Suzuki’s SX4 Crossover is near the bottom when it comes to small car fuel efficiency. So why is it showing up on HybridCars.com? Because the economy is rough, gas prices are high, and the SX4 is the most affordable all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicle on the road today. That makes it an attractive solution for budget-minded buyers living in rough climates—and a fuel-efficient alternative to less efficient crossovers and wagons. Our job is not to push everybody into a hybrid. It’s to provide info that helps consumers make a shift—sometimes radical and other times more gradual—to the most efficient of the many available alternatives.
Since its introduction in 2007, the SX4 Crossover has built a loyal following by offering a competitively priced small hatchback that also has the capability of all-wheel drive. Suzuki continues with three trim levels for the 2011 model year: Base, Technology Value Package and Premium. There are also two additional SX4 models, Sport Sedan and SportBack, both of which are front-wheel drive only.
In 2010, Suzuki turned up the volume under the hood slightly and upgraded the transmissions. The five-speed manual was replaced by a six-speed gearbox and the four-speed automatic was swapped for a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The changes resulted in a little more oomph from the engine and an increase of one mile per gallon in fuel economy. EPA fuel economy numbers for the CVT equipped SX4 Crossover are 23 city/29 highway and 25 mpg combined. The manual transmission is rated at 22 city/30 highway and 25 combined.
The 2011 SX4 Crossover is a carbon copy of the 2010 model with standard rear side airbags added, giving the SX4 eight airbags in total. The navigation system, which is standard on higher trim levels, adds Google Search features and traffic and weather information.
Exterior And Interior
The name means “S” sport, “X” crossover, “4” seasons, and indeed, the SX4 is a zippy-looking four-door hatchback with all-wheel drive. Its shape is largely the work of the well know European design house, Italdesign of Turin, Italy. Up front, the charismatic little wagon has a sloping, sculpted hood that ends at a simple grille displaying Suzuki’s family logo. Beneath, the lower-level air intake suggests a non-existent intercooler—a nice styling touch.
The body features a low, rising waistline and triangular-shaped windows forward of the A-pilar, gracing the SX4 Crossover with a sporty wedge shape. Front and rear wheels pushed out to corners along with muscular wheel arches give the appearance of traction.
Inside, the Crossover is by no means luxurious, but the cabin is one of Suzuki’s best, illustrating the automaker’s steps forward in terms of layout and ergonomics. There is a harmonious blend of materials and what appears to be high build quality, with gaps between panels tight and consistent. Hard plastic on the dash and door panels are fairly attractive and don’t feel offensive to the touch.
A functional center stack, flanked by vertical panels of brushed aluminum, offers large, circular controls that operate with high-rent precision. The ergonomic design of the instrument cluster and dashboard provides clear views of the white on black meters and easy access to controls.
The Crossover has an ingenious standard feature that other car companies are copying. A Garmin navigation system pops out of an enclosed compartment at the top center of the dash—no suction cup on the windshield or dangling wires. It can be removed and switched to another vehicle or simply close the lid and it is out of sight.
The glass all around is big, allowing for good visibility to the front, sides and rear, while making the cabin seem bright and spacious. Even tall people will feel at home in the Sport’s front seats, where there’s ample head, leg and shoulder room for the six-foot-plus set, while a tilting steering wheel makes easy work of finding a comfortable driving position. Missing, however, is a driver’s seat height adjustment, a feature that is now common in this vehicle class is not available on the base model. Rear-seat passengers are also well cared-for with above average headroom and legroom. As always, though, five would be a crowd. The Crossover’s modest length only allows 16 cubic feet behind the rear seats, but with the rear seats folded forward, there’s a generous 43 cubic foot cargo area.
On The Road
A plus for the SX4 Crossover compared to competitors is engine size and output. The all-aluminum, double overhead cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine quickly grabs your attention. The 150 horsepower is near the top in this class, but it’s the torque curve that makes things happen. The 140 pounds feet start early and are fairly flat across a wide band. The downside to the power and torque is fuel economy. The big engine and the weight of the all-wheel-AWD system take a toll on miles-per-gallon.
