Let the good times roll

Posted on 22 Jul 2010 at 4:26pm

Simplicity rules Suzuki’s SX4 subcompact while still packing some punch

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer crwauto@aol.com

SMART BUY | Suzuki’s SX4 offers gigantic SUV power and flexibility in an itty-bitty subcompact.

Suzuki has been in the small-car business for a very long time. Unfortunately, many of those cars weren’t quite up to top-of-class standards — and that’s putting it nicely. But when it came to coming up with an entirely new compact several years ago, the little automaker from Japan put four wheels in the right direction with the all-wheel-drive SX4. A very sporty SX4 front-drive sedan came right after. Both cars offered a heap of value for the dollar.

Taking the best from both SX4s, the sporty front-drive SX4 Sportback may be the best deal yet.

With the shape of a shrunken crossover wagon, the SX4 is both cute and athletically handsome. It looks a little like a smaller four-door AMC Pacer, but I don’t want to insult it. Suzuki’s trademark grille, large air intakes, monochrome plastic cladding around the and under the body sides, 17-inch, alloy wheels, rear spoiler and hatchback design give the car the look of a hot hatch ready to tear up backroads. Small side windows ahead of the door allow for an arching roofline.

Although the SX4 is marketed as a new model, it is actually a substantial update of the Swift compact car that captured several awards in Europe and Asia. For the U.S. market, the SX4 comes standard with a 150 HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. A fun continuously-variable automatic transmission with paddle shifters would also be a great choice — especially if you slog through traffic daily.

An additional seven horsepower and upgrade from the previous five-speed manual transmission are welcome additions. Forget racing Mustangs, but 150 HP is plenty for a car this size in everyday life. I had no trouble accelerating onto freeways or rocking along with higher-speed traffic. Fuel economy of 22/30-MPG city/highway keeps money available for after-dark endeavors of the carnal kind.

Simple in design, the SX4’s chassis handles remarkably well. An independent front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension feel stable even at relatively high speeds. When roads were rough, the car rumbled over with little vibration. Standard four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and tight steering feel reassuring on challenging roads and high speed interstates. Electronic Stability Programming and traction control are standard. That’s a lot of high-end equipment on a very affordable entry-level model. I wouldn’t say the SX4 is a sports car, but it will handle anything sensible owners expect.

Given the chassis’ comfort and capability, buyers may want to settle in for a long drive. I have — 1,200 miles in two days. The SX4’s tall cabin lets passengers sit up tall on supportive cloth buckets in front and a 60/40 split fold-down bench in the rear.

Much of the interior is covered in hard plastic, but it looks good enough. Silver accents on the dash and doors add flashy touches. The in-dash CD player sounds great, cupholders are huge and lots of little cubbies under the center stack and in the doors provide lots of space for cell phones, snacks, magazines and portable music players. A large dead pedal and adjustable steering column add comfort. Cruise control is standard. Bluetooth with text message display is a $259 option, but Garmin navigation came with the upgrade package. Safety is enhanced with dual front, side and side curtain airbags. Overall, it was an easy trip in a fine little car.

There are a couple of niggles. Nice as it is, the SX4 will never be a large luxury SUV: It is first and foremost a compact car that gets good fuel economy in a practical package. It only comes with an 11-gallon fuel tank, which can make one a little nervous as the needle sweeps towards empty at a frightening rate, even though I clocked a frugal 25.3-MPG running at a steady 80 mph through steep hills. If you’re looking for Cadillac quiet, look elsewhere (still, the SX4 was not overly noisy). Rough pavement will audibly shake screws out of the interior.

The subcompact market is crowded with the Toyota Yaris, Scions, Honda Fit, Chevy Aveo and Nissan Versa. Ford is about to unleash its Fiesta; Chevrolet has a hot new Aveo in the wings. To succeed, Suzuki had to come with a different tool.

For a base price of $17,949, you can get a frugal compact car that is comfortable, relatively powerful and as flexible as an SUV. It also looks pretty damned cool in all its sports attire. As with all Suzukis, the SX4 comes standard with a 100,000-mile/7-year powertrain limited warranty. With only three options (Bluetooth, floor mats and metallic paint), our test car came to $18,513. That seems like a pretty good deal on a car, loaded for fun and adventure, that won’t completely embarrass you on a hot date with your hot hatch.

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Waterpalooza memories: Balloon nightmares — and not wet dreams

Last year at this time may have been a defining moment for me on the Dallas Voice editorial staff. I was convinced that I could take one for the

team by joining our Gryffindors for Heatwave Waterpalooza team, the water balloon dodgeball tourney, which returns this Saturday.

That defined me all right. As a couch potato.

The Couch Potato Adventure Journal began that week as I set about ways to take the lazy way out of preparing and/or partaking in physical activities (or as I like to call it, “the path of least calories”). I wrote up my training log and got advice from local athletes and colleagues and then found myself getting pummeled with practice water balloons by a colleague while my editor took pictures. It bordered on torture porn.

For me, anyway.

Come that hot Saturday afternoon, I felt prepared and was going to prove myself as one of the DV team in more ways than one. That is until our asses were handed to us in quick fashion by the Woody’s softball jocks, pictured. However, to this day, I challenge the referee’s call who ruled me out. I caught that balloon and then it dropped. Swear.

— Rich Lopez

Station 4 parking lot, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. July 24 at noon (registration at 10 a.m.). Registration fees $20–$25 (individual) to $100–$125 (team). LifeWalk.org.

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