The crossover SUV segment is a burgeoning one; every brand has an entry to the segment and they all vie for the buyers’ attention month in and month out.  The Suzuki SX4 was one of the original crossovers, with a simple recipe of an honest drive, ample capabilities and an affordable price tag.  The new SX4 has deviated from its original recipe somewhat – it’s now a well specced machine but has a price tag to match.

 

The top of the range AllGrip model is the halo of the SX4 line-up.  Priced at R319 900 for the manual variant on test, it lines up squarely against the new entry-spec Nissan Qashqai with its turbocharged engine and lavish spec list.  The SX4 makes do with a slightly old school naturally aspirated engine, a detuned variant of the 1.6-litre unit found in the venerable Suzuki Swift Sport, mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox and Suzuki’s AllGrip 4WD system, as opposed to the Qashqai’s 2WD setup.  In this installation the engine outputs 86kW and 156Nm.

 

The SX4 appears to be a rather compact crossover SUV from the outside; however the interior is spacious for both front and rear passengers, with commodious amounts of luggage space in the back to the tune of 440 litres with the rear seats in their most reclined position.  It’s feature-laden too, to make inhabitants feel comfortable, complete with 2-stage reclining rear seats, height adjustable front seats, front arm rests, dual-zone climate control and a radio system with USB and auxiliary inputs as well as Bluetooth connectivity – a system which is rather dated and feels almost tacky in its surroundings.  Suzuki would do better to give us a more modern infotainment system preferably with a touch screen, but at least without a dot-matrix display.

 

The interior is rather comforting though; satin touch buttons greet users and the soft touch dash feels classy all round.  The driver feels particularly at home with a comfortable seating position matched with an equally comfortable multi-function steering wheel – adjustable for height and reach.  An assortment of driver aids is also standard, including cruise control, push-button ignition, keyless entry, front and rear fog lamps, automatic HID projection headlamps and automatic wipers, along with a bevy of safety features.

 

The SX4 is a generally comfortable driver too, matching its interior strengths.  The suspension is supple and sponges up bumps in the road surface comfortably, whilst remaining free from body roll for the most part.  Coupled with a precise, lightly weighted steering feel in Normal drive mode (more on the driving modes later), the suspension conveys precisely what the wheels are encountering making the SX4 easy to control.  The directness of the steering also makes for a crossover that feels comfortable in tight circumstances such as navigating parking lots or city centers – making it feel more like a small hatchback that an SUV.

 

The general feel of the SX4 is rather hatch-like on the whole.  It drives like a small car would, agile and easy to place.  The shift-action of the 5-speed manual gearbox feels like that of a small hatch too – slick in its execution and precise in selecting a gear.  The clutch it’s tied up to is short in its take and light underfoot, with a precision feel that makes the SX4 feel far more manageable than its dimensions would suggest.

 

But where the SX4 encounters weakness is its engine – the very same one that makes the Swift Sport so incredible.  With the inherent weight of an SUV body the engine is somewhat lacklustre.  It lacks punch in the midrange and in particular when needing to overtake other vehicles, only utilising its peak outputs when kept on the boil – a task that’s more tiresome than fun on the daily trundle.  Perhaps at coastal altitudes the SX4 would be unfazed, but in Joburg it truly suffers; only yielding a small consolation in the form of fuel consumption, sipping 6.8l/100km despite the need to be thoroughly revved on a regular basis.

 

But alas, there is a time and a place for everything, and the SX4 had a time to be revved out indeed.  Switching the drive select switch on the centre console to Sport changed the throttle mapping and steering feel, making throttle inputs more lively and the steering more direct.  On more open roads the steering was twitchy at best, but on tighter bits of tarmac the SX4 felt at home in sport, revving freely and responding to inputs urgently.  The AllGrip drive system became livelier too in Sport, more eager to send drive to the rear wheels.  The handling of the SX4 when chucked about was truly marvellous, the wheels gripping the tar whilst the body merely hung on with an elastic feel, slingshotting out of corners with brief moments of oversteer teasing a smile from me at every turn.  These attributes felt far more like a hot hatch than a crossover, but were sadly still let down by the lack of grunt available as the chassis and suspension could cope with far more than what was at hand.

 

These behavioural traits were entertaining though, and merely a rotary switch away.  On the flip side of the switch though, Auto terrain select (Snow is also a selectable mode as is a locking differential) on dirt roads yielded similar fun but with greater control, increasing the elastic grip of the SX4 beyond what its 205mm wide rubber should’ve been capable of.  Yet it remained resolutely glued to the surface, riding over gravel surfaces with calm, comfortable resolve seldom encountered in these crossover type vehicles.

 

The SX4 possesses a rather interesting combination of qualities – it has the ability to be incredibly fun, it has a highly capable chassis, chuckable handling characteristics, sublimely setup suspension, and it can handle anything thrown at it; but its lazy engine, outdated entertainment system, and rather steep asking price are matters that simply can’t be ignored.  I desperately wanted to like the SX4, and for the most part I did; but no matter how much I pondered its strongest points I simply couldn’t help but think that I’d forego the HID headlamps and a bit of boot space in favour of a Subaru XV for that money – it’s just a more complete package with a far more usable engine.  I feel like I’ve just kicked a puppy for saying that, because the SX4 is a fantastic car, but I feel the AllGrip model is R20 000 too expensive for the company it’s trying to keep.

 

The Stats:

 

Engine Capacity:

1586cc

No. of Cylinders:

4

Max. Power:

86kW @ 6900RPM

Max. Torque:

156Nm @ 4400RPM

Gearbox:

5-speed Manual

0-100 time:

12.5 seconds

Top Speed:

173km/h

Dry Weight:

1240Kg

Fuel Tank Capacity:

47 litres

Fuel Consumption:

6.8l/100km

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive (FF)

Price (as tested):

R319 900

 

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