Saturday, March 17, 2007

Suzuki SX4

Among enthusiasts, Suzuki is better known for motorcycles than cars. How the company that peddles the 186-mph Hayabusa bike can also sell the lackadaisical Reno hatchback is a mystery, but the 2007 SX4 is a step in the right direction. And unlike the Hayabusa, the SX4 offers standard all-wheel drive—for less than any other car on the market.

The 2.0-liter inline-four in the SX4 puts out 143 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. That’s less power than in the Hayabusa but good enough for second place when judged next to the engines in seven econoboxes we tested last year [“$15,000 Cheap Skates,” C/D, May 2006]. The 9.1-second 0-to-60 time was hampered by a transmission that killed the power after each shift, but the 9.3-second time in the 5-to-60 street start and 0.80 g on the skidpad would have been the best when put up against that comparo group. The only disappointment is the 184-foot braking distance. Good and bad credit is due to the all-wheel-drive system, which helps grip but adds weight, and extra pounds hurt braking and acceleration. Fuel economy suffers as well: Our test car returned a not-impressive 22 mpg.

The SX4 has a switch next to the parking brake for front-wheel drive, AWD auto, or AWD lock. In the AWD modes, power is sent to the rear wheels via an electromechanical clutch. Lock mode sends 30 to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels (up from 0 to 50 percent in auto) and automatically switches to auto at 36 mph.

Inside, the base SX4 has a respectable amount of equipment (the $1400-more Sport model includes traction and stability control, keyless ignition, and auto climate control), but the giant dashboard and the sail windows give the impression of a shrunken-down minivan. Although the SX4 is not quite as fun to drive or versatile as the Honda Fit, the SX4 is unique with its all-weather mobility and almost-SUV-like height of 63.2 inches, and that may be enough to make it a success.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback

PRICE AS TESTED: $15,594 (base price: $15,594)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 122 cu in, 1995cc
Power (SAE net): 143 bhp @ 5800 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 136 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual

Wheelbase: 98.4 in
Length: 162.8 in
Width: 69.1 in
Height: 63.2 in
Curb weight: 2907 lb

Zero to 60 mph: 9.1 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 30.1 sec
Street start, 5–60 mph: 9.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.9 sec @ 83 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 114 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 184 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.80 g

EPA city driving: 23 mpg
C/D-observed: 22 mpg

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