2009 Suzuki SX4 GLX 1.6 petrol

Summary:

So far, it's great!

Faults:

Engine mountings replaced (see below).

General Comments:

Spent ages trying alternatives to the SX4 - except the updated Note, a demo of which never seemed to materialise at Cambridge. However, even in the showroom the Note's driving position wasn't ideal for me (with the seat-tilt as opposed to seat-height adjustment) so I may not have missed much. Tried a secondhand 2008 automatic Suzuki SX4 at a Bury St Eds dealer (great service from the salesman, who has also helped with after-sales care), liked it, ordered one in red, and have now had it for 3.5 months and 3.3k miles. The car is cheap to insure (group 6) and cheap to run - see below.

So early days, but all has been good so far except for the following: To drive, the 1.6 petrol was initially smooth and quiet in normal use but quickly developed a 'boom period' from 2000 to 2500rpm, which annoyingly equates from about 52 to 65mph. So cruising at an economical speed of 55 to 60mph was accompanied by a constant roar, which disappeared outside the offending rev range. I tentatively raised it with the dealer, who (amazingly, you might think) treated it seriously. Based on a similar fault they'd had with one previous SX4, they fitted new engine mountings - under warranty - and it's fixed! OK, it's no Rolls Royce, but it's vastly improved! Perhaps the rubber on a certain batch of engine mountings is too hard or too soft? Whatever, current owners having the same problem should take note.

I had a couple of dash rattles - a common problem. However, I couldn't be bothered to take it back and had a look myself. The small demisting vents on each end of the dash have trunking leading to them behind the dash, and it's this trunking that rattles. You can get to both sides reasonably easily (drop the glovebox down on passenger side, move a couple of bits of trim on driver's), then jam a lump of foam between this trunking and the body on each side. Simple, cheap and effective!

I'm sure BMW drivers will be curled up laughing at this point, but I've also had 'good quality' cars and some of them had rattles that were seemingly unfixable.

It's worth noting that the auto has much taller gearing than the manual (approx 25mph per 1000 rpm) so the engine's quieter at motorway speeds where the manual is revving near 4000rpm. Economy so far has worked out to almost exactly 40mpg (fuel computer agrees) in mostly urban / rural use and one trip around the Yorks Dales. Suzuki suggest 37-38mpg combined, so this is great. I always accepted that it would be juicier than my Sirion auto, but it's far more economical than I thought it would be. Obviously the Soul 2 auto with its diesel engine will beat it easily, but it'll take more mileage than I'll do to recoup the £1000 premium. And readers' reviews of the Note auto suggest the economy is not as good as advertised. The Suzuki autobox is also exactly how it should be - completely unobtrusive - and the brakes are powerful and nicely progressive.

The ride is OK as long as you don't inflate the tyres over the recommended 33lb/sq.ft. If you do - even by a couple of pounds - it becomes much harder, so stick with the manufacturer's figure max. The suspension's quite quiet, too - you don't hear too much 'bump thump' over our rubbish 'B' roads like you do in the Sirion. Or, for that matter, the Soul, for the grand more. Steering and handling seem very positive to me - it feels absolutely planted - but then I'm not really an expert in that field. I'll leave that to the journos who haven't shelled out their own money for their cars. A small gripe is that the indicator 'click' is too quiet - you need to be careful you don't leave one going.

Inside, the seats have the latest trim which wasn't on the test-driven 2008 model - a sort of ribbed surface in panels of silvery-grey. Better than the 2008 ones because they won't show every mark, even if not the most attractive perhaps. Comfortable, though, and I've got the high seating position I like without having to climb in and out like a proper 4x4. Like other makers, Suzuki have seen fit to put a clutch footrest in a car with no clutch! However, it's not too big and is only fixed to the floor with poppers, so easily comes out.

The trim is like most others in this price range - all hard plastics where you're likely to touch them (as Note/Soul/Jazz). But they're nicely grained, not flimsy, and two-tone for the upper and lower cabin. In the SX4's defence, I suppose it can get away with being a bit butch to match the fake-4x4 looks! If I had the choice though, I'd have something just a little softer on the armrests - OK with a jacket on, but hard for bare arms and could so easily/cheaply have been done at the design stage.

The dash is simple but practical, and the glove box is a good size. Pity the cheap Garmin-based satnav for the USA models isn't available here.

There are no obvious exposed screw heads etc, except for the front seat belt lower mountings in the rear footwells, where the steel bolt-heads are a bit ugly if you spend your time looking for them! On the other hand, the clips for the parcel-shelf strings are better designed than you'd expect at the price.

The heating/ventilation is brilliant - whatever you want you can have, and it warms up from cold very quickly. The climate control seems to work with or without the A/C on, but of course will only cool the car below outside temperature if A/C is on.

The keyless entry/exit/start is something which I consider over-the-top, but I suppose is useful in that you can leave the 'key' in your pocket (or bag) for the entire time. If it was an extra I wouldn't pay for it, though - ordinary remote central locking is sufficient, in my view. However, like anything else, it just needs to be learnt, especially with the auto which requires the use of 'Park' or you can't turn the ignition switch. As I've always (lazily and incorrectly) left my cars in 'Neutral' I've had to change that habit...!

