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The Suzuki SX4 tries to combine multiple segments and is actually much better on the road than it might appear on paper

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Anyone who believes that carmakers are running out of niches into which they can manoeuvre new models hasn’t been paying attention. With the popularity of saloons on the wane, our love affair with crossovers shows no sign of cooling, and the Suzuki SX4 is proof of that.

The SX4 – an apparent fusion of supermini, SUV and 4x4 (according to the model you choose) – was viewed at the time of its 2006 launch as a serious newcomer rather than a mildly diverting sideshow.

The SX4 was the fruit of a relationship with Fiat

In fact, the SX4 was a big deal on several fronts. First, and perhaps most important, it was intended to consolidate the transformation of Suzuki’s image in Europe wrought by the Swift (propelling Suzuki from maker of funny little hatchbacks to credible Mini challenger).

Second, it marked a partnership with Fiat, which planned to sell the SX4 – in restyled form and with standard 4x4 underpinnings – as the Sedici. The Fiat was predicted to be the more important car, but after a short appearance on the UK market it is no longer sold here although it continues in other markets.

The Suzuki, however, is still in the UK price lists, which is entirely appropriate because Suzuki is due most of the credit for the project. That's because the SX4 is built on a stretched version of the Swift’s platform, which means that Suzuki engineering underpins both cars rolling out of the Magyar Suzuki factory in Hungary.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Suzuki SX4 plastic mouldings

Although the Suzuki SX4 indulges in a fair bit of stylistic posturing (the sham underbody protection plates are the most obvious example), the overall shape, developed in collaboration with Giugiaro’s Italdesign, looks appropriately chunky, funky and bold.

It has a purposeful, four-square, tipped-forward, ready-for-action stance.

The SX4 indulges in a fair bit of stylistic posturing

The SX4 has a low waistline and triangular quarterlights ahead of the front doors. Plastic wheelarch extensions suggest offroad ability, even if the reality is somewhat different.

Curiously the SX4 saloon model, a rare sight on the road, does without the rufty-tufty image and is positioned as a replacement to the Liana.

A minor facelift in 2012 saw subtle revisions to the front bumper and grille and 16-inch alloy wheels for topline models.

Under the skin the monocoque bodyshell and the MacPherson strut (front) and twist beam (rear) suspension are similar to the Swift’s. A tight turning circle of 10.6m is aided by the SX4's compact dimensions – it measures 4140mm long and 1755mm wide.

INTERIOR

Suzuki SX4 dashboard

Inside the SX4, the Suzuki family theme continues, but with bolder design and more focus on functionality. The cabin is light and airy, although thick A-pillars restrict forward vision. And the absence of fuss on the facia works well, with a clear three-dial binnacle ahead of the driver and multi-switch heater and stereo controls on the central console.

The faux-metal-edged rotary ventilation controls look quite classy and work with a particularly smooth, tactile action. This is in stark contrast to the hard, cheap-feeling plastic used elsewhere in the interior.

Passenger space is generous, but the boot suffers as a result

Meanwhile, the upright seating is comfortable and it’s easy to find the right driving position, even with the steering wheel only adjusting for rake. The seats are a little flat and could do with more lateral support, but there’s decent legroom for four adults and ample stowage provision. It’s a pity there isn’t more elbow and shoulder room, though.

Passenger space might be generous for such a short car, but the boot suffers as a result, with a meagre 270-litre capacity. The 60/40 split rear seatbacks fold down to boost space and the whole seat can be tumbled forward for the surfing trip to Newquay that Suzuki no doubt expects some of its customers to make. However, the transmission tunnel can make life a little awkward for a third rear-seat passenger.
 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Suzuki SX4 side profile

A car like the Suzuki SX4 is never intended to be a serious mud-plugger. It's a ‘soft-roader’ – a cute urban chariot with a grafted-on 4x4 design personality but no more than ‘occasional’ off-road ability. That said, the SX4’s electric 4WD is quite sophisticated.

Engine choices are limited to a 1.6-litre petrol unit and a 2.0-litre diesel. The 1.6 replaced an engine of the same capacity in 2010 and is now Euro V-compliant. Suzuki has integrated a similar variable valve timing unit as it uses in the KiZashi and Grand Vitara, helping with efficiency.

