Frugal 4×4 is Suzuki’s answer to uncertain times | VailDaily.com
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Frugal 4×4 is Suzuki’s answer to uncertain times

Andy Stonehouse
Special to The Vail TrailDespite those slightly nebulous sales hooks, the SX4 is not an AWD Chevy Aveo. Rather, it's a reasonably well-proportioned (by Japanese standards), easy-to-drive, comfortable-ish little machine that, in our new, economically challenged world, makes a good alternative for safe wintertime travel.
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It struck me today that writing about disgustingly glamorous vehicles in times like these is a bit like fiddling while Rome burns, so … let me shift gears for a second.

The American Suzuki Motor Corporation’s automotive offerings, admittedly, have not been a big player in the Colorado market. There’s not much history of the brand out here, and the little cars – the ancestors of the not-so-fantastic Samurai 4x4s – have never quite made a dent in the mountain market.

But here’s something to consider: One of the company’s newest offerings is the SX4 crossover, which has been bandied about as both the least expensive all-wheel-drive automobile on the market, as well as the least expensive entry to sport a full navigation system.

Despite those slightly nebulous sales hooks, the SX4 is not an AWD Chevy Aveo. Rather, it’s a reasonably well-proportioned (by Japanese standards), easy-to-drive, comfortable-ish little machine that, in our new, economically challenged world, makes a good alternative for safe wintertime travel.

That may require a substantial retooling of your thought process, Yukon owners – the SX4 is indeed very, very Japanese looking – but for $16,000 base and a couple thousand dollars more for the full three-mode Intelligent All-Wheel Drive pacakge, you do indeed get that added security for pocket change.

The SX4 Crossover has definitely got a very foreign feel to it, and we fully suspect that the same car is called the Lollipop Bandicoot or something in its domestic incarnation, but it’s not Yugo weird, at least.

Its particularly uncommon looks are most attributable to Suzuki’s decision to share the planning work with the Italdesign company; the little car also forms the basic structure for Suzuki’s World Rally Championship entries.

Proportions are indeed a little unusual, with very tall windows and a tall cabin, despite the short wheelbase. My best description is that it’s sort of like a Mini Cooper blended with the early-’90s Honda Civic wagon, which I also believe were AWD.

In and out of context, the sleek nose, the shiny wrap-around headlamps, well-proportioned 16-inch wheels and the glassy liftback gate all seem nicely futuristic.

Like many other tiny imports, SX4 has aircraft-styled windows in the A-pillars, but these are gigantic – so big you’d expect that they’d tilt out for ventilation like a 1960s car, and likely the eventual mounting spot for Moe’s Bagels stickers. There are also small windows in the back corners.

And just how, you may ask, does this small, 143-horsepower automobile drive? Not so bad, really. Obviously, there’s not an orgy of power, but the little four-banger will keep you rolling quite happily, with a smooth-shifting five-speed manual for more personal control.

It gets a tad buzzy when on the freeway (not as buzzy, granted, as the Saturn Astra); the abrupt wheelbase and tall stature make it a little bouncy, but in full AWD mode (I was driving the 2WD as a week-long tester), the SX4 is rumored to be as grounded as a Subaru WRX. At least that’s what some guy on the Internet said.

That sky-high roof rather effectively allows even a giant to drive the car, but it also means you’ll be completely blinded in certain daylight circumstances, as the windows seem about nine feet tall apiece (and the glass not as solar-treated as other manufacturers) – so be sure to pack those Katherine Hepburn/Marilyn Manson sunglasses when driving.

Seating is comfortable and ride position the same; the SX4 is easy to get in and out of, and rear seating is also basic but comfortable. There’s just 10 cubic feet of luggage space in the very back, but the allocation increases to 54 cubic feet when you drop the rear seats.

The Suzuki’s interior is fairly basic but, all things considered, really no more or less heavy on the plastic than a two- or three-times more expensive modern vehicle (the ’09 Maxima, for instance).

There are authentic metal highlights on the center console, easy-to-read instruments (with the exception of the completely impossible-to-read trip computer and audio readouts, which are red-on-black and totally invisible when wearing the aforementioned sunglasses).

That much-ballyhooed Garmin navigation system does look like it was jury-rigged into a storage cubby on the dash but … my goodness, it’s one of the best units I’ve seen in a long time (better and easier to use than Jaguar’s, for instance).

In addition to clear instructions, you also have access to MSN Direct (which provides real-time traffic, a gas price finder, movie times, news, weather and stocks) plus an integrated MP3 player.

Unfortunately, because of the unit’s position high above the dash, it’s about 10 inches too far away to comfortably reach while driving. A basic, XM-ready stereo and completely adequate heating and air conditioning round out the package.

Will anyone higher than 5,280 feet ever buy a Suzuki, even with all of this simple elegance? I suspect that’s a hard sell. If you do your research, however, the SX4 Crossover isn’t such a bad choice.


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