Suzuki's new SX4 represents a bargain-priced car with more ruggedness than anything else in its class. Its interior dimensions match that of the Scion xB, but without the crazy boxy exterior. It's a little bigger than the Honda Fit, and feels substantially more powerful. But the real thing that sets the SX4 apart from its competitors in the budget market is that all-wheel drive is standard.
But unlike some of its competitors, the SX4 has almost no cabin tech. Neither navigation nor Bluetooth are available. The stereo in the base trim level car, the one we got in to test, only distinguishes itself by playing MP3 and WMA CDs. There isn't even an auxiliary audio jack. The slightly pricier SX4 Sport comes with a better stereo and, strangely enough, a smart key.
Test the tech: World Rally Championship
When we first saw the Suzuki SX4, at the 2006 Geneva auto show, we figured that its small size and all-wheel-drive system made it a potential World Rally Championship (WRC) competitor. At the 2007 Geneva auto show, we saw that we were on the right track, with Suzuki showing off a WRC version, ostensibly a concept, of the SX4.
We found good terrain for our rally test near Half Moon Bay, on the California coast. To make matters more fun, it had been raining all day. Our first test road was a single lane road with remnants of pavement that snaked up the side of various mountains. We displayed suitable caution on this road due to its lack of guard rails, which could lead to long plunges down into uninhabited canyons. We also quickly noted that the SX4 has a cabin much higher than a Mitsubishi Evo or Subaru WRX. Although the head room was spacious, the high center of gravity had us concerned.
But the SX4 performed surprisingly well. We bombed down our partially paved road, kicking up gravel and slamming it into second for the tight corners, and the car felt sure-footed. Body roll was also minimal, with the tight suspension absorbing the bumps and keeping the tires on the ground. On Suzuki's WRC site, chief engineer Osamu Honda talks about how the production SX4 was designed to have a very rigid body, something we could appreciate in our faux rally driving.
We also put the car on a short dirt track to get a better sense of the all-wheel-drive system. The car didn't disappoint, with all tires gripping through some tight cornering on one particular patch that gave way to more grass than dirt. We felt the effect of the all-wheel drive as power transferred between the front and rear tires to compensate for slippage.
In the cabin
As we mentioned above, the Suzuki SX4 is very short on cabin tech. Our base trim model came with a mediocre-sounding four-speaker stereo. Each door had grills for two speakers, but the smaller, tweeter grill was unoccupied, with sound only coming from the bigger speakers lower in the doors. And the sound quality did nothing for our music. Bass and highs were muted, with most of the sound compressed in the midrange. That's the first concession to achieve its low $14,999 price tag. The Sport trim level, which costs $1,400 more, makes use of those tweeter grills, and throws in a subwoofer, for a total of nine speakers.
The base trim stereo includes a single CD player that can read MP3s and WMAs, and is ready for XM satellite radio. We found CD navigation reasonable, and the single line display showed artist, album, or track name at the push of a button. The Sport trim SX4 comes with a six-CD changer in the dash, something we would have preferred. Steering wheel-mounted audio controls can be had in the SX4 with the Convenience package, which costs $300. An iPod adapter is available as a dealer install for $160. There was no auxiliary audio input in our test car.