Suzuki SX4 Sportback

Among small cars, the SX4 stands tall—literally. It’s a high-roofed, compact hatchback, an exceptionally clever package that gets the maximum interior space inside a minimal exterior footprint.

Even though the SX4 Sportback is more than a foot shorter than a Ford Focus, the interior doesn’t feel cramped. A low cowl and tall windows—both of which are increasing rare these days—make the front seat feel airy. The back seat has a nice high cushion, decent head- and foot-room, but is a little shy of knee clearance. There’s not a lot of cargo space behind the rear seat, but flop the seatbacks down, and you get a usefully shaped cargo hold that can handle bulky items (I got an upholstered living room chair back there, albeit one without arms). Although my test car had front-wheel drive, Sportback buyers can get all-wheel drive for an extra $1000, making the little Suzuki one of the least expensive all-wheel-drive vehicles on the market, at $16,849. Both the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions use the same 150-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder, connected to either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic. With a manual-transmission, my SX4 returned 26 mpg in a mix of highway and suburban driving, exactly splitting the difference between its 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway ratings. For all the rightness of its size and shape, the SX4 Sportback is let down somewhat by its execution. The standard navigation system is basically just a portable unit stuck into a pop-up holder on the dash. The screen is small and the unit’s location makes it a long reach. The clutch is mushy and has a high engagement point, making smooth take-offs a challenge. The shift linkage is imprecise, and in my test car, kept popping out of reverse. With 140 pound-feet of torque on tap (at a lofty 4000 rpm), torque steer is really not a problem, but maintaining momentum often requires dropping down two gears, from sixth to fourth. With a little more polish, the SX4 Sportback’s designed-in appeal would shine a lot brighter.

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