Just when it seemed Suzuki was about to drop off the radar the company launched a whole new range of cars to kick-start its presence in the market.

The rebirth if the brand began with the new Swift, which was greeted with great enthusiasm by the motoring press and public alike, and that was followed up by the SX4.  The sports-crossover SX4 had proved popular when launched in Europe and Japan and the company hoped it would restart sales here as well.

MODEL WATCH

Initially there was just one SX4 model, a cute four-wheel drive go-anywhere five-door hatch, but it was joined a few months later by front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive sedan and hatch variants.

That first hatch was a pretty little car with neat, modern lines, and lots of glass for an airy cabin. By contrast the later sedan and hatch versions weren't as attractive with slabby sides and a rather clunky appearance.

All models had a 2.0-litre double overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine, which boasted 107 kW at 5800 revs and 184 Nm at 3500 revs, enough to make it a willing performer for anyone prepared to stir it along through the gears.  The gearbox choices were a five-speed manual or four-speed auto, and both were geared to get the SX4 moving off the line.

Final drive varied depending on the model. There were the regular front-wheel drive models, the all-wheel drive that drove through the front wheels with drive going to the rear on demand, and the four-wheel drive model.

The latter used Suzuki's intelligent all-wheel drive system, which was controlled by an electromagnetic wet clutch and was selected using switch on the centre console.

It could operate in front-wheel drive mode, active all-wheel drive mode, in which drive varied as needed from 95 per cent to the front to a 50/50 split front to rear, or as a locked diff with a fixed 50/50 split for better traction in the harder going.  Three models made up the range, including the base model, the S and the 4x4.

All were quite well equipped. The base model boasted air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, eight-speaker CD sound, remote central locking and immobilizer.  Once you took the step up to the S you also got cruise control, 15-inch alloys, fog lamps, and a leather steering wheel.

At the top of the pile there was the 4x4 that had climate controlled air, 16-inch alloys, rear spoiler and cloth trim as well.

IN THE SHOP

While they've always been diminutive Suzukis have generally been reliable, thanks mainly to their quality engineering. The same can be said for the SX4.  Few complaints land at CarsGuide and readers tell us they're happy with their cars.

The only time they see the inside of a workshop is when they're due for a service.  Servicing is very important on today's cars, which rely on fresh oil for a long life. Check for a service record that confirms regular oil and filter changes.  Also inspect the bodywork for damage that might be attributed to a crash.

IN A CRASH

The SX4 had the basic safety features with dual front airbags, ABS brakes, brake force distribution and emergency brake assist across the range.  The S and the 4x4 hatch were better equipped than the base model; they also had side and curtain airbags.

What was lacking across all models was stability control. When tested by ANCAP in 2007 the SX4 was awarded four stars out of a possible five.

UNDER THE PUMP

Fuel economy was regarded as acceptable rather than special. Suzuki claimed it would average 9.5 L/100 km.

OWNERS SAY

When they road tested the SX4 Alec and Lynne Jones were immediately impressed by its comfortable, supportive seats, roomy cabin, easy-to-use controls, standing-start performance, and fuel economy. There only criticism is that they say the paint chips easily compared to cars they've previously owned. Everything else, they say, is excellent, and they rate it nine out of 10.

Young mom Kim Maxwell downsized from a much-loved VS II Commodore Berlina V8 to a front-wheel drive Suzuki SX4 and after some misgivings about the Suzuki's size and four-cylinder engine she says the move was a great one.

She loves the economy she gets, and says it has been perfectly reliable in the 37,000 km she has done to date. Her only criticisms are of the front quarter windows, which create a large black spot that requires care when making a turn, and the rear seat belts that aren't child seat friendly.

If it weren't for the blind spots she would be happy to buy another one, but until Suzuki changes the design in that area she won't.

LOOK FOR

. Nippy performance
. Good economy
. Very reliable
. Blind spots from front quarter windows . Four-star safety

THE BOTTOM LINE

A well-built and reliable small car that would serve the family well.  70/100

Have you owned a SX4? Tell us your experience in the comments below.