When you hear the automotive press rave about great performance bargains, the cars being referred to are usually the MazdaSpeed3, VW GTI or Subaru Impreza WRX-great cars, but for many buyers, $25-$30,000 is hardly considered a bargain. The common conception is if your budget for a new car is under $20,000, you should leave any hope of fun at the dealer’s showroom doors. The new for 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack is proof fun can be had for less than twenty grand.
The first SX4 appeared as a 2007 model-the five-door hatch, all-wheel drive Crossover, which took away from Subaru the bragging rights of selling the most inexpensive all-wheel drive car in North America. In 2008, the four-door SX4 Sport debuted as a front drive sedan. For 2010, Suzuki introduces the SportBack, a marriage of the practicality of the Crossover’s body with the sportiness of the Sport sedan. Suzuki also gave the SX4 a host of improvements for 2010, so read on!
It’s likely the casual observer wouldn’t be able to tell the differences between the Crossover and SportBack-they are subtle. Lose the roof rails, lower the ride height, add 17″ alloys and a mild aero kit, and whammo-SportBack! The SX4 has always had a sunny, cheeky appeal to it, and the extra spice of the SportBack is only rivaled by the Honda Fit Sport. Standard foglights, body-colored mirrors, door handles, and the rear spoiler complete the look, and make you forget this is an inexpensive car.
But it is the features inside the SportBack that really impress. Standard equipment includes a 6-CD Changer stereo with XM Radio capability, automatic climate control, trip computer, cruise control, power windows, locks, mirrors, and GPS navigation, featuring airline arrivals/departures, Real-Time Traffic, weather and a host of other features. New for 2010 is the instrument panel, which was clear and easy to read-and more sophisticated in appearance than the one it replaced. Still, with the steering wheel tilted to where I was comfortable, it did shave the tops the of gauges.
The SX4 cabin is airy and offers excellent visibility. Seat comfort was average, which was fine around town, but I had my doubts how the seats would hold up after a long trip. Fit and finish was very good, and the quality of materials gave the SX4 a superior feel to the Kia Forte we reviewed earlier this year.
For 2010, the SX4 gains a new engine-a 2.0L four, rated at 150hp, offering a modest increase in power and fuel economy over last year’s car. New transmissions are also a part of the new SX4, with a choice of a six-speed manual, or a CVT. Our test car had the six-speed manual. With a feather-light clutch and an out-of touch shift gate, the SX4’s economy car roots did show. The manual should be the default choice of any enthusiast here, and I fear how much power the CVT must take away in a car that has adequate power, but is by no means quick. During my week with the SportBack, I averaged only 22mpg, which puts the SX4 behind in this class.
The SportBack makes up for this in the ride and handling department. Be warned-the ride is on the firm side, but not completely unforgiving. Steering is quick, but lacking a bit in feel. The car brakes well, with a nice initial bite on engaging the pedal. With the car’s sticky tires and lowered ride, the SportBack is flat in cornering. On country roads, the SX4 SportBack reminded me of my old MG Midget-low on power, but big on handling.
I tend to favor ‘cult cars’ and I consider the SX4 to be one. Odds are, if you own an SX4, it is a car you researched, and sought out-not the default Corolla/Sentra/Versa/Accent wrapped in a plain brown wrapper the buyers at the price point flock to like lemmings off a cliff. If the SX4 is the thinking man’s economy car, it makes a lot sense, especially in SportBack form. No, you won’t be challenging GTI’s at the stoplight, but the SX4 SportBack has a lot going for it, and nearly exists in a class of its own. Consider the following-you can only get a Honda Fit with Nav with an automatic, and a four-door VW Golf also can only be had with an auto, and has a pretty sparse standard equipment sheet. For four doors, a six-speed on the floor, and standard Nav, the SX4 SportBack is the only game in town.