Actual cabin space isn't wonderful for the size of the car (not really wide enough for 3 adults in the back), but seems better because you sit high-ish, meaning your legs go down instead of out. Headroom isn't a problem and there's plenty of glass with a low waistline making the cabin an airy place to be. I know they've attracted a bit of criticism, but I rather like the split 'A' pillars with their useful 'quarter lights' (similar to, but not as good as the latest Jazz). Most modern cars come with large blind spots in this area - with all of them you need to take a bit more care - but I actually find this arrangement better than the Sirion, which itself isn't bad in this respect.

Boot space is on a par with the Note's minimum capacity, but of course the Note has room for 2 elephants in the back seats when they are slid right back. The SX4 has only got room for people. The rear seats fold, and tumble if you want, but you get a step in the floor if just folded. If tumbled, the seats take up a fair bit of room behind the front seats but a fair bit of space is released. It's the same arrangement as the Getz. Other cars (Note / Soul / Splash) get round the 'step' by fitting a false floor to give a flat load bay when the seat backs are folded, but this is a bit of a compromise because the main boot space then gets smaller. The SX4's boot is OK for me, but it depends on your priorities. You can get one big suitcase in (and some smaller bags/cases) but not two. Of the 4-metre-long cars, the Note, Jazz or Soul all beat the SX4 in the boot department - the Note being the best. The SX4 wins on tailgate height, though, being the only one I don't bang my head on.

Externally, the black plastic cladding all around (and inside) the wheel arches should negate stone chips and slight parking mistakes. The similar cladding on the doors may minimise damage from the terminally-careless too. The bodywork is tougher than the sub-£10k cars I usually buy; no ultra-flimsy panels here. The door mirrors take a bit of getting used to - not so much their size but that they are closer than normal. They don't seem to cause excessive wind noise, though, and - despite the big fat tyres - road noise isn't overly intrusive either.

The SX4 may look big for a supermini, but it's not particularly wide, so will fit into the average garage and the aerial doesn't snag on up-and-over doors. The only extra I had fitted was reversing sensors, but they're not much use when reversing into a normal garage because they bleep all the time - from the side walls, I assume. They do what they should elsewhere, though - just a pity about the fitting. Although the 'Shop for Suzuki' website says they come in body colours, on close inspection mine seem to have had one coat of red paint over (probably) black primer. 2 coats would have given a gloss finish. The drilled holes in the bumper are slightly too big, meaning the sensors aren't a tight fit, and they aren't symmetrical either. Rather wish I'd done it myself - at least I have a tape measure! (Have sorted out the colour by having Chipsaway put another red coat on while they were doing other work for me).

Funnily enough, the Owner's Manual leaves a bit to be desired. Things not explained properly (or not at all) are what the 'Shift Lock' by the gear selector does; whether the climate control requires the A/C to be on; what the 'AVC 1,2 & 3' settings mean for the radio automatic volume control. The manual is in decent English, but it's a bit higgledy-piggledy. For example, instead of having a section dedicated to all aspects of the keyless function, it's spread over different chapters. However, I seem to have worked the climate control out, and expect a phone call to the salesman would sort the rest (if I could be bothered!).

Prices of all SX4's have gone up - the auto's now £12.5k, but a good P/X offer meant the cost to change was very acceptable. Suzuki may be perceived as the budget end of the market, but this is actually a reasonably refined (with the new engine mountings), well-built car for the money, with no obvious signs of cost-cutting. Certainly the Soul 2 auto, at a grand more, looks and feels cheaper inside (and is boring dark grey throughout). The auto Note also costs more but has space advantages, seems well-built and may be a better drive with the modded suspension. As others have said though, Nissan's Renault tie-up seems to have done them no favours in the reliability stakes (certainly re electrics). The Jazz is quite nice but its auto box definitely is not. I see the upcoming Toyota Urban Cruiser is going to be a lot more money, and actually (like the Note) is not tall enough to be a true competitor to the SX4 or Soul).

To conclude, I love driving it! It's different, it's very comfortable, airy, well heated and ventilated, feels really stable on the road, quick enough for me, and relatively economical. Yes, it has idiosyncrasies, but - for me - they're outweighed by the good points. All cars are a compromise, aren't they?

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 11th July, 2009

2nd Aug 2009, 10:48

I spoke too soon! In an exact repeat of when the car was new, the noise has returned after a few hundred miles.

The (still very helpful) dealer in Bury St Eds has booked it back in for a day, and Customer Services are also in the loop, so I'm hopeful of a fix.

The good thing - from a diagnosis point of view - is that it's not intermittent; happens on drive, overrun and in neutral. Having a reasonable amount of technical knowledge I admit to being puzzled. If for instance it's the exhaust resonating, why does it clear up for a while when new engine mountings are fitted...?

Still, the car is otherwise brilliant, so even if they can't fix it for some reason I wouldn't get rid of it. Just takes the shine off a bit...