Drive Green Fun with a Four-Cylinder Sedan

We were driving north on the interstate about an hour from the city in the new Suzuki SX4 Sport sedan. I noticed we were going quite fast. We sailed past the BMW 650i, a Dodge Viper, a Maserati Quattroporte and even the new, beautiful Bentley Continental GT Speed with a fabulous W12 twin turbo engine.

We were driving north on the interstate about an hour from the city in the new Suzuki SX4 Sport sedan. I noticed we were going quite fast. We sailed past the BMW 650i, a Dodge Viper, a Maserati Quattroporte and even the new, beautiful Bentley Continental GT Speed with a fabulous W12 twin turbo engine. We were impressed in real world driving on the interstate that our naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual transmission, front-wheel-drive Suzuki was leaving these guys in the dust—and getting better economy too.

It began to rain moderately as we pulled off the highway and into the city through the exit ramp cloverleaf. I watched the Quattroporte behind us, as he made the turn onto the boulevard with a little rear-wheel drive-drifting and tail-wagging. The SX4 sport model we were driving had standard stability traction control, so it was easier to hold our front-wheel-drive through our intended path without drama or sliding, while receiving maximum enjoyment.

The traditional hydraulic speed-sensitive rack and pinion power steering is quick and has nice feedback. The front suspension is independent and follows the contours of the road well. The substantially independent torsion beam rear axle gives a real “on track” feeling of stability, particularly at higher speeds. The engineers at Suzuki hired an independent outside suspension specialty company to design and calibrate the ride and handling of this car, and it shows.

Our secret to overtaking so many high powered cars: the carpool lanes! Most exotic cars get stuck in traffic with a single driver and seldom have the chance to run their full potential. We have interviewed hundreds of exotic car owners. Many buy for looks and many buy for assumed prestige, or they want technological sophistication. Most buy for the combination of these exclusive attributes. In the end, the car has to be fun to drive. Fancy electronics will distract you for a while, but in the end your car must be enjoyed to make it a good long-term vehicle.

If you look at an automobile just as the appliance it is, you’re going to have trouble making a decision that you want to stick with. In the end, you must buy a vehicle that fits your needs and meets your demands. So after you’ve done all year research and narrowed your considerations down to what you think might be best for you and your family, now you must test drive and judge the matter by the seat of your pants.

Driving for Entertainment and Economy

There are a few small, fun-to-drive sports sedans with 4 cylinders for sale. Right now, drivers are demanding more fun from fewer cylinders. Many drivers want a manual transmission to take fuel economy into their own hands, resulting in greater enjoyment control. Those buyers once considering sedans over $35,000, like the Lexus IS250 or a BMW 328, might now be considering a Honda Civic SI or a Nissan Sentra, SE-R with the sticker price near $22,000.

You might be moving up in car, going from something used or basic into something that you really desire. We decided to go searching for the best of the new inexpensive sport sedans. As you might imagine, we subjectively compared the joy we feel from controlling a BMW 328 in real traffic to less expensive and more economical front-wheel drive, manual transmission, 4-door, 5-passenger sedans.

Contrary to TV commercials where their car always seems to be the only one on the road, most of us are driving in traffic surrounded by hundreds of other cars. In real traffic, a heavy engine out front really slows you down on a tight fast turn. Front-wheel drive feels so good going around streets, even in wet weather. It feels particularly good when you’re completing a turn and you aim the tires the direction you choose to go, accelerate, and then feel the pull. It just doesn’t feel this good with the rear wheels pushing you along. For zipping around town the way most of us do, the Mercedes AMG or Lexus ISF is just too much car to move fast around the streets.

Suzuki SX4 Sedan Stands Out

The SX4 stood out from the pack. This is a car that wins in world-class rallying and sells well-equipped for well under $18,000. A similarly equipped Toyota Corolla would cost over $3,000 more and still be not be such a joy to drive. The exact model we’re most impressed with is the 2009 Suzuki SX4 Sport Touring sedan. It’s the top of the line.

The SX4 Sport Touring model is just loaded with goodies: a high powered audio system with nine speakers including a subwoofer and CD changer; integrated steering wheel controls; stability control; automatic air conditioning; fog lamps; heated outside mirrors; 17-inch alloys wheels; and surprise, surprise an integrated portable navigation system.

Very Cool Portable Navi

This is the first mass-produced car to have a portable navigation system that you can carry with you or plug in to a heads up cradle at the top center of the instrument panel. The pop up cradle for this Suzuki Garmin navigation system is brilliant. It’s the same placement Volvo uses, within your line of sight over the hood. For most of us it will not interfere with our field of view. The small touch screen has standout graphics and is the primary control for the Garmin.

