I'm going to start this review (as seems to be my wont these days) by pleading European.
You see I've already described the SX4 as a 'little car' and in the American context I guess that a 2.0L, 148bhp car with seating for five is a little car. But in Europe, well the footprint wouldn't make it a city car and the displacement would move it into Family Car territory. I guess that's what gas at over $10 per gallon does.
* For the record the SX4 in Europe is a 1.6L delivering 106bhp.
So why an SX4? Well the short answer is "For a number of reasons"
Firstly my partner was feeling stranded in the city. She was withing walking distance of work but when it came to things like hospital appointments, runs the vet and the occasional run to the airport she had to wait for me to get home, beg a friend for a ride or tackle notoriously infrequent public transport. The first need was set therefore - something that would handle short trips in and around the city. We were looking for something small.
The second reason for a second car was the winters here. Last year I drove 70 miles a day through blizzards on uncleared roads in a RWD Mustang that refused to show me the temperature outside (it was COLD). I made it every day - but as I was struggling home she'd be watching cars spin and drift down the hill outside of our house. She wanted something that I could take out in the snow and that she could feel comfortable with - so we were looking for something all wheel drive.
And finally she didn't want to give up on personality. She'd driven Minis, Caterhams and Lotus in the past and the idea of trading driving fun for pure practicality wasn't an option.
"Small, AWD and bags of personality" was the brief then
A little research brought us down to three cars. The Toyota Matrix AWD, the Subaru Impreza and the Suzuki SX4 Wagon (now known as Crossover... how modern)
The Toyota discounted itself immediately. It was an appliance not a car. Sure it would transport you from place to place but it would never move you. It was plasticky. And impersonal. And it felt like a coffin with a windscreen - and less road feel. We hated it.
Subaru was better. Okay you have to shake the granola and butch lesbian out of the mix but despite its size (again I gasp at calling a 2.5L small) the Impreza felt like a grown up car. It was relaxed and smooth and sensible. So it was out. Just too dull.
And so to the Suzuki.
Neat exterior styling from the ItalDesign studio managed to make it look expensive from the outside. The glass flows, the headlights wrap, the wheels are a decent 16" and despite its height it manages to look well proportioned rather than 'beaky' - the problem with so many small cars.
The interior too was full of pleasant surprises. The Aluminum accents were made of aluminum. The climate control was intuitive and beautifully laid out. The leather clad steering wheel had controls for both the audio system and the cruise control.
Throw in toys like keyless entry (drop it in your purse and you can open the doors with a touch) and it starts to look pretty upscale in there. Sure the seats are cloth - but it's tastefully done as are the durable and pleasant plastics.
The real genuis though is sitting on the center console. It's the I-AWD button. Three settings - 2WD for maximum economy, AUTO which sends power to the rear wheels too when it senses it's needed and LOCK with gives you 50-50 distribution up to 34mph (where it switches back to AUTO)
It's a very cool system and it works. The car is nimble, agile and grips like a fat baby holding an ice cream cone. It has a solidity to it that is reassuring - but more importantly it feels as though it could steer out of an accident.
Should you need to swerve there's an ESP system from Mercedes, ABS, disc brakes all 'round and impressive intelligent airbags all around.
Driving position is pretty high - which aids with the sense of safety but does make for some body role in the twisty stuff. Still despite that lean it's a car that's chuckable and whilst it's not going to win any races from the line it's going to keep up in traffic and make back ground in the turns.
Every review says what I'm about to say next but it's true. This car is fun to drive. It's zippy and nippy and feels as though it was designed for the cut and thrust of the city. It lunges for gaps, the steering is well weighted, the acceleration is there when you need it, it's a hoot. A quiet hoot - sound is well dampened until you get into the upper rev range.
You can be queen of downtown in this - first to every parking spot. You'll be able to reverse in pretty quickly too - the steering lightens up well and with a wheel at each corner you know exactly where you are at all times.
So we picked an SX4 Crossover by a process of elimination. But it's not merely the slide rule choice. Yes it's the cheapest AWD on the road. Yes it has the best warranty out there (and it's transferable ). Yes it's stupidly well equipped. Yes they're offering 0% finance and free gas. But ultimately we didn't choose this car based on price, content or giveaways.
We chose it because it was a good looking snow shoe that turned out to have what the other cars we drove didn't - personality. And so far it's lived up to the early promise.
Well we're into the winter season now and I have to say that the Suzuki continues to impress. It plows through the snow. There's not a squeek or rattle and the only thing we've had to do is inflate the tires (the sensor told us that too).
The sad fact is that I now look forward to snow days because it means that I get to take the little snowshoe out for a spin... not that it would ever spin you understand.
Quite simply everything it claims to be. This car has disappointed on no level. Which means it's the only car we've owned of which we can say we're 100% satisfied
It seems that the awards continue to come in for this little car.
It's a consumer reports Best Buy; has been voted one of the 3 most reliable small cars in America, has the Wards Best Interior in its price award and won the IntelliChoice lowest cost of ownership award.
Amount Paid (US$):
2008Model and Options:
SX4 AWD Crossover (Touring)