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Suzuki SX4 2006 Road Test

Sat, 25 Mar 2006

In designing the SX4, Suzuki was very well aware that ’Cute and Chunky’ seems to sell cars, particularly to women. After Toyota abandoned its short wheelbase RAV-4, Suzuki rapidly came up witha replacement in the form of  the 3-door Grand Vitara with very similar looks.

Now, in collaboration with FIAT, Suzuki presents us with the cute and chunky SX4 5-door hatchback, built in Esztergom, Hungary.

It’s likely to succeed whereas others like the Rover Streetwise failed because as well as having urban warrior looks, it’s also available with four wheel drive so has the kit to act the part should the occasion arise. However, to make sure it gets a bite at every faction of the its niche market, you can also have it as a plain two wheel drive, as a two wheel drive automatic, and as quite a powerful, yet economical diesel. Not all at the same time, though, as the two permutations you cannot have are a diesel automatic or a four wheel drive automatic.

Though the car looks quite small (about the size of a Citroen C3) it’s actually a reasonable 5-seater with plenty of headroom for the centre back and enough width to accommodate three pairs of adult hips. The boot is a decent size, too, and the back seats tumble forwards 60/40 to leave a flat floor, though the rear sill is quite high to give the car structural strength and won’t take a wheelchair or mobility scooter.

It’s easy to get comfortable in the higher than normal driver’s seat and visibility is good, aided by large quarterlights in the A pillars and big, van-like door mirrors.

We took the 4-Grip diesel out first. It was a bit gruff if you pushed it through the gears (same engine as the Vauxhall Zafira recently tested) and ran out of useful revs at 4,000rpm. But it was decently high geared with 4th, 5th and 6th all fairly close together and 6th delivering a relaxed 100mph cruise at 3,000rpm. Push it into the corners with 2WD selected (for economy) and you feel the weight of the iron block engine at the front. But pop it into ‘Auto’ and the sensors bring in the rear axle when understeer is detected at the front and it handles much more tidily. For really rough going you can also lock the centre diff so drive is permanently delivered to both axles, but you would never normally do this on the road except in deep snow.

In direct contrast, the 1.6 petrol 4-Grip we tried was far less refined. The engine seemed to pass through an unpleasant boom period at 5,000rpm before it smoothed out again, finally hitting the limiter at 6,750rpm. This was not a universal trait as other drivers on the launch actually preferred ‘their’ petrol models to the diesels they had tried. However, 1.6 manuals only have 5 speeds and are geared to deliver just 20mph per 1,000rpm which would have made 100mph very boomy indeed had we ventured as fast.

We left the launch in confusion. FIAT is offering the same car badged at the Sedici, but with greater emphasis on the diesel. Yet we were told Suzuki favoured the 1.6 and had not even made a decision about importing the four-wheel drive diesel. If I was the boss I’d offer the front-drive 1.6 auto and the four wheels drive diesel, and hold the rest back. I wouldn’t try anything else unless the market asked for it.

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