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Motoring: Suzuki SX4 one

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | February 18th, 2008

A few weeks ago I was driving around in a new Ford Taurus X and if you really want to know what I think of it, here it goes. It is a terrible, over priced and badly made vehicle. Case in point, where the dashboard meets the A-pillar has gaps big enough for small children to fall through, and the overall cheapness of the plastics used for the rest of the interior is poor. The badly designed seats don't give me enough support and the steering wheel is not only hard on your hands, I never could get the angle quite right (which was annoying) and for a vehicle in this category, it did not have a telescoping steering wheel.

The Taurus X is not cheap to run either, on a combined city and highway run, it failed to do better than 16-litres/100km making it expensive to run. The worst sin of all is its price. My fully loaded test vehicle (with all-wheel drive, navigation system, rear seat DVD system, sunroof and leather-heated seats) was priced at $48,500, which is just way too much for a Taurus.

I wouldn't buy a Taurus X even if I was married to someone at Ford and got a huge discount. To me it, makes no sense at all.

I would buy the vehicle that is the main subject of this week's feature, the Suzuki SX4 sedan.

First of all, I would like to point out the SX4 does not compete with the Taurus X, I merely brought the two together in this article because the week I had the Taurus X was the same week I had the SX4 sedan (which I preferred to drive mostly, despite the Ford being a much more expensive vehicle) and what immediately impressed me most on the Suzuki was how well thought out this vehicle really is.

Lets start from the outside, the styling. The SX4 sedan is a good looking vehicle, well proportioned and quite stylish. Typically when manufacturers turn a hatchback into a sedan, it just merely looks like someone had drawn an additional chunk of bodywork without caring how the end result would look like, the Toyota Yaris sedan is a case in point.

Suzuki designers actually spent time and effort in designing this car and I think it pays off. I think it is one of the best looking sedans in the market.

Then there is the practicality. You open the door and you slip easily inside this vehicle. Suzuki has somehow managed to get the seat height just perfect, because nor do you have to climb up or drop down into this cabin, you simply walk right in. People will love its ease of access. Once inside you will love the interior too. It is very nicely designed and the quality of the fit and finish is excellent for a car in its price range. I even loved the look of its dials and how the interior lighted up in an attractive red at nighttime, very impressive.

Even more impressive is the list of equipment you can get with the SX4 sedan. This is the only car in its category that comes with automatic climate control. My test car even had the six-disc CD player that turned out to be a great stereo system. I certainly did not expect such a quality stereo in an economy car. So far so good and it keeps getting better.

Most economy cars are a bit tight on space, but not this one. You will notice you have good shoulder room and legroom front and back, but most impressive was the amount of headroom I had. I could wear a 10-gallon cowboy hat (not that I did) and still wouldn't touch the roof, and it also has the biggest trunk in its category.

However, all such features would be rendered useless for someone like me, if the car is not good to drive. Thankfully it is.

The SX4 sedan comes with a two-litre, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine which produces 143 hp and 136 lb/ft of torque. That power goes only to the front wheels in the sedan (the hatchback version is also available with all-wheel drive) and can be equipped with either a five-speed manual gearbox, or as in my tester, a four-speed automatic.

This automatic might not have any fancy tricks up its sleeve, so no semi-automatic style shifts here, but that is ok, because this is the most eager and responsive automatic I had come across in ages. The shifts are not only smooth, but the response is so quick that you would honestly think this car has much more power than it actually done. That means it is quite comfortable at highway speeds, and thanks to its powertrain quite economical too, I averaged nine-litres/100km on an urban cycle run which is great in these times of high gas prices.

The SX4 sedan is quiet too, usually small cars are noisy and buzzy at highway speeds, the SX4 is so well insulated you could hear me even if I whispered.

It has a comfortable ride too, the suspension soaking up the bumps with ease, and even on harsh tarmac nothing creaks or rattles. This car is great if you do a lot of highway driving.

Typically a soft ride would result in horrid handling in an economy car, but not this one. You can actually have fun around the corners in the SX4 sedan, not only because it composes its body roll well, but also because the steering feel on this car is excellent. The input you get from the steering wheel along with the smoothness of its operation really reminds me of much more expensive cars.

Speaking of expense, this is not going to cost you much to buy either. You can get a base SX4 sedan for $17,195 and my loaded test car was still only $20,095. Trust me, you get a lot of car for the money.

Any complaints you ask? Well, if I am really nit-picking I would say the lack of map pockets behind the front seats is something Suzuki overlooked, but that I can learn to live without.

So, unlike the Ford Taurus X, the Suzuki SX4 sedan makes great sense and I would buy one if I was in the market for an economy car. In fact, I would give it even higher praise.

As you know, I test all sorts of vehicles in a year, and I am thus going to have my favourites. So in the category of irrational, money no object cars, my favourite car from the past year was the Audi R8, a car I simply cannot stop talking about and can't wait to get behind the wheel of again. But that is a dream car and cannot be your sole mode of transportation.

So then, in the rational category, cars which people can actually afford to buy and use on a daily basis, I have to say the Suzuki SX4 is my Car of the Year.

For years Suzuki seemed like a manufacturer that was in limbo, its cars were neither good nor bad, and its existence in our market was questionable. Now for the first time, Suzuki looks like it is taking its cars seriously and this SX4 sedan is a seriously good car.
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