In city driving, the engine is quiet and responsive. When pressed—passing on a two-lane highway, for example, it gets a little noisy near red line, but not to any greater extent than most of the competition. The engine is far from state-of-the-art and if it lacks urgency it makes up for it in pluck and willingness. It produces enough power for most people in most conditions.
Shifting gears with the standard six-speed manual transmission requires a deliberate effort, but the clutch engages quickly with little pedal effort. The CVT has a console-mounted gear selector or paddle shifters that allow the driver to set a series of fixed gear ratios manually. In the standard drive mode, there is no feel of gear changes, but the sound of a relatively constant engine note doesn’t seem in sync with actual acceleration.
I wouldn’t exactly call the SX4 Crossover tossable, but it is fairly nimble and tightens up nicely for confident maneuvers at higher speeds. And, despite its tall body, it doesn’t feel tippy in corners. In a world where economy cars are often just driving appliances, the Crossover is fun to drive: it’s peppy, agile and responsive.
There’s more. Steering is properly weighted with good on-center feel, so long-distance drives aren’t an exercise in constant course-correction. The ride is solid but comfortable without being numb, and it feels more compliant over bumps than cars in this price range have a right to.
Of course what sets this SX4 apart from other small hatchbacks is a switch on the center console that allows the driver to choose one of three traction settings. The FWD (front-wheel drive) mode is used for maximum fuel economy; the AWD Auto mode apportions torque to the rear when front slip is detected; and the Lock mode balances power equally front-to-rear. Designed for low-speed applications, the Lock operation served us quite well during a spat with winter snow in early December. The car confidently gripped snow covered iced-up road surfaces, and then switched automatically to Auto around 35 mph on cleared intercity streets.
We’ve driven SX4 Crossovers equipped with both the manual transmission and the CVT and were quite pleased with the fuel economy. We tallied 29.1 mpg during almost 300 miles of mixed driving with the CVT version, and the manual gave us 30.3 mpg after 166 miles of mostly urban driving.
A look at the $16,999 sticker price for the base SX4 Crossover is a shock, but a good shock. Yes, a four-door Yaris hatchback is priced at $13,225 and a Honda Fit starts at $15,100, but look at the standard features for the almost $17,000: Remote keyless entry; power windows, door looks and outside heated mirrors; air conditioning; tilt steering column; automatic-dimming rear view mirror with compass; AM/FM/CD four-speaker audio system with MP3 and XM satellite radio capability; driver information center; reclining split-folding second row seats; and a roof rack. And don’t forget, an all-wheel drive system.
A step up to the $18,249 Technology Value Package adds cruise control, the Garmin navigation system, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, fog lamps and 17-inch wheels. The Premium edition, at $18,599, includes the CVT.
The Crossover scores at the top for safety features. In addition to the eight air bags, included are electronic stability and traction control system and four-wheel anti-lock bakes with electronic brake-force distribution. A plus is, Suzuki shods all of the SX4s with disc brakes front and rear. Nearly all vehicles in this class use drum brakes in the rear.
Suzuki also offers a warranty that is a cut above just about everyone except Hyundai and Kia. The basic bumper-to-bumper coverage is 3 years/36,000 miles, powertrain is 7 years/100,000 miles and a roadside assistance program is good for 3 years/36,000 miles.
If you are looking at a small car with all-wheel drive, there are few alternatives. Subaru’s Impreza 2.5i hatchback with standard AWD starts at $17,995 and has poor fuel economy ratings of 20 city/ 27 highway. The Toyota Matrix hatch has an AWD model priced at $21,415 with slightly less mpg numbers: 20 city/ 26 highway.
We’ve driven all the front-drive competitors, and even though fuel mileage isn’t in the frugal category, we would still choose the Suzuki. It’s better looking (Yes, I know styling is subjective.), it’s more fun to drive, it has all of those standard features and it has something the others don’t — the AWD system.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.