By KBB.com Editors
Best known in America for high-value SUVs, Suzuki is moving to bolster its passenger-car presence here as well. Leading the charge is the new SX4 Sport, which arrives in a single, well-appointed trim level. Like the SX4 crossover introduced for 2007, this four-door sedan shares basic chassis and mechanical bits with the Suzuki Swift, a well-respected player in European and Asian markets. Despite the SX4 nomenclature originated by its all-wheel-drive cousin, the Sport is strictly front-drive---at least for now. It's also nearly 15 inches longer than the hatchback version, most of that stretch to accommodate its formal trunk. A step-up replacement for the Aerio, the SX4 Sport gives Suzuki an affordable compact entry that's far more youthful and fun-to-drive than either its existing Forenza or Reno.
Those with slight nonconformist leanings who need a practical daily transporter but also want a serious dose of driving fun---and demand it all at an attractive price---will be impressed with the attributes of the new SX4 Sport.You May Not Like This Car If...
Drivers whose tastes run more towards hard-line performance---particularly with a Teutonic flavor---or who prefer more aggressive styling might be better off considering something slightly pricier, like a Honda Civic Si, Mazda3s or VW Jetta 2.5/GLI.What's New for 2008
The new SX4 Sedan moves Suzuki closer than it's ever been before to segment heavyweights like the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla. Its higher-profile appearance and sportier handling characteristics are ideal complements to an impressive roster of standard equipment coupled with Suzuki's traditional pricing advantage.Driving It Driving Impressions
Although it still ranks higher in practicality than in pure exhilaration, the SX4 Sport is a nicely balanced package with dynamic character that goes well beyond the original SX4 crossover. With less weight to move and only two wheels to drive, the engine shows even greater enthusiasm here, but acceleration is definitely more spirited when it's paired with the standard manual gearbox. The biggest difference, however, is in the suspension tuning, which is commendably crisp without being unduly harsh. While the SX4's basic MacPherson strut and torsion beam design carries over, the Sport's more rigid body structure, lower ride height, upgraded shock absorbers and low-profile Dunlop tires on 17-inch alloy wheels (the crossover rides on 16-inchers) impart an entirely different temperament to the vehicle. Toss in communicative power steering and capable four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and the SX4 Sport reacts confidently to driver inputs, even without the optional traction and stability controls.Favorite Features
Crisp suspension tuning coupled with decently grippy low-profile tires on the largest wheels in the segment help the SX4 Sport live up to its name when the roads get twisty.
The SX4 Sport's large glass area complemented by front quarter windows and oversize outside mirrors provides the driver with exceptionally good front, side and rear sightlines.
Nicely finished and appointed, the SX4 Sport's cabin offers generous passenger space in both front and rear quarters. Much is shared with the SX4 crossover, including the dash and door panels, intuitively-positioned switchgear and an abundance of hard plastic surfaces. One key difference: The Sport's front bucket seats feature more prominent bolstering and merit high marks for both lateral support and long-range comfort. The SX4 Sport's aft quarters possess sufficient head and leg room for two average-sized adults, but three-across occupancy is definitely a kids-only proposition. A fixed rear seatback also limits the potential utility of its nearly 15.0 cubic feet of trunk capacity.Exterior
Suzuki claims the SX4 Sport's front-end was inspired by a traditional Japanese Kabuki mask but, beyond a few bolder creases in its unique soft fascia and revamped grille openings, the headlights, hood and fenders are all identical to the SX4 crossover. The Sport has an arched roofline and relatively large glass area that help create a roomier cabin and afford exceptional outward visibility. Pronounced fender flares accentuate its standard body kit (front and rear valence panel extensions and tasteful side sills), while additional visual and functional enhancement is provided by largest-in-class 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 205/50 all-season tires.Notable Standard Equipment
An economical daily commuter with legitimate enthusiast overtones, the SX4 Sport's extensive creature-comforts roster starts with air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, tilt steering column and front, front-side and side-curtain airbags. Mechanical highlights include its 143-horsepower engine, sport suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, all-season tires and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. The warranty is equally noteworthy. Basic bumper-to-bumper numbers are an industry-average three years/36,000 miles, but Suzuki also includes a free loaner car and covers pricy powertrain elements with a seven-year/100,000-mile zero-deductible blanket that's fully transferable.Notable Optional Equipment
The SX4 Sport offers two key upgrade groups that can be added singly or in combination. The Convenience Package brings cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio and cruise control buttons, automatic climate control and heated mirrors. Stack the Touring Package on top and you gain traction and stability controls, Smart Pass keyless remote locking and starting, nine-speaker upgraded audio system with six-disc CD changer, fog lamps and a rear spoiler. Prime single options include a four-speed automatic transmission, integrated iPod adapter and dealer-installed XM Satellite Radio and Bluetooth connectivity.Under the Hood
All SX4 Sedans share the same 2.0-liter DOHC all-aluminum inline four-cylinder used in the SX4 crossover. Here, too, the engine makes a solid 143 horsepower and 136 lb.-ft. of torque and is fitted with a variable-runner intake manifold that helps broaden both those output curves. Because of the more performance-oriented gear and axle ratios used in cars equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission, an SX4 Sport with the optional four-speed automatic actually earns slightly better EPA fuel economy numbers. In either case, the SX4 Sport's front-drive-only configuration helps trim well over 100 pounds off its curb weight compared to the crossover, a factor that significantly improves acceleration.
2.0-liter in-line 4
143 horsepower @ 5800 rpm
136 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/30 (manual), 23/31 (automatic)
Value-emphasis marketing has long been a Suzuki hallmark and the new SX4 Sport is no exception. With its base price-plus-destination starting at just under $16,000 and a fully-loaded version with automatic transmission coming in around $19,000, the car holds roughly a $1,000-$2,000 advantage over similarly-equipped competitors, including the Honda Civic LX, Mazda3i Touring and Nissan Sentra 2.0 S. However, while Suzuki's residual numbers continue to edge upwards, the SX4 Sport is still likely to trail all three when it comes to retained value over time. Its current one-trim-fits-all approach also prevents the SX4 Sport from taking on more serious performance variants like the Civic Si, Mazda3s, Nissan Sentra SE-R or VW Jetta GLI.