Back in 2007, Suzuki was ready to make some changes in the American market. They were tired of being known for having Daewoo rebadged cars that were low-budget and low-income driven. At the same time, a little car being sold in Japan and across Europe had been winning praises and prizes. Suzuki was ready to develop a new car to compete in the World Rally Championship and to compete in the U.S. market. They developed the SX4 (Sports Crossover 4-Wheel Drive) beginning from the ground up using their gained knowledge from the Swift and other cars developed in Japan. This was truly a move in the right direction for Suzuki. The SX4 became the most affordable AWD vehicle sold in America, and is a great little car. Many people who bought these cars began to modify them along the lines of Suzuki’s WRC car, including us. In 2008, we helped build and design a Suzuki SX4 for a local dealer as a show car. We worked with a company named Road Race Motorsports (www.roadracemotorsports.com) for a lot of aftermarket parts for our SX4. Road Race is one of the only companies that make aftermarket parts for Suzuki and they have built many show cars and concept cars for Suzuki. This SX4 underwent many changes including a body kit, wheels, suspension, turbo, exhaust, and more! All in all, with the money we put into the car we ended up with a $30,000 machine. The SX4 was a good platform to start from as the chassis is set up for rally racing and the AWD system was top notch, but after spending the money we would much rather have had a Subaru STI or Mitsubishi Evo for the performance we saw. Don’t get me wrong, the car was fun, but not as great as these cars, yet owners loved the car we built and were ready to invest into making their Suzuki like ours. So many owners, in fact, that Suzuki decided to step up and build a more sporty SX4 themselves.
So came the SX4 SportBack. What was changed? Well much of the same; lower suspension, body kit, bigger wheels, and a more powerful engine. The SportBack has a 2.0 liter engine, like the regular SX4, but now with 150 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque. The 6-speed transmission allows the car to achieve a higher EPA rating pushing the highway miles to 30 mpg and 22 mpg for the city. You now also get a 6-speed manual transmission. The interior is the same basic setup as the normal SX4, very usable and very roomy. You get GPS as standard, yet the screen is mounted far back on the top of the dash and is almost imposible to access. You also get Suzuki’s 100,000 mile fully transferable warranty. Suzuki really has one of the best warranties out there.
So what was lost? Well lets start with the power-train. You get more power out of the 2.0 liter engine, but you lose the iAWD system. Suzuki did this to save weight and reduce horsepower loss associated with AWD systems. What it actually does is reduce confidence when driving. The front end feels much more lively and has become incredibly easy to lose grip at the front wheels. It also puts this car into a whole new category, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. Another big thing lost when shopping for a SportBack is the cheap price. Our test vehicle tipped the scales at $18,383 which isn’t too much, but it seems to defeat the purpose of the SX4. I always liked the SX4 for being an inexpensive, fun to drive, AWD, hatchback for everyone. Now you have a car that rivals the base Kizashi in sticker price and is no better to drive than the original.
This brings me back to my point of what category this car now falls in and the competition it faces. The Suzuki SX4 has had it pretty easy in its segment, but this SportBack goes from AWD rally competitor to a FWD autocross fighter. The problem is though, cars like the Fiesta and Mazda 2. With other companies getting into the small hatchback – fun to drive – segment at a better price, then I’m not sure if the SX4 SportBack will be able to compete. The SX4 is still a good car and the SportBack is a better looking and still a fun to drive version of that car, but at that price point I’d be looking at a base Kizashi if I just had to have a Suzuki product, or I’d wait for the Mazda 2 or Ford Fiesta.