When plugged in to the cradle, the Garmin becomes one with your car. To create a superior man/machine interface, Garmin has given this system over 50 voices; you hear the system like no other. After going through the directory, we chose Kathleen. She has an Australian accent and a different vocabulary than the American speaking guy or doll voice. Would you like to hear the voice of a lady or gentleman from England? It’s in the Garmin. There are a few 20 to 50 second demonstrations on how to work different aspects of the navigation system at www.Suzuki.com.

Within the navigation system are more features: Bluetooth, MP3 player and up-to-the-minute traffic maps, weather, movie times—even the cheapest gas near you! Information is instantly downloaded to the Garmin by FM transmission. Did you know that navigation systems increase your fuel economy?

Crazy Good Features for the Money

Another unique feature is the Smart Pass entry and start system. Like many cars in this price range, you can lock or unlock the doors as you approach by remote control from the key fob. Unlike any other car in this price range, you can leave the key in your pocket. Just turn the ignition on the steering column like usual, sans key. Kathleen knows you’re in charge, and she starts right up. Many cars at twice this price offer this feature. It’s quite a luxury.

The researchers at Ward’s Automotive recently awarded the SX4 Sport “Interior of the Year,” and we can see why. The interior is simply intelligent. Every single switch knob and function worked as anticipated and is placed where you would expect it to be placed. The simplicity of the center console is pleasing and relaxing. There is little confusing visual clutter, and all the gauges, even the steering wheel controls, are clear and easy.

The headlights are standard halogens, yet pleasantly bright and well focused. While the interior lighting is pleasant, this isn’t a luxury car; rather, it’s a sports sedan with many luxury gadgets. We both tend to believe a car like this is more attractive to men than women. This car will be particularly attractive to those who want fun performance and driving economy in a 4-door sedan. The cloth seats with meaningful side bolstering hold you in place while you operate the clutch and shift levers.

Sophisticated Four

The all aluminum 4-cylinder engine has 16 valves and dual overhead chain driven cam shafts designed for a lifetime of no maintenance. A number of competitors appear to have technologically more sophisticated engines, yet those engines offer little more horsepower or performance. This Suzuki has a traditional, 4-cylinder engine that is well made and sounds satisfying as you work up the gears.

Yes, the 5 speed gearbox worked well. Some of the competition has 6 gears, which make the driver work harder. You’ll be changing gears more frequently in urban driving, trying to match speed and power. The 5 gears are well spaced, yet a taller 6 gear might lessen engine noise at highway speed while returning better fuel economy.

Good Visibility, Honest Ride

The whole SX4 concept is well executed from stem to stern. A brilliant example is the way the windows are cut on both sides at the very front just behind the A pillar that supports the windshield. This design encourages greater visibility and awareness, giving the driver a visual edge in tight situations.

What helps make the SX4 outstanding is it’s not a small car trying to act like a big car with a softer ride and softer steering. The ride keeps you in touch with the road. The Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra offer comfort and luxury that will appeal to a more mature driver. Nissan, Mazda, and the smaller Honda cars will give you a bit more youthful road feel in the ride.

Breaking the BMW Habit

If you’re considering a sports sedan about the size of the BMW 3-series, then you owe it to yourself to test drive the more economical Suzuki. If you want to sample some performance oriented 4-cylinder sedans first, drive the SX4 Sport Touring, then go right to the Nissan dealer and drive the Spec V Sentra, then head for the Honda dealer and drive the Civic Si. Drive all three cars back to back. Which car do you think is best? Now, which car do you think is the best value? Don’t look in the magazines for performance numbers; feel these cars with all your senses and decide for yourself which is most enjoyable for you.

If your budget is about $18,000 or less, and you want to try a fun economical sedan, drive the Kia Spectra SX and then a Toyota Corolla S. Drive the Suzuki SX4 Sedan Touring last. You may find out this 4-cylinder Sport Touring is more capable where you need it and more fun.

Fast Facts

Vehicle 2009 Suzuki SX4

Model Sedan, Sport Touring

Length 177.6 in.

Width 68.1 in.

Wheelbase 98.4 in.

Weight (lb.) 2668 lbs

Passengers 5 seats

Drive Front

Engine In-line 4

Hp@rpm 143 @ 5800

Ft-lb@rpm 136 @ 3,500

Transmissions Manual, avail. AT

City/Hwy** 22/30

Gas Requirement Regular

Built Kosai, Japan

Safety Score 97* w/esc

Real Price $17,800.00

Website suzuki.com

*www.informedforlife.org

**www.fueleconomy.gov