With the Swift accounting for almost two thirds of Suzuki car sales these days, it's easy to overlook the other models in the company's range. David Thomson catches up with the SX4, which has been updated for this year.
''This could be your ski car when you are a pensioner,'' was my remark to a snow-mad friend when the SX4 test car was parked briefly in her driveway during the Drivesouth road test. Although intended simply as a bit of cheek (it generated the expected bite), that comment also sums up the slightly odd mix that is the SX4.
Yes, there are conventional front-drive variants in both hatch and saloon form, but the hatch version of this slightly bigger brother to the Swift is also available in lifestyle crossover guise, with all-wheel drive. It was the flagship of this line - the $31,990 2.0 i-AWD LTD that Suzuki supplied for appraisal.
Along with the rest of the SX4 hatchback line, this variant was subject to a mild late-life facelift at the end of last year. This facelift should see the current SX4 through until the launch of an appreciably larger successor (previewed at the March 2013 Geneva Motor Show) either late this year, or in the first part of 2014.
The changes are largely cosmetic, but for LTD models extend to the addition of satellite navigation. The prominent centre touch-screen for navigation is also the control centre for the upgraded nine-speaker sound system, which includes Bluetooth connectivity for both audio and hands-free phone use.
Climate air-conditioning, cruise control, a multifunction steering wheel, and keyless entry and starting also make it on to the standard features list of what is now a handily equipped small lifestyle SUV.
Cabin space is fine for a car of this class, though with just 250 litres of luggage space when the rear seats are up, carrying capacity is tight. This can be more than doubled by folding the rear seat back.
Power continues to be provided by a 112kW/190Nm 2-litre engine.
Tried and true rather than leading edge, the engine is offered with a six-stage CVT transmission on the LTD. Equipped with paddle-shift controls, it adequately propels the SX4 along, but must be worked hard at times and is not especially thrifty.
The i-AWD can be operated purely as a front-drive machine, with auto 4WD or locked 4WD modes a button-push away. In locked mode, constant torque is provided to both front and rear axles, but at speeds over 60kmh the system reverts to auto 4WD, in which power is delivered to the rear wheels only when a loss of traction from the front wheels is detected.
Though there was little in the way of handling sparkle, there was a likeable honesty to the way the test car covered a range of urban, highway and gravel roads. This was very much how I had remembered previous SX4s featured on these pages: utterly predictable, respectably agile, and vice-free.
On the other hand, the ability of the car to contain coarse-chip road rumble and take poor surfaces in its stride came as a pleasant surprise. Looking back on past tests reminded me that this is a vehicle that has always counted decent ride and refinement among its strengths.
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