The Suzuki SX4 has a lot appeal but that quickly wanes once you cut through the rather attractive facade.  This model, which basically replaced the old Liana and sits one rung above the highly-successful Swift, is a chunky five-door family hatch with all-wheel drive and a decent 2-litre engine. So it has all the right ingredients.

But it's a thin veil. The SX4 is a simple car that carries over the appeal of the Swift. But you quickly discover that it won't match its baby sister in a few areas.

Driving

The most glaring problem is its road holding. On the road it inspires little confidence, feeling skitterish and light - a fact that belies its hardly featherweight 1275kg dry weight.  You soon discover that the reason it drives like its skating on ice is not because of chassis or tyre issues but because of a rather badly done steering system.

This steering vagueness is the car's Achilles Heel and unfortunately pervades the SX4's driving experience.

Engine and gearbox

On the bright side it's a comfortable and rather lively car. The 2-litre engine is tuned more for modest performance and is sufficiently noisy at the top-end of the tachometer to keep your upchanges at less than 4000rpm.

And that has immediate benefits in fuel efficiency. The six-speed manual model here (there's also a CVT auto which probably better fits the SX4 market) is claimed to get 7.6 litres/100km which isn't bad as an average and is in ballpark with my figure. 

The manual transmission version is a neat performer with nicely matched gear ratios to suit shopping centres and highways.  The gear linkage is light - must have gone out in sympathy with the steering - but is easy to use and gets on well with the clutch action.

Suzuki sells the SX4 as an all-wheel drive as tested here, and a cheaper front-wheel drive. It also comes as a hatch or sedan.  Which begs the question - do you need an all-wheel drive? With a 175mm ground clearance it clearly isn't for the beach or muddy trails in the hills.

The SX4 gets an excellent list of safety equipment that includes electronic stability control which, in all bar extreme cases, can be as effective as a mechanical all-wheel drive system at maximising traction and keeping the car on the straight and narrow.

Buyers who have romantic visions of parking an SX4 on a beach as the sun sets are probably there because they're bogged. Save some money and buy the front-wheel drive model - if you must.

Fit-out and equipment

Suzuki make austere and frugal cars and do it for a price, but the impression is a tad cheap. The doors, for example, close with the sense that some bolts are missing.  This is a car that competes in the same segment and at similar pricing to Mazda3, Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf yet has the cabin character of a commuter train. And that's not especially enticing.

Yes, the dashboard is functional and it all works but the materials chosen are hard plastic that is plainly wrapped and only relieved by a few buttons.  Cheap can be made to look expensive - the i30 is an example - and Suzuki has been around long enough to know how to do it.

Seating is good though there's not much lateral support. There's good leg and headroom in the back which is primarily the result of the SX4 standing so tall.  But the boot is a disappointment, being one of the smallest around. The all-wheel drive's components at the rear are intrusive but even the skinny - and near useless - space-saver spare tyre fails to claw back any useable cargo space.

Overall

So what did I like? It's easy to drive and mechanically simple. Even simpler in front-wheel drive form.  So I didn't like much. While the Suzuki Swift is still a practical and well-executed hatch, the bigger SX4 wallows both on the road and on the market.  I would hope that Suzuki has better fortune with the even bigger Kizashi sedan.

Rating: 80/100

Suzuki SX4 AWD S

Price: $23,490
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl
Power: 112kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 190Nm @ 4000rpm
Fuel: Standard unleaded
Fuel tank: 45 litres
Economy (official): 7.6 litres/100km
Economy (tested): 7.9 litres/100km
Greenhouse: 178g/km (Corolla: 175g/km)
Transmission: 6-speed manual; front-drive
Brakes: 4-wheel discs, ESC, ABS, EBD, brake assist
Turning circle: 10m
Suspension: Front _ MacPherson struts; Rear _ torsion bar, coils
Wheels: 16-inch alloy, 205/60R16 tyres; space-saver spare
Length: 4135mm
Width: 1755mm
Height: 1605mm
Wheelbase: 2500mm
Ground clearance: 175mm
Weight: 1275kg
Warranty: 3yr/100,000km
Service: 15,000km
Features: Climate airconditioning; 9-speaker 1-CD audio; 6 airbags; cruise control; keyless start

Rivals

Hyundai i30 2.0SLX ($23,890) _ 85/100;
Mazda3 Maxx ($24,240) _ 87/100;
Subaru Impreza 2.0R ($23,490) _ 85/100;
Volkswagen Golf 90TSI ($24,990) _ 85/100