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Suzuki SX4

A new face and a new name for Suzuki’s all-wheel-drive hatchback
Unknown to them, males 18-32 years old run this country. As the most sought-after demographic group alive, they control advertising budgets larger than the GDPs of some small countries. Automakers around the world pour millions into capturing the attention of these trendsetting males, yet little-known Suzuki has had these beer-drinking Xbox aficionados pounding down its door for years.

It has nothing to do with the Japanese automaker’s cars and SUVs, and everything to do with its race-inspired GSX-R motorcycles. Top-of-the-line models combine a price around $10K with performance not even a Ferrari can touch, making Suzuki’s stupid-fast sportbikes an easy sell to a group known for having more guts than sense.

Now Suzuki thinks it finally has something with four wheels that’s cool enough to attract those same buyers. Replacing the Aerio SX in the lineup, the 2007 Suzuki SX4 is an all-new 4-door hatchback with standard all-wheel drive and the most powerful 4-cylinder engine in the segment. It’s a far cry from the all-powerful GSX-R, but Suzuki knows the real target for the SX4 are buyers who might otherwise consider vehicles like the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Scion xA.

Puts the power down
Its stats might not make the average Playboy reader drool, but the SX4 measures up nicely to similarly sized competition. Take its standard 4-cylinder engine, for instance. A reworked version of the 2.3-liter in the Aerio sedan, the SX4’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is rated to produce 143 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. The Honda Fit and Scion xA don’t even top 110 hp, while the Versa offers only 122. There’s a mileage penalty, however, as the SX4 is only rated by the EPA at 25 city/30 highway, both well below Fit, Versa and xA numbers. Cargo room is only average, with a maximum of 22 cubic feet available with the rear seats folded.

A 5-speed manual is the standard transmission; a 4-speed automatic is a $1,000 option. Suzuki has yet to finalize the SX4’s base price, but company officials said to expect a range between $15K and $18K.

Regardless of which transmission you choose, all SX4s send their power through a three-mode, driver-controlled all-wheel-drive system. It gives you the choice of front-wheel drive only, an “automatic” mode that splits the power on the fly, or full-lock AWD at speeds up to 36 mph. There’s not enough torque to make it much of a performance enhancement on dry pavement, but if you’re in the Snowbelt, Suzuki says the SX4 will be the least expensive ticket to 4-wheel drive on the market.

Tale of the tape
With a length of 162.8 inches, the SX4 is shorter than the Aerio it replaces, but longer than the Fit and xA by 6 to 8 inches. Its 98.4-inch wheelbase is also longer than the competition, but it doesn’t open up significantly more room inside. Legroom up front is identical to the Versa, and half an inch short when compared to the Fit and xA. In back, the SX4 has two more inches of legroom than the Honda, but the Versa and xA offer even more.

Suzuki likes to point out the SX4’s extra-wide stance, a feature designed to improve handling and open up a little extra shoulder room inside. If you compare the numbers, the SX4 does offer at least an inch of additional shoulder space front and rear. Sitting inside, the extra space makes the SX4 feel bigger than its numbers suggest.

Noteworthy design
Suzuki has been offering many of the SX4’s features for years in its Aerio SX, but the car’s odd styling got it crossed off lists before test-drives were even considered. The SX4 ditches the Aerio’s awkward proportions for a more conventional look that makes the best of its wide stance, big greenhouse and standard 16-inch wheels and tires.

The improvements are even better on the inside, as the SX4 has one of the best-looking cabins in the segment. It’s a simple layout with large, three-dial climate control knobs that sit just below a compact, well-labeled CD stereo. The analog gauges are easy to read, the switchgear feels good and the materials look better than you might expect.

Even more impressive is the fact that choosing the standard trim level doesn’t do away with all the best features. Standard SX4 models come loaded with metallic trim, a four-speaker CD/MP3 audio system, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows, six airbags and antilock brakes. Spend an extra $1,400 for the SX4 Sport, and you get a leather-wrapped steering wheel with satellite audio and cruise controls, keyless ignition, automatic climate control, a seven-speaker audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer and electronic stability control.

Lighten up, Suzuki
In our brief time behind the wheel, the SX4 proved itself a comfortable hatchback in need of a diet. Although the 4-cylinder engine is refined and quiet, it doesn’t have much zip for a car with 34 more horsepower than the Honda Fit. A check of the SX4’s curb weight tells the story. At a minimum of 2800 pounds, the SX4 is 330 pounds heavier than the Honda and 460 pounds heavier than the Nissan Versa. That’s a serious weight penalty, even when you take into account the SX4’s all-wheel-drive system.

The extra pounds do help give the SX4 a smooth, refined ride quality, and the standard antilock disc brakes don’t seem to mind the extra heft. Big bumps barely upset the MacPherson struts up front and the sizable 16-inch tires provide solid grip. Like most cars in this class, the shifter is a little wooden through the gates, the clutch soft and the steering rubbery on center. Of all the SX4’s competitors, only the Fit could be considered significantly better in these respects.

Its powerful engine may give the SX4 bragging rights among subcompact hatchbacks, but it won’t attract 18-to-32-year-old males for the same reasons as Suzuki’s motorcycles. Like most inexpensive hatchbacks, the SX4 is all about value with a little bit of fun thrown in for good measure.

It has all the right features on the inside, a much better-looking outside than its predecessor and a 7-year/100,000-mile warranty. And for those who actually need the all-weather capability of all-wheel drive, the SX4 will be the only game in town for $15K when it goes on sale in September.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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