When most people see the 2009 Suzuki SX4 Sport, they don't immediately think about the Japanese automaker's rally pedigree. They don't think about high-revving turbocharged powerplants or all-wheel-drive vehicles that are in this car's DNA. Instead, they think of a cheap econo-box, which is a shame, because there is a lot to like about this modest little sedan.
For one, the SX4 Sport comes standard with an unconventional, but (as we learned) very useful, navigation system. It matches its competition for handling and outclasses them in power. In Sport trim, the SX4 also gets four-wheel disc brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, and an aero package consisting of a more aggressive front air dam, side skirts, and rear diffuser. You get all of this for hundreds of dollars less than the most base-model compact sedan from Toyota or Honda.
Test the tech: You call that a navigation option?
Our SX4 Sport was equipped with the SuzukiTRIP navigation package, which--when we accepted delivery of the test car--we found out meant that a Garmin Nuvi 760 portable navigation device had been integrated into the dashboard beneath a flip-up panel. At first, we were disappointed by what looked like a half-hearted attempt at adding cabin tech, but we decided to run some errands with the system to see how well it worked and were pleasantly surprised.
From its perch at the center of the dashboard, the SuzukiTRIP GPS device serves as the brain of the cabin tech experience
The first part of the system that surprised us was the integration with the audio system. After searching for our local electronics retailer, we set out to pick up a new CD. When the GPS system's text-to-speech prompted us for a turn or notified us of traffic ahead, the audio played back through the stereo system. Using the car's speakers is really cool for audibility, but the hack used to make the integration work doesn't attenuate the music. Rather, playback is stopped altogether. When listening to CDs, the constant stopping and starting causes awkward pauses in the music while the disc spins up.
Satisfied that the SX4 Sport's navigation system could get us where we were going, we looked to see what else it could do. Diving into the menus, we found that the Garmin device features Bluetooth hands-free and MP3 playback from the SD-card slot, all of which played back through the car's audio system. We were beginning to think that we'd underestimated the utility of this GPS option.
We also discovered that our GPS system was equipped with MSN Direct, which features--in addition to real-time traffic--a fuel price finder, movie times, news, weather, airport delay info, and stock price updates. In this respect, the SuzukiTRIP/Garmin system is actually more advanced than many OEM integrated systems. We were going to head to the park, but a quick peek at the three-day weather forecast showed that rain was expected. So, we used the Movie Times feature to find a film that was playing nearby. After finding a film, we were able to call the theater with our Bluetooth-paired phone and set the destination with the touch of a button.
At the end of our test of the Suzuki SX4 Sport's GPS system, we found that not only did it feature excellent navigation with traffic data, but it also came with the bonus features of MSN Direct, Bluetooth hands-free, and MP3 playback. Being modular also means that the system can be removed for security or transferred to other vehicles. All in all, we'd say the SuzukiTRIP is a well-integrated solution to add a suite of cabin tech to the SX4 Sport.
In the cabin
One of the first things we noticed about the SX4 upon approach was its tall, bulbous greenhouse. For a vehicle that's meant to compete directly with the Civic bunch, it was odd to see a roof that was nearly as tall as that of a Honda CR-V. However, upon settling into the SX4 Sport's cabin, we were pleased by the great amounts of headroom and visibility the vehicle's tall stance afforded. Blind spots are minimized and rearward visibility is at a maximum. Small winglet windows in the A-pillars allow the windshield to sit toward the front of the car without creating blind spots at the front corners. This creates the pleasant illusion of sitting in a vehicle much larger than the SX4's small footprint.
For 2009, every trim level of the SX4 Sport is equipped with a standard GPS navigation in the form of an integrated and rebadged Garmin portable navigation device (PND). In the case of the SX4 Sport with the Technology Package, the device in question is a Nuvi 760. This PND features a 4.8-inch-wide touch screen and Garmin's intuitive interface and battery of features. The screen is a bit on the small side compared with other integrated systems, but it is bright and clearly visible in direct sunlight. The screen sits right in the top-center of the dashboard, perfect for easy viewing while driving, but also just outside of comfortable reaching range. You'll want to make sure the vehicle is stopped before trying to enter data.
