has been updated with the addition of a front-wheel-drive model and the expansion into a sedan body style. What the 2009 Suzuki SX4 brought to the table was its status as the U.S. vehicle with the least expensive built-in navigation system. Suzuki accomplished this feat by simply teaming up with Garmin to produce a unique adaptation of a portable navigation device for automotive use. It made you wonder why no one else had thought of it before.
Simplicity has always been Suzuki's message, and the time seemed right to gauge the appeal of this way of doing things. Moreover, the SX4's combination of American-style utility and international-style components (engineered in Japan, styled in Italy and manufactured in both Japan and Hungary) also seemed in tune with the spirit of the times. It was the right time to get a Suzuki.
Three things dominated our long-term experience with this 2009 Suzuki SX4: cruising range, engine power and an airbag warning light. But we'll get to that.
What makes the Suzuki SX4 really stand out is its price with standard navigation, and this feature got our attention from the first. This Garmin unit was almost universally praised by our staff, though Edmunds Automotive Editor John DiPietro wished it was closer to the dash. Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath said, "One of my favorite things is the built-in-but-take-outable navigation system. I dig Garmin. I like the interface, I like the graphics and I like that, unlike a lot of factory systems, it's got EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD on it." Not only did we appreciate the Garmin unit while it was mounted in the SX4, but it was also handy when Edmunds Automotive Editor James Riswick decided it would look better in his personal Z3.
Other automotive navigation systems can't operate in multiple cars, or while you're walking or hiking. Now if only the SX4 had the cruising range to make it out to some fun trails away from the asphalt. But hold your horses, we're getting there.
There was more to the 2009 Suzuki SX4 than just its Garmin navi, though. Editor in Chief Scott Oldham liked the smooth four-speed automatic transmission, though it was geared very tall to maximize fuel economy. Edmunds Associate Editor Josh Sadlier and Executive Editor Michael Jordan recommended the SX4 for parts hauling. The suspension earned the respect of Senior Editor Erin Riches, while it also became the subject of a technical walkaround by Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds.
Erin enjoyed the way the SX4 handled so much that she had the gumption to drive this runabout all the way to Oregon. She said, "I like the way this car's suspension is tuned. It doesn't feel like an aggressive setup, but the SX4 really feels planted on the road."
During said trip Riches covered 2,125 miles, appreciated the full-size, American-friendly driving position, complained about the wind noise and vaporized 84.891 gallons of 87 octane for an average of 25 mpg -- fuel economy that's just a bit more than the 23.2 mpg it averaged during our term with us. It didn't seem so remarkable until we realized that the Honda Fit is something of a competitor for the SX4 and the 2009 Honda Fit Sport averaged 31.4 mpg during its own long-term test with us.
And so we get to the meat of the problems.
With a 1,995cc inline-4 engine, a four-speed automatic, and overall gearing that tried to make possible all-terrain friendliness, velocities above the national speed limit were a strain for the 2009 Suzuki SX4. We could tell because people complained not only about indifferent fuel economy (it's small, so why doesn't it get 100 mpg?) but also about a general lack of fun. John DiPietro averaged 26 mpg on a 230-mile highway trek, while Edmunds Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans noted that we'd been adding only 10 gallons of fuel or so at our fill-ups even though the SX4 has a tank that holds 11.9 gallons.
It turns out that our SX4's gas gauge lacked courage and registered a worrisome lack of fuel even when we could have pushed on farther. Then again, a cruising range of about 50 miles is what you expect when the low fuel light is triggered, and the fuel economy we'd been getting meant we'd need a couple gallons to make it that far. We shouldn't have been surprised, since Photo Editor Kurt Niebuhr figured it out with 2,000 miles on the SX4's clock.
The final issue we encountered with our SX4 was an airbag warning light that kept coming back on even after a couple of dealer visits. We brought it in initially with some 3,000 miles on the odometer and were told that a plug was disconnected. A Suzuki dealership in Cerritos -- the closest of three -- fixed the plug problem immediately. But then the light came back on and we were told that a new seat bottom would have to be ordered. Easier said than done, as Suzuki supply lines don't seem to be as well stocked as you'd hope. And then, about a month later, our dealer informed us that its future as a Suzuki dealer might be limited and it had placed all parts orders on hold.
Frustrated, we opted for a channel we reserve only for the worst cases and called our contacts at the manufacturer. So we took the 2009 Suzuki SX4 by the technical facilities at American Suzuki Motor Corporation, hooked up a scan tool and found that no part was necessary. All we needed was an electronic update, which was accomplished on the spot. Since then, it does appear that at least two of our local Suzuki dealerships have closed up shop; this could be cause for concern for potential owners.
Total Body Repair Costs: $1,046.78
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over  months): $57
Additional Maintenance Costs: 0
Warranty Repairs: 1
Non-Warranty Repairs: 0
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Days Out of Service: 2
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: 0
Performance and Fuel Economy
The EPA rates the 2009 Suzuki SX4 with AWD and an automatic at 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. While our average fuel economy was close to the EPA's combined figure (as it always is in our long-term tests), we seldom were able to approach the EPA's highway figure of 28 mpg. Only eight of our 96 trips to the pump resulted in a calculation of more than 26 mpg, and we certainly took more than eight purely highway drives. At the low end, the EPA says we should've averaged 21 mpg; 17 mpg was more common around these parts.
But this might have something to do with the SX4's lackluster performance and sluggish feel. During our initial round of introductory testing, the SX4's 143-hp engine powered it to 60 mph from a standstill in 11.7 seconds and it passed through the quarter-mile in 18.3 seconds at 76.4 mph. Maybe we expected too much from an all-wheel-drive vehicle that weighs 2,982 pounds.
Best Fuel Economy: 23.2 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 17.2 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 23.2 mpg
Best Range: 276.3 miles
At the end of the Suzuki SX4's tour of duty, we'd racked up a grand total of 20,174 miles. This is just barely above our mandate of 20,000 miles, but above is above. Considering the mileage, condition and equipment on our test car, Edmunds True Market Value (TMV®) pegs the resale of our 2009 Suzuki SX4 crossover with Touring package and navigation at $12,792 -- $5,387 below the original sticker. This equates to a depreciation of just about 30 percent, slightly above what we'd hoped for.
In comparison, our long-term 2009 Honda Fit Sport registered depreciation of only 23 percent. We were initially concerned about the residual value the SX4 would hold, since Suzuki still isn't exactly a household name, so we think 30 percent is perfectly acceptable. After all, nobody's trying to flip SX4s for a profit, although Vehicle Testing Manager Mike Schmidt might have wanted to try it.
True Market Value at service end: $12,792
Depreciation: $5,387 or 30% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 20,174
The Year of Suzuki
If cruising range, engine power and fuel economy are what you're shopping for, then this 2009 Suzuki SX4 might seem to be bad news. The good news is, the 2010 Suzuki SX4 Sportback has a 150-hp inline-4 while a CVT with shift paddles on the steering wheel takes the place of the four-speed automatic. And just as important, the 2010 SX4 has a fuel tank that's larger by 2 gallons.
With the merger of Fiat and Chrysler, the Suzuki SX4 is the closest thing we have on these shores to what could be in the pipeline for future small Dodges. It's a useful package for daily utility that provides reliability and comfort, but there are those unfortunate excursions to gas stations and dealerships to consider.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.