Released earlier this year, the XS4 is one of the so-called 'cross-over' styles of vehicles. This means that it has some off road ability but is primarily built to function on a formed road of some sort. These sorts of vehicles are immensely popular today as folks see the value in owning a vehicle that will take them to work Monday to Friday, fishing on the weekend. Which is what the SX 4 is perfectly capable of doing.
Having previously reviewed a 4 speed auto SX4 some months ago I was keen to see how the manual ‘Z' series compared. Both shared the same 2.0 litre 16 valve double overhead cam engine, nearly the same level of appointments, but with a five speed manual gear box as its only difference. One thing that was noticeable was that the manual unit had the same sporty feel as the auto, making it fun to drive.
The SX 4's five-speed gearbox is fool proof: the ratios are nicely matched and the clutch feather light and direct. The engine has a lot of flexibility and is very forgiving of early gear changes. On the highway 3,000 rpm equals 100 kph. While I really liked the auto the manual’s ease of use meant I simply could not fault it.
The SX4 is a vehicle that will surprise in many ways. With a relatively compact exterior it offers a surprisingly large interior. Doors are wide and swing wide too, to allow easy access to the interior. Because the dash is angled away from front the occupants it creates a distinct impression of spaciousness up front.
The driver has a seat height adjustor and rear passengers will find sufficient legroom. Furthermore, the rear passengers sit slightly higher than those in front to give them easier access to their seats and a clearer view outside.
In the best Suzuki tradition there's no shortage of creature comforts in the manual SX4 including pollen filter automatic air conditioning, power windows and door mirrors, a top quality sound system with steering wheel control tabs and cruise control. Keyless entry and starting are handy additions as well.
On the bitumen road the manual SX4 has a sporty, get up and go sort of feel. For everyday conditions the standard two wheel drive is fine, providing sure footed handling with little or no feedback through the steering wheel.
On less than ideal roads the option of three distinct drive modes, available via a 3-way rocker switch on the centre console, can be accessed. 4WD auto still sees most of the torque going to the front wheels with traction from the 107 kW engine automatically increased or decreased to match traction requirements in the variable conditions.
When push is really turning to shove 4WD Lock can be dialled in to provide power to all four wheels constantly, the system reverting back to 4WD auto at speeds over 60km/h.
And while the SX4 will seemingly float over a fair amount of rough going thanks to independent MacPherson strut front suspension and rigid torsion beam set up at the rear, the vehicle can be upset in certain conditions.
On a country drive to a favourite corner of New England I put the 4WD auto mode into use when it was obvious that the very deep corrugations on a somewhat neglected back road were getting the better of the Suzuki. The rear wheels took a line of their own as suspension systems moved out of synch from the rough going. With a reduction in speed seemingly making things worse, the decision to quit two wheel drive was made fairly quickly. The instant the selector was moved to full time 4x4 the SX4 immediately became compliant with no more noticeable bump steering or tail wagging.
That same four-wheel drive system would see the Suzuki heading up the beach with ease. The SX4 runs 16 inch alloy wheels and there's 200mm of ground clearance, so engaging the 4WD lock should see the vehicle getting out onto the sand with ease. Simply reverting to Auto would make light work of the beach drive. Storage in the rear is fair, with options of moving rear seats down to increase load space easily taken up. Suzuki's figures indicate there's 270L of space available with the rear seats in use and 265L with the seats folded down.
There are also useful storage areas within the vehicle too, with a compartment in the instrument panel plus a special tray under the front passenger seat.
The five-speed manual Suzuki SX4 is a pleasure to drive. It has a sporty feel about it that makes being behind the wheel fun. There are also savings to be had (around $2,000) when compared to the auto which brings the price down to around the $25,000 mark. And fuel economy is good too – I averaged 8L per 100km/h for the country run. Overall, its crossover vehicle that provides the best of both worlds.Reads: 1242