In today's more cynical world, we would probably scoff at the notion of such a ploy having an impact on the choices we make. At the time, however, Coke was the Big Dog of soda sales, and that commercial had a significant impact: Coca-Cola drinkers were genuinely surprised when they selected Pepsi, as were viewers. As a result of that commercial, Pepsi actually began to outsell Coke whenever the two were side-by-side on supermarket aisles, and it launched many years of classic taste-test commercial battles.
Suzuki should do the same with its 2007 SX4 hatchback. Brand plays strongly into the decision-making process, yet if one were blind to the name on the label it would be hard to avoid giving the Suzuki SX4 careful consideration. To a mix of competitive power, interior room and stylish sheetmetal, the SX4 adds more standard features – and all-wheel-drive – to create a vehicle that outperforms many of its mainstream competitors. In one of today's hotter selling segments, we can only imagine what the popularity of the SX4 would be if the badge on the front was a Toyota emblem instead of the Suzuki “S.” There would be a waiting list, certainly. Capacity issues, probably. And just imagine the reams of fawning articles that would be written about the might of the Japanese automaking giant.
Ah. But that is an “S” on the grille, so instead of the Next Great Toyota we have a vehicle that many will toss onto the justification pile – those cars people have no intent to purchase but say they do in order to make themselves feel better. It's easier, after all, to follow the crowd and buy into the brand image of Dodge, Toyota, Honda or others, even though these competing cars would be harder to live with than would the SX4.
So put on a brand blindfold before you decide what to buy, and if you're shopping for a small, sporty five-door, take a good look at the Suzuki SX4. With competitive power, all-wheel-drive, and lots of passenger and cargo room all wrapped in a nicely styled package, the SX4 may well be the taste most car testers prefer.
Value-priced to compete with the likes of the >Dodge Caliber, Honda Fit and the Mazda 3, the 2007 Suzuki SX4 comes in two trims with few optional upgrades. As the base model, the SX4 offers the same mechanicals and safety features as the more expensive XSport – though it misses out on several convenience items. Still, at a sticker price that's expected to start at $15,000 and top out at $19,000, base and XSport are admirably equipped.
On the standard features list for all SX4 models is all-wheel-drive, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 142 horsepower, your choice of either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic, and 16-inch wheels. Common standard safety features include four-wheel disc antilock brakes and six airbags including side-impact and side-curtain bags. Inside, all SX4s get power windows and door locks, a tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, and a stereo with CD and MP3 capability. An optional Convenience Package can be purchased for the base SX4, offering cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated radio controls.
The SX4 XSport comes fully equipped, adding Suzuki's electronic stability program (ESP) with traction control (TC), a SmartPass keyless entry and start, and an automatic climate control system. The XSport also gets a six-disc in-dash CD changer with seven speakers including a subwoofer, power heated mirrors, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with stereo controls, silver roof rails, and fog lamps.
Compared to the Dodge Caliber, one of the SX4's natural competitors, the Suzuki offers more at the base level but less at the top end. A Caliber SXT, for example, costs around $16,000, but for that you miss out on the SX4 XSport's all-wheel-drive, get less horsepower, and fewer convenience features than the Suzuki. At the top of the Caliber trim chart, however, sits an all-wheel-drive R/T model with 172 horsepower, which is 30 more than the SX4 XSport can muster. The Honda Fit, meanwhile, starts at around $1,000 less than a base SX4, but offers almost 40 less horsepower and doesn't come with all-wheel-drive. A base model Mazda3 s five-door is more expensive, starting at $17,370 and equipped with ABS and side airbags, but no all-wheel-drive system. The Mazda3 s suffers just a 26 pound weight penalty, so despite the SX4's peppy character, enthusiasts who live in temperate climates may prefer the sportier and more powerful Mazda 3.
Nuts and Bolts
Assembled in Japan and Hungary, and sold throughout the world, the Suzuki SX4 comes to America for the first time as a 2007 model. The U.S. version, which will be assembled in Japan, has a larger engine than what the rest of the world gets, but the same basic five-door hatchback configuration – though ours comes standard with all-wheel-drive. It's what Suzuki calls “intelligent all-wheel drive” (we'll just call it AWD). The system offers drivers three modes of traction: front-wheel drive, automatic four-wheel drive and a 50/50 locked power split to create permanent four-wheel-drive, which is most useful for traction in rain, snow and mud.
Perhaps Americans do get the best of everything, and when it comes to the SX4, it starts with that AWD system, and the peppy engine. As a small car, the Suzuki SX4 needs just a little bit of power to get on down the road, and based on our brief test drive, it has more than enough. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine matches up to either a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic, and makes 143 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 136 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm. The SX4 is rated by the EPA at 24 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
Built on a unibody chassis, the Suzuki SX4 gets MacPherson struts up front and a live axle, torsion beam suspension in back – all of it attached to 16-inch wheels with P205/60R16 tires. Steering is handled by a rack-and-pinion setup, and four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution come standard. The upper trim of the SX4, the XSport, also comes with stability and traction control, which uses the brakes and engine torque to enhance traction during acceleration, and to help maintain control on slippery surfaces or during sudden maneuvers.
