BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Suzuki has established a solid reputation for small four-wheel drives and the SX4 follows in the tradition of vehicles like the SJ, the Jimny and the Vitara. It is, however, quite a different proposition, not being a 'proper' 4x4, instead being a smallish hatchback with a raised body height and contrary to popular opinion, not all of the models feature all-wheel drive. Here's the low down on what you should be looking for when buying a used SX4.
The Suzuki SX4 project is very much a case of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'. Suzuki needed a diesel engine for this vehicle. Fiat had diesel engines aplenty but wanted a well-built niche model in its range. A deal was signed, Suzuki got the 1.9-litre diesel powerplant and Fiat got a new model in their line up which they dubbed the Sedici.
Fiat took thirty per cent of the 60,000 cars that rolled out of the Magyar Suzuki plant in Hungary, the remaining two thirds being sold globally as the Suzuki SX4. Whereas the Sedici was quite a simple concept to understand, the SX4 range is more varied and only one of the models, the 1.6 GLX 4GRIP, features all wheel drive. That this version is the best seller is perhaps unsurprising as without the benefit of this all-weather traction, the SX4 seems a bit of an oddity.
The Peugeot-sourced 1.6-litre DDiS diesel engine was introduced early in 2008.
What You Get
Responsibility for the exterior design lies with the Italdesign studio of Giugiaro and it's a very neat piece of work. Inside, the fascia is attractively designed with some decent and hard wearing materials used. The combination of a raised driving position, height adjustable driver's seat, rake-adjustable steering wheel and deep front quarterlight windows offer the driver a commanding driving position with good all-round visibility for a panoramic view of the road ahead.
There are two distinct SX4 lines. GLX and 4GRIP models are distinctly SUV in appearance with alloy wheels, wheel arch extensions, side protection mouldings, side under protection mouldings and front and rear skid plates. The GL grade emphasises the passenger car characteristics with fewer SUV elements. The 4GRIP all-wheel drive variant has a switchable three-mode 4wd system that's well worth the extra outlay. This added facet to the SX4's character makes it an intriguing proposition. The SX4 is certainly not a rival to 'proper' compact 4x4; the sort of car that goes head to head with the Nissan X-Trails and Land Rover Freelanders of this world. It's just too small for that sort of thing and the tale of the tape shows that the Suzuki measures about the same overall length as a Ford Focus. The interior packaging, however, isn't the most generous.
There's certainly no shortage of room up front but rear seat legroom is rather stingy and the boot measures a modest 270 litres with the rear seats in place. Unless you drop the rear seats, you'll carry more in a Porsche Boxster. The rest of the interior news is pretty good. The fascia is well screwed together and attractively designed although materials quality looks a little way removed from the class best. Perhaps the best thing that can be said for it is that it's unthreatening and very intuitive. It is, perhaps, a little short on showroom wow actor.
What to Look For
The Suzuki SX4 is a tough little thing. The cabin feels a bit cheap but everything is reasonably solid and the seat fabrics are hardwearing. The mechanicals are all tried and tested and the 4GRIP model doesn't have the power to overwhelm the traction advantage on tarmac. Make sure you have a good look under the car at the exhaust system and the suspension for signs of over enthusiastic off roading. Reject anything that looks as if it's been passed over a belt sander.
(approx based on an 1.6 GLX inc VAT) Spark plugs are £7 a piece while rear brake pads tot up to £45 per pair while fronts are £55 a set. Expect to pay around £15 for a fuel filter and £9 for an oil filter.
On the Road
Let's take a look at the most interesting model in the SX4 line up, the 4GRIP version. Its all-wheel drive system is similar to the Haldex system used in something like an Audi TT insofar as it diverts power from a slipping pair of front wheels towards the rear to restore grip, but Suzuki have given the driver plenty of control over how this system is marshalled. Most of the time, the SX4 is best left in a default economy mode where it functions as a conventional front wheel drive hatch. If the going suddenly gets really slippery, a lock mode ensures that front and rear axles are locked together to provide ultimate traction. A clutch system allows a small amount of slippage once under way and once you've reached 37mph, the system switches to its third mode, auto, which is the driver-selectable part-time 4wd mode.
Get your head underneath the SX4 and you'll realise that most of the vulnerable bits are tucked well out of the way, giving the all-wheel drive model a green lane capability that's far beyond what you'd at first expect. The front suspension is a conventional MacPherson strut setup while the rear end features a compact torsion beam arrangement, in this case sculpted to make way for the prop shaft and the rear differential.
Two engines are available to UK customers. The petrol engine is a 107bhp 1.6-litre but the best engine is the Fiat-sourced 120bhp 1.9-litre DDiS diesel. The Fiat link is interesting and it would be understandable if you concluded that this tie-up was due to both companies' General Motors connection (Fiat tried to offload its car making arm to GM and the American giant has a 20 per cent stake in Suzuki). In actual fact however, Suzuki has a remit to control its strategic partnerships as it sees fit and in this case, it was merely that there was a good 'fit' with Fiat who could supply state of the art diesel engines and who needed a car of this type.
The Suzuki SX4 is a car that has largely slipped under the general public's radar. The two best models, the 1.9-litre diesel with front-wheel drive and the 1.6-litre petrol 4GRIP, both merit closer investigation and offer reliable, well built transport for far less than you'd pay for many less characterful mainstream rivals. Don't take the go-anywhere pretensions too seriously and you should find the SX4 very appealing.