The SuzukiTRIP features MSN Direct, which provides traffic information, fuel prices, weather, movie times, and a host of other valuable information mentioned earlier. The navigation system also features Bluetooth hands-free, which we were able to pair with our test phone rather easily with a PIN. An SD-card slot on the device's side allows the playback of MP3s and Audible.com audiobooks, and JPEG photo slide shows. There is also a dedicated menu button for locating your nearest Suzuki dealer when it's time to service the vehicle.
Thanks to MSN Direct integration, the SX4 offers a level of mobile search data that rivals the best OEM systems.
All audio from the GPS device is played back through the standard AM/FM/CD audio system. The system supports playback of MP3/WMA-encoded CDs, but doesn't come standard with a line-in jack or a USB input. So for now, SX4 Sport owners are stuck using the SuzukiTRIP's SD-card slot for their digital audio fix. XM radio is, however, available as an option. Sound quality from the four-speaker system is actually quite good for a basic setup. There is very little bass distortion at moderate-to-loud volumes, but there is a barely noticeable clipping of the highs and midrange near max volume. Cranking the bass near max volume elicits major audio distortion and quite a bit of door panel rattle, but left at listenable volumes the sound quality is solid.
Under the hood
While the SX4 was once available with all-wheel drive, our SX4 Sport was a garden variety front-wheel drive model. Powered by a 2.0-liter DOHC four- cylinder engine, it outputs 143 horsepower and 136 foot-pounds of torque. This may not seem like a lot of power on paper, but it has a bigger engine with more grunt than the Honda Civic or Toyota's Corolla and more than enough power to briskly motivate the little sedan within the limits of the law.
Of course, the transmission is the gatekeeper of this power. Like many economy cars before it, the SX4 Sport suffers from an automatic transmission that always seems to be in too tall a gear to really take advantage of the 2.0-liter's power. During spirited driving, the transmission was constantly hunting for the proper gear, spoiling the otherwise fantastic ride. While it is definitely livable with the automatic for simple commutes and grocery-getting, the SX4 Sport is definitely a vehicle that would be more enjoyable with the five-speed manual gearbox.
You wouldn't know it from looking at it, but the SX4 Sport is quite a nimble compact sedan.
We really liked the SX4 Sport's fantastic suspension. Despite being a tall sedan, the SX4 Sport exhibited very little body roll when pressed in the turns. It did, however, exhibit understeer, which was easily correctable with a slight lift off the accelerator or tap of the brakes to settle the chassis. The handling is quite predictable and very precise, with easily approachable limits. As front-wheel-driven economy cars go, the SX4 Sport rivals the current king of the hill, the Honda Civic.
We averaged 21.7mpg over a combined cycle of about 130 miles of city/highway driving and about 100 miles of pretty severe mountain-road flogging. Driven with a degree of civility, most drivers should have no problem staying within the EPA envelope of 22 city and 30 highway mpg.
We really liked the SX4 Sport's performance, but we docked a few points for the sluggish automatic transmission. We have the same complaint with just about every auto gearbox in this price range. We were also impressed by the unique cabin tech solution and pleasant, airy cabin, but we docked a few cabin comfort points for the lack of a line-input or iPod integration.
The rule for the Suzuki SX4 Sport seems to be great value in an unassuming package. You wouldn't think that an integrated portable navigation device could offer functionality rivaling a luxury OEM system, but it does. You also wouldn't think that the tall and round SX4 Sport could keep up with the svelte Honda Civic on a mountain pass, but it can.
Starting at $15,739 for the manually shifted version, the Suzuki SX4 Sport is already a steal compared with similarly priced vehicles, with its standard integrated portable GPS navigation, four-wheel disc brakes, 17-inch wheels, and body kit. Adding the $1,100 automatic transmission option and Technology Package equipped our test vehicle with fog lamps, the Bluetooth hands-free, and the very useful MSN Traffic and MSN Direct, bringing the total price to $17,639. That's still about $1,000 less than you would spend on a spartan Honda Civic LX-S and $1,681 less than the Toyota Corolla XLE with no options.
Buyers with a bit more coin to burn could then step up to the Sport Touring package, which adds vehicle stability control, a premium audio system with nine speakers (one of which is a subwoofer), automatic climate control, and the SmartPass keyless entry and push-button starter system, bringing the MSRP to $18,639.