The engine feels smooth and willing but gets rowdy and boomy when revved hard

It offers 118bhp and 115lb ft, which endows the SX4 with far more refinement than before, if not the inclination for high-speed overtakes on the motorway without dropping a few gears. Luckily swapping cogs is no chore, as the shift has a short, positive, beautifully engineered action.

The 2.0-litre DDiS engine is also Euro V-compliant and serves up 133bhp and an impressive 236lb ft of torque. Despite the generous slug of torque, the 0-62mph fails to impress.

It will take 11.2secs to reach 62mph from rest; the petrol registers a 10.7sec time to the same benchmark, while the four-wheel drive-equipped version of the 1.6 takes 11.5secs.

RIDE & HANDLING

Suzuki SX4 rear quarter

The Suzuki SX4 shares most of its chassis components with the agile and able Swift, and we're pleased to report that some of the dynamic talent has rubbed off.

The steering is light and its feedback lacks some detail, but the responses are direct and accurate and the body's movements are well controlled, despite the more pronounced roll angles brought on by the loftier stance.

Ride comfort isn't so good with the diesel

Leave the drive setting in auto and there’s real fun to be had, the blend of on-demand all-wheel drive and ESP welcoming even the most extreme approach. Here, fine levels of grip play off a surprising degree of mid-bend attitude adjustability.

This is backed up by excellent high-speed stability. Ride comfort is good, too – firm but pliant over small bumps, which unfortunately is not the case with the dearer, more fidgety diesel version.

Four-wheel drive models offer the driver three options, accessed by a switch beside the handbrake. The choices are front-wheel drive only (best for economy, especially around town), ‘auto’ four-wheel drive (the default all-weather/all-conditions setting) and ‘lock’ (if the going gets tough).

Under the floor, an electronically controlled nine-plate clutch pack takes drive to the rear wheels when it’s needed. Select auto and when the system detects a disparity between the speeds of the front and rear wheels, it clutches in the rear drive.

The third setting simply locks the front and rear axles together until you exceed 37mph, or try to corner too energetically, whereupon it allows the clutches to slip. And there’s always the Electronic Stability Program to mop up any untidiness after that and deliver enhanced front-drive traction.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Suzuki SX4

Despite the need to downshift for snappy pick-up, the Suzuki SX4 returned an overall test fuel consumption of 34.6mpg and scored 44.2mpg on our touring route.

These are distinctly un-SUV-like figures and commendable even for a roomy, lively supermini, both of which bases the SX4 has covered. And as the model tested was the previous-generation petrol engine, the new one should perform even more admirably.

The SX4 represents very good value

Of course, the diesel represents improved running costs with a combined consumption figure of 53.3mpg (vs 45.6mpg for a two-wheel drive manual petrol model) and CO2 emissions of 139g/km (141g/km for the petrol).

The diesel has an exhaust gas recirculation system which switches off during warm-up and a diesel particulate filter, both helping to reduce emissions.

It's worth bearing in mind that the automatic gearbox saps more fuel, as does specifying four-wheel drive. Both variants increase emissions too.

You can have a front-wheel drive version for around £12,000, which is little more than Swift money, while the top diesel – available in four-wheel drive only – hovers just under £17,000.

You'd have to do quite a lot of miles to justify the extra cost, and the cheaper, petrol-fuelled 1.6 is by no means the poor relation as far as driving enjoyment is concerned.

VERDICT

3.5 star Suzuki SX4

If you like to spend idle moments dreaming up pointless automotive concepts, you would be hard pressed to beat the Suzuki SX4, a four-wheel-drive city hatchback.

And yet, as envisioned by Suzuki, the idea works, exuding all the flair and confidence of a natural. Keys to its success are the strong driver appeal supplied by the Swift on which the newcomer is based, the undeniable cuteness of the Giugiaro design and fine value for money.

Another good Suzuki; why hasn’t it sold in greater numbers?

There are more mainstream superminis available that offer similar levels of space and in some cases better running costs.

For many buyers these more conventional models will be the better purchase.

Even though the Suzuki SX4 is a niche choice, it is a likeable and unpretentious one that offers good running costs, a comfortable cabin and lots of practicality for not too much money. For many, those qualities will be enough to seal the deal.

Another good Suzuki, so it's a bit of a mystery as to why it hasn’t sold in greater numbers.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Suzuki SX4 2006-2014 First drives