Suzuki is the automotive world’s small car champion. Combining big-car quality and features with agile, economical underpinnings and strong value, the Japanese marque’s range of compact models enjoy a giant-killing reputation that has earned them a loyal following. And yet, the latest SX4 seems larger and more conventional than its innovative predecessor. DEON SCHOEMAN finds out if it still lives up to the Suzuki ethos.
Suzuki is an automaker that manages to pack loads of innovation into small form factors.
The original SX4 was such a car: a compact hatchback with the raised ride height and all-wheel drive system of an SUV. While it felt like an everyday runabout to drive, it could tackle mild off-road conditions with all the enthusiasm of a full-blown all-terrainer.
Now there’s an all-new SX4, and this time, the focus is very much on the SUV part of the equation. Or perhaps I should call it a crossover, because the SX4’s attributes combine the space and versatility of a sleek wagon with a clever all-wheel drive system.
The newcomer is also substantially bigger than the little stocky hatchback it replaces, and its proportions are certainly more conventional in a crossover context. Admittedly, it’s still compact by SUV standards, but the shape is more wagon than hatch, with a bold front end and a tapering roofline.
A 185mm ride height, metallic-look front and rear scuff plates and sill protectors confirm the SX4’s robust all-terrain intentions, but the alloy wheels and those sexy, scalloped flanks also add a touch of sporty, urban flair.
The new SX4 range comprises a family of five, of which only the two top-spec models feature all-wheel drive. The other three make do with normal front-wheel drive, and rely on their taller stance to cope with the rough stuff, although ‘rough’ probably extends to nothing more challenging that game reserve gravel, or the average suburb’s pot-holed routes.
Frankly, it’s unlikely that SX4 owners will want to subject their steeds to anything more than that. And those that have a more committed urge to head off the beaten track should cast their eye over the all-wheel drive SX4s, equipped with a system Suzuki calls AllGrip.
AllGrip, the auto maker claims, offers more than just intelligent all-wheel drive: it also optimises throttle response, torque distribution and the operation of the electronic stability control system according to the selected setting on the AllGrip dial in the centre console.
In the default Auto mode, the system operates completely autonomously, constantly reacting to driving style, traction levels and road conditions. But you can also select Sport, Snow or Lock modes.
In Sport, the throttle action has more bite, adding some welcome alacrity to the SX4’s responses, while some urge is transferred to the rear wheels in the interests of agility. Snow/Mud mode optimises traction for slippery conditions, and also maps the throttle and steering responses for more gradual input. And in Lock mode, only offered in combination with the Snow/Mud setting, the front/rear torque split is fixed, ensuring sustained drive to all four wheels.
The absence of low range and a diff lock, as well as the road-biased tyres, mean that even AllGrip-equipped SX4’s offer 4×4 Lite at best. But the system’s optimised traction and responses do allow less than ideal terrain to be tackled with greater confidence – and the extra ground clearance also helps.
All five SX4 models are powered by the same engine: a 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit, credited with 86kW of maximum power and 156Nm of torque. I drove the top-spec GLX Manual with AllGrip, which means the engine’s urge is delivered to the front wheels via a five-speed gearbox, but there’s also a Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) option.
On paper, the engine’s output stats look promising, but max power is only attained at 6,000 rpm, while the torque peak occurs at 4,400 rpm, resulting in a peaky delivery that requires full use of the four-cylinders rev range.
It stands to reason that the SX4 is no rocket ship, and especially not at the Reef’s power-sapping altitudes. The 1600 engine is willing enough, but you need to make frequent use of the gearbox and pile on the revs to make the most of the urge on offer. The 0-100km/h dash takes 12.5sec, and top speed is 175km/h – nothing to get the heart beating faster, really.
The good news is that once you get used to giving it stick, the SX4 feels lively enough. Most of all, it’s a fun car to drive. The suspension feels supple and composed, even when pressing on and despite the taller stance, there’s no sense of excessive body lean.
For once, the electrically assisted steering doesn’t end up feeling too blunt or lifeless, and there’s enough heft and feedback to allow for keen cornering. A 10.4m turning circle adds to the crossover’s agility and manoeuvrability around town.
Suzuki has a reputation for tactile quality and that’s certainly vindicated by a cabin that manages to look smart and spacious. The GLX spec is comprehensive, and everything looks and feels reassuringly solid.
You get niceties such Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, keyless entry and starting, electrically operated windows and mirrors, and a full house of safety kit that includes seven airbags.
The ergonomics are intuitive enough, but given the trend favouring touch-screen displays, it’s omission here is a little surprising, and makes the interface between the SX4 and its various systems feel just a little old-school.
Despite its compact 4,3 metre length and 2,6 metre wheelbase, the Suzuki crossover offers a surprising amount of space. The boot has a 440-litre volume, but once you’ve folded the rear seatback down, the cargo area increases to an impressive 1,269 litres. The seatback is split 60/40, allowing various combinations of seating and cargo space.
Access to the cargo bay is excellent, thanks to a wide-opening tailgate, and there’s even a hidden compartment under the cargo floor. However, the space saver spare wheel is a disappointment, especially given the SX4’s crossover status.
The new Suzuki SX4 is a big step forward, compared to its predecessor. Key attractions are the spacious, practical and well-equipped interior, the tactile quality, and the clever AllGrip all-wheel drive system, while there’s also the fun factor to consider here.
However, R319,900 is a lot of money for a subcompact crossover, despite all the kit and all the tech. At R54,000 less, we expect the 1.6 GL entry-level version to be the more popular buy – and the car that perhaps better epitomises Suzuki’s reputation for value-laced excellence. DM
Suzuki SX4 1.6 GLX AllGrip Manual
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