The car market is a moving target, always restless, always changing, driven by fact and fancy.
Suzukis have largely sold to older people in New Zealand but, encouraged by the trendy Swift, times are changing as younger buyers are enticed to consider the brand.
Aside from Honda, Suzuki sells more cars to private buyers than any other brand in the top 10. Last year the Swift was the second most privately owned new car in New Zealand – not bad given the relatively small size of the make. Yet, it’s only in recent times that there’s been greater consumer awareness of Suzuki. As the cheese advertisement says, good things take time.
Arrival of the SX4 world car is a further step in the building of a marque that is enjoying new-found respect and exposure.
If Suzuki had a winner in the stylish Swift, there is every chance of a repeat performance with the SX4 five-door hatchback. And the local distributor is marketing the new model as a highly viable rival to small cars like Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza and Nissan Tiida, rather than as a crossover car. The Suzuki is up to the challenge, and adds four-wheel drive at no extra cost.
In some markets, the SX4 is available with a 1.6-litre engine and two-wheel-drive,
but Australasia adopts higher spec GLX and Ltd versions with standard 2.0-litre power and the three-mode 4WD system.
There’s no chance of the Euro diesel version being sold here in the immediate future. For the first time Suzuki has a car in the 2.0-litre passenger segment. What’s more, it’s European-inspired and a little different from the Japanese mainstream – something that suits Suzuki just fine.
Remarkably, given the total package, the pricing is less than its rivals which (with the exception of Subaru) can’t offer its all-wheel drive capability.
The GLX presents a tempting proposition at $24,500 ($26,000 for the four-speed auto), but Suzuki New Zealand anticipates 70 percent of buyers will opt for the $26,500 Ltd ($27,990 in auto mode).
To me, the $2000 premium is money well spent. It buys the handy keyless start, cruise control, climate-control air-conditioning, leather covered steering wheel, discreetrear spoiler, and front and rear curtain airbags, alloy wheels and front foglights.
Both versions include front and rear electric windows, electric door mirrors, rear load cover, air conditioning, remote-control central door-locking, steering wheel audio controls, roof rails, ABS braking with EBD, front airbags and seven drinks holders. Most buyers are also expected to choose the auto option which is both frisky and smooth.
The SX4 is shorter than its main rivals, but higher both in body and ground clearance. That provides a hint to the car’s 4WD capability, and also signals easier entry and excess – something that may well appeal to older users.
Where the Suzuki has a 200mm ground clearance, a Mazda 3 offers 121mm, an Impreza 150mm and a Tiida, just 115mm. Based on a stretched version of the Swift floorplan, the SX4 is smaller than Suzuki’s hard-nosed 4WD Grand Vitara five-door.
At 4135mm, the SX4 is 440mm longer than the Swift and the 2500mm wheelbase is 110mm, though slightly less than its rivals. Not surprisingly, the new Suzuki is wider than the Swift and the overall height of 1630mm is up by 120mm.
Neat features include tumble-forward rear seats that provide a deep, flat floor, large door mirrors, a centre roof-mounted aerial that’s out of harm’s way and an on-board computer.
The 1995cc J20A, twin overhead cam engine inherited from the Grand Vitara, equals the 2.0-litre Focus for power, and is beaten only by the Impreza and Mazda 3.
The alloy, six-valve four-cylinder produces 107kW compared with 93kW for a Corolla 1.8 GLX and 108kW for a Mazda 3.
The Suzuki is a smooth and flexible engine, allowing the car to trickle along at urban speeds in fifth gear. Peak torque of 184Nm is achieved at 3500rpm – a lower engine speed than the opposition.
With the relatively flat torque curve, there’s little need for hard revving, and 7.5 litres/100km (37.7mpg) is easily achievable in highway operation.
A run over a twisting gravel road in the Bay of Plenty revealed the competence
and agility of the i-AWD all wheel drive and the quick-acting electric, speed sensitive power steering.
Most of the time, the car can be left in two-wheel drive, with the auto mode being selected when conditions dictate.
Once in auto, the system detects any disparity between the speeds of the front and rear wheels, engaging rear-wheel drive when it needs to provide 4WD grip.
In variable conditions, torque going to the rear automatically increases or diminishes. I suspect many owners will simply leave the small switch adjacent to the handbrake in auto rather than 2WD.
A third Locked position only operates up to 60km/h and maintains the torque on a 50:50 basis front to rear for maximum traction. Should you exceed the speed, the system reverts to auto and needs to be reset if locked 4WD is required.
There’s no need to be alarmed by roll angles because the body is well controlled and the car feels agile and predictable.
In short, a good driving package. The body feels highly rigid and the five-stud wheel fixing provides a clue to Suzuki’s serious sporting intentions for the SX4.
It has been chosen as Suzuki’s challenger for the 2008 FIA world rally championship, a showcase that will undoubtedly raise the model’s profile.
Engineers have improved strength without undue weight gain by using high tensile
steel for the reinforcements and extended cross-sections.
Noise and vibration is minimised by the suspension frame that supports the mounting member, steering gearbox, lower arm and engine rear mounting. The MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam arrangement at the rear provide long wheel travel, ensuring good ride comfort.
Ignore the technicalities, however, and it’s the visual assets that are likely to make the SX4 a popular seller, restricted only by the fact that New Zealand has been allocated just 650 units for the first year.
Drivers are going to like the comfortable seats and high occupant positioning that affords good visibility apart from rather heavy A pillars. They’ll also admire the body’s well-balanced Italian-inspired lines that were developed in collaboration with Guigiaro’s Italdesign.
Suzuki is already selling the SX4 in North America so unsurprisingly, a notchback sedan version is on the way. A production high performance 150kW sports variation will build on the car’s entry into major rallying.
For Suzuki it seems, the good news just keeps getting better.