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2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport: Value Conscious Style

This month, Suzuki offers new competition for Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Kia Spectra, Mazda3, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Chevrolet Cobalt and replaces the slow-selling Aerio. The SX4 Sport sedan is related to the SX4 Crossover launched last summer, and most distinct from the Crossover in that it carries a trunk and is not available with an all-wheel-drive system. The SX4 family is more competitive than the Aerio hatchback and sedan they replace and continue to offer lots of standard features at a reasonable price point.

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On a hot and muggy August day in Traverse City, Michigan, we had our first drive and spent some time with Suzuki product planners and marketing executives. Suzuki developed the SX4 Sport to be a stylish compact with emotionally rewarding driving experience at an affordable price, but also wanted to bring something new to the market. In many ways, and within the context of the compact segment, they met these goals. The SX4 offers a quirky style and an affordable price, but we did not see where it brings something new or unique to the standard compact sedan formula.
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Steady and Quiet, Rain or Shine
A strong downpour covered the morning and first of our drive, though the sun opened up and dried out the roads over the course of our three-hour drive. The small, narrow SX4 felt as planted during a strong downpour as on dry pavement an hour later. Though a deep puddle tried to swallow the little car, the SX4 would have none of that and pushed through with the determination of a larger vehicle. The SX4 Sport is nimble and offers a manual gearbox with direct action, little slop, and a light but predictable clutch. Though entertaining for a $15,000 ride, the SX4 doesn’t offer as much pure fun as a Mazda3 nor does it feel quite as substantial as the new-for-2008 Mitsubishi Lancer (click for our drive review of the Lancer). It does, however, offer an interior environment surprisingly free of road or wind noise.
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Suzuki kept American drivers in mind in tuning the SX4 for more low-end torque and better low-end acceleration versus an overall 0-to-60mph time, leaving the small sedan to feel acceptably strong off the line. According to Suzuki’s testing, the SX4 offers mid-range 0-to-60-mph times, but betters the Nissan Sentra 2.0L, Mazda3, or Jetta 2.5L in the sprint to 30 mph. We found baseline acceleration peppy for its standard 143HP 2.0L DOHC 24v I4 engine.

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Where is SX4 Sport Different from SX4 Crossover?
Compared to the SX4 Crossover, the sedan rides 10mm lower and is stiffer. The dash, gauge cluster, center console, and audio/HVAC controls are shared, as is the steering wheel (available with integrated cruise and audio controls). The SX4 Sport and Crossover are the same from the B pillar forward, including front doors, hood, headlights, and fenders, though the Sport and Crossover get different front lower fascias. Rear doors and rear sheetmetal are different. Though the sedan’s suspension is dropped a bit, the seating position is the same, giving Sport buyers a higher seating position than in typical sedans. And those windows in the A pillar enhance visibility and add to the quirky nature of its styling.
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Lots of Standard Content and Simple Options
Though the Sport comes well equipped for its segment, it may be hampered by the inability for the rear seat to fold 60/40. Suzuki engineers tell us the reason has to do with structural elements that improve stiffness, and that a solution is being developed. Standard equipment includes seventeen-inch wheels, an aero kit with front and rear fascias, four-wheel ABS, remote key, trip computer, six airbags, air conditioning, floor mats, body-color door handles, CD player, XM-capable radio, and power windows/locks/mirrors. The standard aero kit, seventeen-inch wheels, and body-color door handles are nice touches that leave the base car looking more expensive. The standard convenience features are well chosen and should make for a more rewarding ownership experience for even those sticking with the base car.
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Trim levels are straightforward and simple. The base car gets a launch price of $14,770, plus $675 destination. A $500 optional convenience package adds climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, and heated outside mirrors. For an additional $1000 (or $16,270), the Touring package takes the convenience pack goodies and adds an upgraded audio system (six-CD changer and nine speakers), fog lamps, a rear spoiler, ESP, traction control, and the keyless start/go (SmartPass in Suzuki-speak). The four-speed automatic transmission is an $1100 option on all trim levels, and this was the only price that Suzuki revealed that seemed not so good a value. A quick look at 2007MY pricing for Civic, Cobalt, and Corolla shows that $800 to $850 is a more typical cost in this segment. Even Hyundai only charged $1000 for an automatic on the Elantra.
Features like an iPod adaptor (this one allows operation of the iPod from the radio head, unlike a plain auxiliary jack) and Bluetooth are available as dealer-installed options rather than factory direct options. Buyers can also dress up the SX4 with bits from the dealer-installed options, including other seventeen-inch wheel styles and interior items like a chrome-look accent for the five-speed manual gearshift.
What Can SX4 Sport Do for Suzuki?
Response to the SX4 Crossover has pleased the company, as that model has been selling at a rate constrained by production capacity since launch. The Sport applies the SX4 flavor to a traditional three-box setup.
SX4 Sport offers a contemporary exterior and a well thought out and nicely designed interior. Suzuki needs it to find a stable home in the marketplace, though it won’t see anything but a fraction of Civic or Corolla volumes (both sold well over 300,000 units last year). SX4 Sport has potential to improve Suzuki’s image in a ferociously competitive and historically boring and price-sensitive segment.
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