Suzuki is probably not one of the first names to spring to mind when you're considering a subcompact car. But the new SX4 SportBack — now one of four in the SX4 lineup — aims for the sweet spot between economy compact and "hot hatch." That it mostly succeeds is more proof that Suzuki is shedding its pedestrian image.
Appearance: Lyra declared it "cute." That's true, but this hatchback also has an aero body kit that gives it a sporty look — including a spoiler on the hatch — that sets it apart from some other subcompacts in this segment. It also has a lower ride height, standard fog lights and 17-inch spoked alloy wheels.
Performance: Simply put, the SX4 SportBack is fun to drive. The 2.0-liter, 150-horsepower 4-cylinder is peppy, if on the noisy side, like a lot of high-revving small cars. The six-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly and the clutch has just the right feel. Maybe because of its weight — 2,732 pounds — the SportBack feels planted on the road; and it zips through corners courtesy of a sport-tuned suspension. (Circular interstate exits were especially a blast.) The one area we thought it came up a little short — that weight again — comes in the estimated fuel economy of 22/30.
Interior: Up front, the SportBack feels roomy for a subcompact car, with comfortable, well-bolstered seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an armrest (for driver and passenger) in just the right spot. Peter had plenty of headroom. The back seats are, well, a tighter fit. There's lots of plastic — that's to be expected in a car in this price range — but the interior is attractive, with simple, easy-to-read gauges. Some nice standard features include keyless start, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a dash-docked Garmin Nuvi 765 GPS and a nine-speaker, six-CD audio player with MP3. We both especially liked the speed-sensing volume control. Lyra didn't like the small screen of the nav system or that it's mounted on top of the dash. But on the upside, it's portable. With the rear seats up, there's plenty of space for groceries in the cargo area, plus there's a hidden under-deck storage compartment. For larger hauls, fold down the 60/40 split rear seats for even more space.
Safety: We liked its standard four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability control and air bag coverage that includes front and rear side-curtains. In addition, the crumple zone and safety cage protect occupants in a crash.
Our 3 favorites
Style: It really does look sportier than most compacts, especially with wider tires and wheels.
Fun: The manual transmission is fun even in city driving.
Power: The 150 horses are more than most small cars.
Peppy drive: This little car has a lot of spirit. It whips around corners effortlessly.
Layout: Simplicity well done. Buttons are easy to reach and understandable.
Price: Lots of fun for the money.
The bottom line: If you're looking for a small car with decent fuel consumption for less than $20,000, but you want more performance than the run-of-the-mill people mover, the SX4 SportBack is worth a look. Watch out, Mini Cooper.