If the word Sportback is starting to sound familiar in the automotive world, it may be due to the fact that three vehicles carrying this designation have all been introduced just in the last year alone. Of this like-named trio, the Audi A5 Sportback will sadly never see the light of day in North America, but the other two models are already on sale in the United States. Just as the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback is a hatchback version of the Lancer sedan, the 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack added a hatchback to the back of the SX4 Sport sedan. While the SX4 nameplate is available as both a sedan and hatchback, the all-new SX4 SportBack combines the sporty attitude of the front-wheel drive SX4 Sport sedan with the tall, wedge-shaped design of the all-wheel drive SX4 Crossover.
Competing against such popular compact hatchbacks as the Mazda MAZDA3, Honda Fit, Chevrolet Aveo5 and even the MINI Cooper, the 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack is only available in the GTS trim level with a starting MSRP of $17,949. Factor in a handful of basic options and destination charges, and the as-tested price for this model was $18,513. While that is a much higher price point than most of its competition, the SX4 SportBack does exude a surprisingly sporty spirit not to mention an impressive list of standard equipment.
2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack Exterior
Introduced in 2007, the Suzuki SX4 Crossover was seen as a mini-SUV with its standard all-wheel drive, tall ride height and plastic trimmed body panels, but since then the lineup has grown to include a front-wheel drive version of the Crossover and a lowered sedan version, the SX4 Sport. The 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack provides a middle ground between these two models offering the versatility and styling of the Crossover and the sporty tuning and ride height of the Sport. Standing apart from the Crossover, the SX4 SportBack is devoid of the gray plastic cladding, roof racks the tall wheel and tire combination in place of a more aero-friendly shape. Aerodynamic changes include a new bumper, grille, chin spoiler, side skirts and decklid spoiler.
Even though both hatchback versions of the SX4 share the same body, the SportBack definitely has a more aggressive stance due to the fact that it sits a full inch lower than its Crossover counterpart. Half that comes from the lack of roof rails which also gives the SportBack a cleaner roofline, while the other half inch is courtesy of a retuned suspension aimed at giving the car better handling. The SX4 Crossover's lower gray cladding also helps create a much higher perceived ride height, so the SX4 SportBack gets cleaner edges thanks to monochromatic front and rear fascias and rocker panels. Finishing off the lowered look of the SportBack, the painted wheel arches are stuffed with taller 17-inch, 10-spoke wheels wrapped in lower-profile (compared to non-Sport SX4 models) tires.
2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack Interior
Although changes were made to the exterior and the powertrain on the 2010 SX4, the interior still offer plenty of reasons to love this little hatchback. The large window area creates an open and welcoming cabin that is aided by comfortable cloth seats, an attractive yet simple interior styling and a wide range of standard features and cabin technology. Like the Suzuki Kizashi I recently reviewed, the SX4's cabin is loaded with standard equipment not normally seen on vehicles in this price point including the six-disc in-dash CD/MP3/WMA player, automatic climate control, SmartPass keyless entry and start and, of course, the pop-up navigation system.
Working with Garmin, Suzuki designed a fully integrated navigation system for the SX4 that includes a pop-up and removable touch-screen display that sits atop the instrument panel. MSN Direct is also available on this navigation system and called the Suzuki TRIP system, and Suzuki includes the first year of access to the system free of charge providing real-time traffic and weather alerts, airline arrival and departure times and even a gas finder function that can search for the lowest prices. Of the four available option packaging (that includes the CVT transmission), this test car came equipped with the ($259) Bluetooth phone connectivity with text messaging display and the ($175) floor mat and cargo net kit.
One of the best reasons for buying a hatchback is the benefit of more interior space and increased cargo, and the SX4 SportBack doesn't disappoint. Despite its raked roofline and sloped hatch and D-pillar area, the SX4 SportBack can accommodate more cargo volume than a Nissan Versa which is classified as a midsize car. With the rear seats up, the SX4 hatchback can hold up to 16 cubic feet of cargo, but with the rear seats folded flat into the floor, the maximum cargo capacity is increased to 54 cubic feet.
2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack Performance & Handling
Unlike the SX4 Crossover, the new SportBack model is only available with a front-wheel drive layout, but all SX4 models have gotten significant powertrain changes for 2010. Improvements start with slight tuning to the 2.0-liter DOHC inline-4 which now produces 150 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque (up from 143 hp and 136 lb-ft). More noticeable than the increase in engine output, the transmission choices in the 2007-2009 SX4 (five-speed manual and four-speed automatic) have been replaced by more modern choices like the six-speed manual which this test car was equipped with or a continually variable transmission (CVT). Normally these transmissions would have a positive effect on fuel efficiency, but with the more aggressive tuning on the SX4 SportBack, the fuel economy numbers are a push on the 2010 model.
Surprisingly, the loss of an all-wheel drive system hasn't translated into any improvements in fuel economy for the SportBack as its EPA fuel economy estimates (22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway) match that of the SX4 Crossover. What's even more surprising is how low these numbers are in relation to some of the competition which can stretch into the mid-30s for highway mpg estimates. One of the reasons the SX4 SportBack may suffer in terms of fuel economy is the fact that it's among the heaviest compared to its competitors - although its 2,723 pound curb weight actually makes it the lightest of all SX4 models.
As for the handling and the overall feel of the car, the SX4 SportBack feels much more planted than its tall roofline may suggest, and it handles quite well thanks to the MacPherson front struts and rear torsion beam setup. For optimal handling, Suzuki states that the SportBack adds a sport suspension with performance shocks, and, except for the base sedan model, all SX4 models are equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. The standard six-speed manual transmission makes the SX4 even more fun to drive, but I haven't had the chance to test out the CVT that comes standard with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack Safety
Some buyers who feel safer in cars with high window beltlines (such as the Chrysler 300) may not like SX4's airy cabin, but Suzuki's little hatchback received sufficient safety ratings from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The NHTSA gave all SX4 models four-star ratings for frontal-, rollover and rear passenger side-protection, and a full five-star rating for front passenger side-impact protection. Likewise, the IIHS gave the SX4 Good ratings for front- and side-impact protection and Marginal for rear-impact protection; the IIHS has yet to perform its latest roof-strength tests on the 2010 SX4. The 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack comes equipped with standard safety features such as six airbags, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock brake system, tire pressure monitoring system, traction control and dynamic stability control.
Although it may be a stretch for Suzuki to call the SX4 SportBack a true hot hatch, it would be hard to find another hatchback on the market with the same level of sportiness, versatility, nimbleness and value as this all-new model from Suzuki. While its performance and fuel economy may not put it at the top of the list, the 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack is truly a fun car to drive car and its unique styling definitely helps make it stand out from the crowd of compact hatchbacks.
Suzuki provided a vehicle for this road test review.
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross