Monday, March 29, 2010
Reviewed: 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack—Putting the "sport" back in Suzuki
So here's my full disclosure statement: I own a five-speed 2009 Suzuki SX4 AWD crossover and love it. So when I found out Suzuki was offering the SportBack, I was pretty excited.
The Suzuki SX4 was introduced in 2007 and was (and still is) available in sedan and "crossover" (e.g. hatchback) form. Sedans have always been FWD only; crossovers have been either FWD or AWD. The sedan has also always been available in "sport" guise, whereas the crossover has been marketed more as an SUV/crossover go-anywhere kind of vehicle.
For 2010, Suzuki added a sport version of the hatchback, and appropriately call it the SportBack. This allows those who liked the slightly more athletic ways of the sport sedan, but prefer the practicality of a hatchback.
All 2010 SX4s have some new features, too. For starters, a new 2.0-liter engine with variable valve timing; a choice between a six-speed manual or CVT; revised interiors; and slightly tweaked exteriors.
So how sporty is the SportBack?
EXTERIOR: Attractive, sporty
This is my kind of car (not just because I own one): It's smallish, sporty looking, and almost has a rally car look to it. The SportBack-specific aero parts are tasteful (including the rear spoiler), and aid in the car's sporty looks. They attractive 17-inch wheels look great, and the stance is right on, with a slight rake to it (it could be a bit lower, but there are companies offering lowering springs). I really like the looks!
INTERIOR Stylish, lots of plastic
The overall look to the interior is handsome, albeit the materials are somewhat plasticy, such as the hard plastic dash, which scratches easily. The SportBack's front sport bucket seats are great, though. They're well bolstered, have good support all the way up to your head, and are comfortable—this is how a sport bucket seat should fit. The steering wheel is also a nice piece; leather wrapped, chunky. It also has audio and cruise controls. I also like the revised instrument panel, which is easy to read, and has a multifunction trip computer. One odd thing: The gauge cluster is an easy-to-read red, white, and blue motif. However, the climate control and radio are all red, which looks to be a holdover from the 2007-2009 models. It just looks a bit mismatched.
In the back seat there's ample leg room and the seats can be folded either 60/40 or completely down to make the cargo area 100% flat (a new feature for 2010). With the seats folded up, there's still usable space behind the rear seats, too. There were some squeaks and rattles, especially from the dash-mounted Garmin Navigation pod. Overall, it's a bit plasticy, but functional.
TECHNOLOGY: Lots of bang for the buck
For an $18,000 car, the SX4 SportBack has quite a few techie features. The first: Navigation. The SportBack (along with all other FWD SX4s) includes dash-mounted Garmin navigation system. Frankly, I love this. The Garmin is easy to use, it hides away in the dash when not in use, and can even be taken out of the car. It also comes with one year of MSN Direct Services (real-time traffic, low-price gas finder, and news, weather, etc.). The SportBack's Bluetooth system also runs through the Garmin. The downside is you do have to reach for the touch screen to make and accept phone calls.
Other notable tech bits include a Smartpass keyless entry with keyless ignition. Rather than a push-button start/stop to turn on the car, there's a knob where a key would usually go. Simply have the fob in the car, twist the knob, and the car starts. It seemed a bit odd at first, but works well. Additionally, the car features an easy-to-use automatic climate control, electronic stability control, traction control, front and side airbags, cruise control, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, and more.
With all of this standard technology, it's amazing that there is no standard auxiliary input! Suzuki does offer an “auxiliary audio input adapter” for $68, and an iPod interface for $160.
ENGINE/DRIVETRAIN: Good power/gearing, but not the most refined
The new 2.0-liter engine features variable valve timing and my review sample was mated to a six-speed manual transmission. This new engine also makes more power and has better fuel efficiency than previous years. The engine revs quickly, albeit somewhat raucously. The shifter is easy to use, but isn't the most precise. Another thing that struck me was the amount of geartrain noise coming from the transmission; there's a good amount of whirring and other gear noise. Clutch uptake and modulation is quick and easy, but felt a bit unrefined. The bottom line is that noise/vibraton/hashness (NVH) levels are at the upper end of the spectrum on the 2010 SX4 SportBack—noticeably more so than the 2007–2009 models. However, they aren't so bad it'd be a deal breaker.
DRIVING: Great dynamics, sporty handling, lots of fun
Regardless of refinement levels, the SportBack offers spirited performance. As mentioned, the engine revs quickly, and the six-speed manual has complimentary gear ratios. Acceleration with the manual transmission is decent, and a downshift into fourth gear yields adequate passing gusto. Fuel wise, the car is rated at 22 city, 30 highway, and I achieved 28 MPG in mixed use. That added sixth gear really seamed to help on the highway, and since the car has enough torque down low, you don't have to rev the crap out of the engine to keep up with traffic.
Handling is the SportBack's forte. With grippy 205/50/17 Dunlop tires, a sport-tuned suspension (independent front, torsion rear), and quick, well-weighted steering, the car is a hoot to drive in the twisties.
The SportBack has outstanding driving dynamics. The steering is quick and precise, the four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are powerful and responsive. Everything works cohesively with this scrappy subcompact, even though it's a bit noisy. The bottom line is that this car is a lot of fun to drive.
PRICE, PRACTICALITY, PERFORMANCE
I'm going to gush here for a moment. I love the SX4 SportBack. It is a ton of fun to drive, looks great, and is practical. It's priced well, has lots of great features, drives fantastically, and has a 7 year, 100,000 powertrain warranty. (By the way, the SX4 has one of the lowest costs of ownership and repair according to Edmunds.com) Yes, the interior is somewhat plasticy, and the drivetrain isn't the smoothest, but the car is so much fun that I really don't care. If I were in the market for a new car, this would be it. Am I biased? Probably. But if you're looking for a fun, practical vehicle that won't break the bank, be sure to check this car out.