2010 Suzuki SX4 Reviews
Cars.com Expert Reviews
Editor's note: The test model for this review was a pre-production version of the Suzuki SX4 SportBack. Since that test, Suzuki has finalized its design of the SportBack and changed some features. We've called out the difference between the pre-production and production versions wherever relevant.
The 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack has decent handling, but it's not the car to bring to the drag strip if you want to win anything — even if it is supposed to be the performance version of Suzuki's subcompact SX4 hatchback. The regular SX4 also comes as a sedan (including a non-performance trim level called — somewhat confusingly — the Sport).
If cars such as the Mini Cooper S and Mazda MX-5 Miata are the best examples of this type of small, fast, fun car, then the SX4 falls short. All in all, its handling is its best attribute, but even that isn't competitive with the best the segment has to offer.
What automakers do to create Sport models ranges from adding fancy body pieces all the way to giving it a new engine, suspension, functional ground effects and fancy gearbox. The SX4 SportBack lands somewhere in the middle, with suspension modifications, more supportive seats, different transmissions and some unique body pieces rounding out its transformation. It's noticeably different from its siblings.
Here's what the SX4 SportBack has: unique six-speed manual transmission (or a continuously variable automatic transmission), lower ride height than regular SX4 Crossover models (and about the same ride height as a SX4 Sport), a sport-tuned suspension and alloy pedals. Our test model also came with some aftermarket add-ons, including a cold-air intake and less-restrictive exhaust from Road Race Motorsports, and the track-specific Dunlop tires that our test car had improved its roadholding abilities.
The 2.0-liter, inline-four-cylinder engine makes 150 horsepower and 140 pounds-feet of torque. That's compared to 143 hp and 136 pounds-feet of torque for the Sport (sedan) and Crossover models. While the crossover-like SX4 hatchback has all-wheel drive, SportBacks are front-wheel drive.
Our test model came with the six-speed manual. Don't expect to pass anybody in 6th gear, and maybe not in 5th. On highway drives, you'll need to shift down to 4th for a quick pass at highway speed. There's just not enough grunt to make a quick move in 5th.
On the outside, the SX4 SportBack drops the regular SX4 hatchback's roof rack, and it gets a slightly different grille and front bumper, plus a chin spoiler, side skirts and a small roof-mounted rear spoiler.
It's kind of an — interesting — looking car. It's got a large, upright windshield; big side windows; and a very tall "greenhouse" (to use an auto-critic word) sitting on top of a disproportionally small body. I built several cars like this out of my Lego bricks when I was a kid. They weren't ugly, but they weren't like anything that was driving on the road. Neither is the SportBack.
Two nice things stand out about the SX4: outward visibility and supportive seats. Here's where that big greenhouse comes into play, providing excellent sightlines. Small windows in the A-pillar really help with this, and that's something both the SportBack and regular SX4 feature. Also, the SX4 is blessed with very large mirrors. Those mirrors may not be your thing in terms of style, but I laud their utility.
The SportBack's seats feel more strongly bolstered and hold you in place better than the regular seats, and they weren't uncomfortable after a three-hour highway drive. In short, they're pretty much exactly what you'll want.
It's worth noting that the six-speed manual moves between gears better than the gearshift on any other SX4 I've driven, despite having been used by a bunch of automotive journalists at a racetrack event shortly before it came to us. Where the SX4 Crossover has a rubbery, not-good-feeling gearshift lever, the SportBack's gearshift is more firm and precise. It doesn't, however, match the precision of the Mini or MX-5 shifters.
Interior quality is good compared to others in this segment. Make no mistake, the SportBack has a hard plastic dashboard and center console, which drives some folks up the wall, and the turn-signal stalk feels cheap. However, the faux-metal trim is of good quality, and the steering wheel had a nice size and feel to it. The upgraded alloy pedals provided good grip. The gauges were easy to read. All in all, it feels well-executed for the price.
What It All Means
The steering has a nice weight, meaning it's not overly power-assisted to the point of being twitchy on the highway, nor does it require too much effort at slow speeds. It's also precise, meaning you turn the steering wheel and the car goes exactly where you intend it to; there's no vagueness between turning the wheel and getting a response.
This helps you feel confident when you approach turns at a decent speed. I got the SX4 out of the city and onto some winding roads, and the handling was quite good. It feels flat going through bends, and it responds to corrections without throwing a fit. That's with me being safe and sane, though. I'm not sure what it would be like in the hands of a hooligan on a racetrack. Also, it's worth pointing out again we had more track-specific tires than what comes with the production SportBack. That can really affect a car's handling.
Sometimes all the things that make a car so much fun on a smooth racetrack or winding road can make it painful as a daily driver. The SX4 still doesn't do as well as the segment leaders in this regard, but it's not nearly as uncomfortable as some other sporty small hatchbacks I've driven (namely the Honda Fit Sport).
This isn't to say it's a grand tourer by any stretch of the imagination, though. I've found that the SX4 seems to hop when encountering bumps in the road; it feels as if the car is going straight up in the air. The SportBack keeps this family trait. You really notice it when you cross expansion joints in the road. Each is greeted with a resounding "BAM," and the car hops. What's interesting is that this car is better behaved when the road looks like asphalt oatmeal.
The biggest downside to the SportBack is its engine — there's no sprinting from red lights. To get the maximum use out of what power is there, you have to get fairly high up in the rev range, and then stay there. Even so, it won't knock you back in your seat. You have to really pay attention and stay on top of your shifting — but for not much reward. It's a shame; the handling is so much better than the power.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Suzuki SX4 a Good rating in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. In addition to its standard front airbags, the SX4 has side-impact and side curtain airbags as standard equipment.
Suzuki SX4 in the Market
If my experience driving around Chicago is any indicator, there's quite a market for small, sporty-looking hatchbacks. Most of them are heavily modified used cars, and against this benchmark the SX4 performs quite well, if for no other reason than it has up-to-date safety equipment.
It's when the SX4 is compared with other new offerings that it suffers. Is it as crisp, poised and refined as the segment leaders? Nope. And while it's fun to drive on twisty roads, it's not the most fun. The SX4 doesn't look like many other cars on the road, and the SportBack version is well-differentiated from its siblings. For some people, that plus good handling will be enough. I'm not convinced, though, that I wouldn't be happier in day-to-day use with something different.
|Send Bill an email|