Here we go again. Another Suzuki with “Italian” design influences, as if that's supposed to mean something to the young men and women shopping for the SX4. Maybe it does, but we think style is subjective, and these shoppers know whether it looks cool or not – at a glance – regardless of where it's designed. We think the Suzuki SX4 meets that coolness criteria, thanks to its wide track, geometric angles in strategic places, and wraparound rear windows that add a dab of flair. As a replacement for the Aerio SX, it's a big jump up the style ladder. Granted, the Aerio had an interesting character, but it's fair to say that its odd angles and tall doors didn't quite win acceptance among mainstream auto buyers. That was actually part of the Aerio's charm, for it was a sleeper, a diamond in the rough few people knew to appreciate.
But on to the sporty and fun SX4's interior. Inside, this car is all about practicality. For a low-priced vehicle, the interior comes across as durable and well-assembled with sturdy plastics and pleasing seat materials with a multi-purpose feel. Controls and instrument panel displays are designed to be simple and easy to use, with large knobs and intuitive placement, while the gauges are pleasing to the eye and easy to interpret at a glance.
All in all, designers used a light touch and made the most out of the space available inside the SX4. Legroom up front and in back was adequate, surprisingly so for this size of vehicle. One highlight is the theatre-style seating for rear seat occupants, which improves visibility. The 60/40 split folding seat tumbles forward, and there's cavernous cargo room for a small hatchback. According to Suzuki, total maximum cargo volume exceeds 54 cubic feet, making the SX4 roomier than the Caliber (48 cu.-ft.) or Fit (41.9 cu.-ft.), and it feels pretty big when you're sitting inside.
The fun meter may not spin all the way to the right, but for 15 grand there's a nice heaping helping of whoo-haa inside the little Suzuki SX4 With a nice, stiff unibody frame, good brakes and an engine that puts emphasis on torque, good times are to be had, though one will surely wish for more horsepower, bigger wheels and a better shifter.
Driving along the San Diego coast for a brief introduction to the SX4, we found much to like – and, of course, a few things that could be improved. The five-speed manual transmission, for example, is a rubbery affair that meets the minimum expectations for its job – it could be quicker and offer more feeling. Though our opportunities to explore the envelope were limited, the tires complained pretty easily if pushed, and it's clear that bigger treads would help to keep up with the grip offered by the all-wheel-drive system.
There's enough torque from the SX4's engine to keep you out of trouble when merging onto the freeway, and it's lively enough to keep things interesting when the light goes green. Total power output is okay – but only just. And though the manual transmission's stick and clutch pedal play could be crisper, drivers interested in giving the car a workout will be able to do so. Compared to the Caliber R/T, which features a continuously variable transmission and 172 horsepower, the SX4 – with the manual five-speed – was much sportier ride. Same goes for the Sport trim of the Honda Fit, with its shift paddles and less-powerful engine. The Suzuki's brakes grabbed fine and kept their composure in San Diego traffic.
Inside, the SX4 is all about utility and space, with easy-to-use controls, good basic materials and plenty of room for a small five-door vehicle. Two full grown adults in the front seats of the SX4 never felt cramped or confined, and opening up the cargo door revealed plenty of room for suitcases and grocery bags.
All in all, the 2007 Suzuki SX4 offers a decent, sporty alternative to small car class leaders, though we wonder how the SX4 could perform without the added weight and four-wheel grip of the AWD system. Certainly, the SX4 would be faster and more nimble. Given the weight penalty of AWD, it's actually a surprise that the SX4 does such a good job of getting around town. And when you combine its on-road behavior and all-wheel-drive grip with an interior that features durable materials, easy-to-use controls and plenty of room, it's easy to recommend the lower-priced base model SX4 with the manual transmission. Then, with the extra cash, go out and get yourself a turbocharger, bigger wheels…and you've got yourself a little squealer.
What's the difference between the 2007 Suzuki SX4 and the Suzuki Aerio SX?
Both offer all-wheel-drive, but the SX4 offers it as standard on all models. Your base Aerio SX with all-wheel-drive starts at a sticker price of $16,499. According to Suzuki, you should be able to get a base SX4 for around $15,000. Both vehicles offer a fun driving experience, and about the same fuel economy, though the Aerio SX has about 12 more horsepower. The SX4 is far more stylish than the Aerio SX, though, which has been sort of a hidden gem thanks to its offbeat proportions.
I heard that the 2007 Suzuki SX4 is built in Hungary? Is that true?
Not for us – we get the cars assembled in Japan. But in Europe, the SX4 is made in Hungary and is also being rebadged as the Fiat Sedici.
Which is better, the Dodge Caliber or the 2007 Suzuki SX4?
Let's say you have $16,000 to spend. For that amount, and based on sticker prices, you can purchase an SX4 with all-wheel-drive or a Caliber SXT without, get about the same power, and lose out what may be a better handling car. So round one goes to Suzuki. If you have $20,000, you get an extra 30 horses from the Caliber R/T AWD compared to the SX4's top trim, the XSport.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Suzuki SX4
Estimated Price Range: $15,000 - $18,000
Engine Size and Type: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 143 at 5,800 rpm
Engine Torque: 136 lb.-ft. at 3,500 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual; Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 2,800 – 2,855 (manual)
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 24/29 (manual); 24/30 (automatic)
Length: 162.8 inches
Width: 69.1 inches
Wheelbase: 98.4 inches
Height: 63.2 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.4/35.9 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 39.6/37.5 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 54.3 cu.-ft.
Competitors: Dodge Caliber, Ford Focus, Honda Fit, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, MINI Cooper, Nissan Versa, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix
Photos courtesy of American Suzuki Motor Corporation