The Suzuki SX4 has been the baby of the small car SUV segment since its launch in 2007. The front-wheel drive version is the smarter choice, though. It cuts out the cost and complexity of the AWD system to be a good-looking and reliable hatch and it is being run down by the latest models from Asia. Queue equipment upgrades and price trims.

VALUE

The latest update sees the front-wheel drive models start from $18,990 and the switchable all-wheel drive version at $21,990. The 2WD has picked up the flared arches that were previously reserved for the all-paw versions so there is externally no difference in styling. That should make the front-hooker the more attractive buy for most.

I'd tip the $3000 into the higher-spec S model, which, no surprise, costs the same and brings with it cruise control, climate airconditioning, fog lamps, rear spoiler and a nine-speaker sound system. Nissan's Tiida hatch undercuts the SX4 by $1000 but has four airbags to the Suzuki's six, making the Kia Cerato its closest competitor at $19,640.

TECHNOLOGY

The 2.0 litre engine in the SX4 was a work of art four years ago. Now its power and torque figures (112kW and 190Nm) are matched by the opposition, but it still has the edge in fuel use, especially with the six-speed manual. The continuously variable auto doesn't come close. It uses more fuel and is less fun but at least the drone under acceleration will encourage owners to ease up on the right foot.

The suspension is MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear and it does a decent job of keeping the Suzuki on track. Hit a big enough pothole at speed, though, and the rear end will thump and jump.

DESIGN

Roof racks are now standard across the range and help raise the Suzuki's profile, while the flared guards lift it a touch above the average inoffensive hatch/SUV shape. The interior is functional rather than fancy: the hard plastics aren't class-leading, the seats are supportive but could do with more padding and the 250-odd litres of luggage space is what you'd expect in this segment.

It looks roomy from the outside but the rear seat is limited to two passengers on a journey of any decent length. Keep it to a foursome and the upright seating position at the front not only help get in and out of the car but mean the seat can be sli d forward to give rear passengers legroom.

SAFETY

Six airbags and the usual software give the SX4 solid safety credentials. It was tested when released in 2007 and earned four stars from Euro NCAP. The brakes bite hard and don't fade, probably because the Suzuki's 1200kg weight isn't too much of an ask. The ABS system is fine on tarmac - with the 2WD model, Carsguide didn't play with it off-road - and the tall(ish) body doesn't affect its stance through corners.

DRIVING

The SX4 punches above its weight on the road and can be a reliable runabout during the week and still provide some entertainment on weekends. The steering is super-light at carpark speeds and helps make the Suzuki one of the best of the bunch to park. The response stiffens as the pace picks up and while it's never going to be a precision weapon, it is up to the job of pointing the car in the right direction.

It can't rival the latest crop of cars for refinement, though. The engine/auto transmission matches on vehicles such as Hyundai's i30 and the Toyota Corolla are better - and the auto will be the preferred choice for most buyers in this class - and the Suzuki also lags on the quality of the interior plastics and the way they've been put together.

VERDICT

The SX4 is a good car in a field of great new ones. As an entry level car in the small car class it does the job but needs a new automatic and improved interior to be a class leader. The price cuts/equipment upgrades make it a better buy but it is a common tactic for mid-life models and Suzuki's rivals are playing the same game. The good news is that gives buyers cause to bargain hard.

SUZUKI SX4 HATCH

Price: $18,990 (SX4), $20,990 (auto)
Warranty: Three-years
Resale: 58 per cent after three years
Service intervals:
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 112kW/190Nm
Body:  Five-door hatch
Weight:  1215kg (manual), 1255kg (auto)
Transmission: Six-speed manual, continuously variable auto; front-wheel drive
Thirst: 7.3 litres/100km, 170g/km CO2 (manual), 7.6 litres/100km, 178g/km CO2 (CVT)
"It wins on the performance/economy equation but the interior is dated"