- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

Since its introduction in 2007, Suzuki’s five-door SX4 Crossover has established a loyal following by seamlessly blending the nimble handling of a compact five-door with the “adventure sport” capability of all-wheel drive.

Remaining America’s least expensive auto with all-wheel drive, the AWD SX4 Crossover continues to capture media attention and praise. Kelley Blue Book’s www.kbb.com has recognized the SX4 as one of its “Top 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000,” while the New England Motor Press Association awarded the SX4 with its Yankee Value Award for three consecutive years. Finally, it has been recognized by a leading consumer publication as the “most reliable car” in its competitive segment.

After boasting the addition of standard navigation in 2009 — a segment first — Suzuki brings the SX4 Crossover into 2010 in an all-new guise, one combining the practicality and panache of a five-door hatch and the neo-aggressive dynamic of a Eurocentric sport sedan. Sharing its profile — and utility — with the all-wheel-drive SX4 Crossover, the new 2010 SX4 SportBack brings to the generous greenhouse and usable two-box profile a handling dynamic fully appropriate to late braking and apex chasing.

Of course, the SX4 SportBack isn’t new territory for the design team at Suzuki. With its latest iteration of the Suzuki Swift — introduced in both Europe and Asia in 2004 — Suzuki has demonstrated its almost innate knowledge of both practical packaging and daring dynamics.

As the winner of numerous media awards — and consumer acclaim — the Swift fully matches the more established “hot hatches” with its vehicular “groove,” while substantially undercutting the segment in affordability. From its inception, the SX4 borrowed both the Swift’s handling DNA — along with select platform bits — to convey the spirit of a world-class entrant. With the launch of the new SX4 SportBack, the various bits and pieces of earlier models have blossomed — at least dynamically — into full-fledged DNA sharing.

New looks for SX4 five-door

Beyond the SX4 SportBack’s functional modifications are visual enhancements to its exterior and numerous refinements inside. This exterior/interior update makes the SX4 SportBack that much better for enjoying the enhanced driving experience. Outside, SX4 SportBack prospects will note the deletion of the roof-mounted rack found on the SX4 Crossover, along with the addition of a subtle — albeit effective — aero package, along with minor tweaks to both bumper and grille. A modest chin spoiler and side skirts direct air flow beneath the car, while a revised rear spoiler above the backlight better manages air over the car. The entire package is lowered 15 mm when compared with the SX4 Crossover, providing a lower center of gravity, aggressive stance and more dynamic handling.

Interior bells that attract whistles

Inside, passenger comfort and convenience are addressed by more than a dozen improvements, including power windows and locks, dual power rearview mirrors, tilt steering wheel, trip computer, split folding rear seats and rear passenger floor vents. The SX4 SportBack’s interior trim enjoys an all-new instrument cluster, aluminum-look accents, four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3 and XM Satellite Radio compatibility, a driver’s information center and an armrest for the driver’s seat. Integrated navigation, made standard on the base 2009 SX4 Crossover, continues on the 2010 SX4 SportBack — with notable enhancements: airline arrival and departures, Bluetooth on-screen text display, 3D graphics, lane guidance and Doppler weather maps. In addition, the folding rear seats and concealed storage behind those seats provide a completely flat load surface, which is perfect for the SX4 SportBack’s activity-oriented consumer target.

Powertrain

The good news continues under the hood. Since its introduction, the SX4 has benefited from a full 2.0 liters of displacement and a capacity of a little more than 120 cubic inches. With this newest iteration, this little hot hatch boasts five percent more horsepower and 4 lb.-ft. of additional torque, while delivering — in the EPA cycle — 30 highway miles per gallon. This, in a larger 2.4-liter displacement, is the same engine architecture as found under the hood of the all-new 2010 Kizashi. The SportBack’s new powerplant, when combined with the SX4’s lean proportions, generates the type of power-to-weight ratio found in leading “hot hatch” competitors costing thousands more.

From the same company building the world’s fastest production motorcycle, one expects competitive performance, and this new 2.0 liter delivers: 150 horsepower at 6,200 rpm, in combination with 140 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm. Beyond the numbers are a fluid delivery, instant responsiveness and a much smaller carbon footprint than its predecessor.

Connecting the improved powerplant to the SX4 SportBack’s front wheels is the choice of a six-speed manual or an all-new performance-tuned Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). With the addition of an extra cog, the SX4 SportBack driver benefits from six degrees of separation, especially when placing the Suzuki in its competitive segment. Ratios are more closely spaced, allowing the driver to stay in the sweet spot of the powerband throughout the acceleration cycle. Although the closely spaced ratios improve acceleration when merging or passing, the overdrive sixth allows for relaxed cruising at highway speeds, optimizing the driving experience while minimizing the SX4 SportBack’s thirst.

For added urban convenience, the new performance-tuned CVT optimizes — via both a console-mounted gear selector and paddle shifters — both performance and efficiency, better maintaining the engine’s rpm “sweet spot” over a wide range of both in-town and freeway driving.

Dynamic handling

The SX4 SportBack’s suspension retains MacPherson struts in the front and a rear torsion beam in the back. Tuned to sport mode, and following the tradition of the urban-oriented SX4 sold in European markets, the SX4 SportBack benefits from a lower ride height, performance shocks and standard anti-roll bars. Serving to further enhance the ride-and-handling balance are 17-inch alloy rims sporting 205/50 all-season Dunlops. The sticky, low-profile radials contribute to the SX4 SportBack’s sure braking, as do standard four-wheel, fade-resistant discs.

Safety

Class-leading active safety (the “active” ability to avoid an accident) features in the SX4 SportBack include the newly standard ESP with traction control, six airbags, daytime running lights, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock braking system and electronic brake-force distribution and a tire pressure monitoring system. Together with the traction control system, ESP helps ensure vehicle stability when cornering, driving on slippery road conditions or conducting emergency maneuvers.

Passive safety (the ability to survive an accident) starts with a reinforced body with front and rear crumple zones designed to help absorb impact energy. Six airbags are standard, including driver and front passenger advanced frontal airbags, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and side curtain airbags designed to provide additional protection for front- and outboard rear-seat passengers. Front three-point seat belts with pretensioners integrate force limiters.

The SX4 SportBack also is equipped with ISO FIX-compliant child-seat anchors and the LATCH system (Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children). Together, all of this safety equipment makes the SX4 SportBack one of the best-equipped vehicles in its class with respect to safety.

Trim level and packages

The SX4 SportBack is one of the best-equipped vehicles in the segment, inviting comparison with small sedans and wagons costing far more. Standard features include power windows, locks and mirrors, leather wheel, fog lights, six-disc CD changer, upgraded audio system, keyless start, automatic HVAC, aero body package, cruise control, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 XM Satellite Radio-ready audio system, tilt steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels, and trip computer. In addition, the new SportBack — as with the entire SX4 lineup — comes equipped with an integrated navigation system (with available MSN Real Time Traffic) as standard equipment.

The standard audio system is XM Satellite Radio-capable, and an accessory iPod interface is available. A connected iPod works seamlessly through the radio and the steering-wheel-integrated controls, with playlists and track information appearing on the audio display.

With more consumers interested in emphasizing the “fun” in “functionality,” Suzuki expects the SX4 SportBack to further build on the SX4’s already-broad appeal. With this year’s additions to the SX4 lineup, Suzuki’s volume leader looks to turn up the volume, bringing the hot hatch segment to Suzuki showrooms throughout the country.

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