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Suzuki SX4 2.0 DDiS SZ5 4x4

Click to view picture gallery“Half of 2012 gone already, which
  means just two major events to go:
  Christmas and snow. We can’t
  cancel the festivities any more than
  we can stop it snowing but we can
  be prepared
with a Suzuki SX4,
  which has got the white stuff all

WHILE YOU CAN HAVE YOUR SX4 with either petrol or diesel power, if you want all-wheel traction the best package is the top-specced SZ5 model that comes with a 2.0 DDiS turbodiesel engine under the bonnet.

So how much were you thinking of spending on a 4x4? 25K? 30K? More? Actually, you don't need to spend a penny more than 15,600. That will buy you a 1.6-litre petrol-engined 4WD SX4. But you might prefer to up your budget to 17,400 which will put a more powerful, range-topping SX4 with diesel power on your driveway.

The prime reason (and there are plenty more sound reasons to add) for going down Suzuki's compact crossover path is the ease-of-use of Suzuki's 4WD system: drivers can leave it to make all the right 'grip' decisions for them or, with a quick press of a switch, use their own discretion.

“Drivers can leave the SX4 to make all the right ‘grip’ decisions
for them or,
with a quick press on
a switch, use their
own discretion
And although there are plenty of times when it's good to just go with the flow, it's nice to be in full control when tackling the UK's tricksy winter weather.

For those of you who want — even demand — this kind of input, the SX4's intelligent all-wheel drive system (i-AWD) offers three modes: 4WD Auto, 4WD Lock and 2WD called up via a foolproof rocker switch sited alongside the traditional handbrake.

During normal driving conditions in 4WD-Auto mode there's no torque transfer to the rear wheels, so the SX4 works just like any other front-wheel drive car. However, the moment any slip is detected at the front, torque is automatically shunted back to the rear wheels for all-wheel traction and improved stability.

4WD-Lock maintains full traction up to around 40mph, after which it automatically switches to 4Wd-auto Selecting 2WD (drive through the front wheels) optimises fuel economy. All very simple and very effective

So, what other reasons are there for buying a SX4? Size, for one. The SX4 has distilled into its high-riding, 4.1-metre-long, five-door hatch-style body ample passenger room for five in a comfortable interior, plus a heap of versatility.

Looks-wise, it's an appealing blend of sporty SUV and supermini hatchback that's at home (especially size-wise) in polished urban as well as rough country landscapes.

Contributing to its rugged can-do appearance are flared wheel arches, protective side mouldings, a visible rear skid plate (there's one at the front too) and 190mm ground clearance, while adding some kerb appeal are black roof rails, wraparound-effect rear glass and large, distinctive triangular front quarterlights.

Like the exterior styling, the SX4's interior is two things: functional, in an easy-to-live-with way, and smart — in a way that will still look well turned-out when, a few years down the line, you trade it in for another.

“Inside the functional
and liveable cabin you’ll
find plenty of room
in all directions.
With ribbed centre
panels finished in a
smart black fabric
with metallic silver
and bolstering that’s
just right and does
a good job of holding you
securely, the front seats
are as comfortable as
they look
Entry and exit is easy thanks to wide door openings (almost ninety degrees) and the SX4's higher-than-average ground clearance — while the high-up driving position and large glazing areas guarantees commanding visibility.

Inside the functional and liveable cabin you'll find plenty of room in all directions around your head, feet, elbows and shoulders. With ribbed centre panels finished in a smart black fabric with metallic silver accents, and bolstering that's just right and does a good job of holding you securely, the front seats are as comfortable as they look.

Long seat bases also provide welcome under-knee support that enhances long-distance comfort.

Rear passengers sit slightly higher than those up front and consequently enjoy good all- round views. Thanks to relaxing backrest angles, plenty of leg and foot room and padded outer armrests, those travelling in the back will be as comfy as those in the front.

Even the 'piggy in the middle' spot is agreeable — unlike many, the SX4's centre rear seat has a soft-ish cushion (some other brands' can be as hard and unforgiving as a church pew).

Instrumentation and switchgear are all clear, well-placed and easy to use including the white-on-black trip computer display (range, average mpg, outside temperature, next oil change, etc) between the speedo and rev-counter. A slim horizontal bar graph along its top edge keeps you informed of the fuel level.

Nice touches include ring lights in the rotary AirCon knobs as well as illuminated audio switches on the three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel. There's also plenty of storage space with a decent-sized glovebox, door pockets that hold big bottles, a parking ticket holder, passenger front seat undertray (12 x 8 inches) and a handy bag hook in the boot.

The SZ5 model comes with just about everything that you'll need including automatic (and very efficient) AirCon with a pollen filter, MP3-compatible radio/CD, electric windows (the driver's has one-shot down operation), heated and power-adjustable door mirrors, driver information display, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, keyless locking and start, cruise control, tinted glass, rear privacy glass, fog lamps, and alloy wheels. Safety is well addressed, too, what with the all-wheel drive, front, side and curtain airbags, and height-adjustable front seatbelts.

Like everything else about it, the SX4's dimensions are well considered: while it's compact enough to be a cinch to drive around the city and a breeze to park, five adults can be accommodated as well as 270 litres of luggage in the tall boot. The rigid rear parcel shelf that doubles as a luggage cover can be quickly removed and stored away.

“Handling is predictable
— up the pace and
the SX4 is obedient,
holding its line through bends and corners.
The brakes are strong,
nicely progressive
and reassuring. And it
rides well
The easy-fold 60:40 split rear seats allow long items of cargo to be carried while at the same time still seating one or even a pair of passengers. Folded fully forward, they open up a 40-inch wide, 1,045-litre loadbay with a flat floor.

Power comes from a 133bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel that also puts out decent torque (236lb ft) from just 1,500rpm. Enough to get you to 62mph from standstill in 11.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 112mph. And also sufficient for the SX4 to tow a braked 1,200kg.

Also good news is the manual gearchange; thanks to the polished change action, making the most of the gears is enjoyable.

If you were expecting '4x4' to mean dirty emissions and heavy fuel consumption you'd be wrong on both counts: tailpipe emissions of this Euro 5-compliant diesel engine are 139g/km; fuel consumption for the combined cycle is, officially, 53.3mpg. A week's rather punishing driving over a mixed bag of roads saw a respectable 46.6mpg. The 11-gallon fuel tank also saves you time — letting you travel over 500 miles between fill-ups.

Best of all, the SX4 drives well; it feels predictable and planted and there's very little body roll. It is stable cruising motorways, where at 70mph sixth gear keeps the engine revs at a muted and unstressed 2,000rpm. You do need to watch out though as it's very easy to go over the legal limit — higher speeds are equally smooth and well suited to zipping along Continental autoroutes.

The SX4's electric power steering is rewardingly accurate and also nicely weighted: a 10.6-metre turning circle ensures narrow city streets are as easy to navigate as twisting country roads. Handling is predictable — up the pace and the SX4 is obedient, holding its line through bends and corners. The brakes (vented discs front and rear) are strong, nicely progressive and reassuring. And it rides well.

All-wheel traction, a commanding driving position, and hassle-free driveability together make this versatile hatchback-cum-crossover a sound bet. Better yet, the SX4 is also surprisingly good fun to drive. All round, this cheeky, no-nonsense four-wheel drive Suzuki is just the job come sunshine or snowflakes.

Suzuki SX4 2.0 DDiS SZ5 4x4 | 17,400
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 11.2 seconds | Overall test MPG: 46.6mpg
Power: 133bhp | Torque: 236lb ft | CO2 139g/km