That's where its latest product, the SX4 Crossover, comes in. It's based on the SX4 sedan, now called Aero, but with a hatch rear adaptation. Crossovers, by definition, are SUV's based on car platforms rather than the usual ladder frame (also called truck base) chassis. The SX4's even gone the extra mile by including roof rails and the blacked-out rocker panels and fender protectors to hammer home the point. Abroad, it even has an all-wheel drive option, making it a true crossover.
Locally, we may know the SX4 as a sedan, but this was its initially intended form. Some may remember its premiere at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show, designed by renowned Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. Its sedan derivative, however, was the first to arrive on our shores in 2008. Launched locally just last April 28, 2010, this small SUV / MPV / hatchback stole the spotlight from the updated SX4 aero sedan.
Inside, the cabin is tall with excellent headroom. Large front quarter windows give a great view around corners. The seats tend to force the driver to a more upright position but give a very good view of the road. Lower in the eyeline, the instrument cluster is simple and intuitive with large tach and speedo dials, fuel and temp gauges are mounted high and toward the center. In the lower center is a multi-info display with a fuel consumption computer, fuel range, trip meter and clock.
Towards the center of the dash is the audio system with CD and MP3 capability. Music players can plug into the aux port to channel sound through its 8-speaker system. It's composed of 4 door speakers and 4 door-mounted tweeters. Audio controls are mounted on the leather-wrapped steering wheel for easy access.
The second row is adequate even for tall passengers and whatever it lacks in legroom, it makes up for in headroom. Behind is a flexible cargo bay that looks modest at first until you begin to move things around. The luggage area cover lifts with the tail gate but can be removed for taller items. For more space, you can remove cargo area floor, which reveals even more space or can hide more sensitive items. If that's not enough, the rear seats can be folded for up to 992 liters of cargo volume.
Pulling it all along is a 1.6 liter 16-valve DOHC engine with variable-valve timing. It's mated to a four-speed gate-type automatic that delivers up to 110hp to the front wheels. It's a rev-happy system, frequently changing down to a lower gear for higher revs and better power delivery. Its peppy engine can bring the car up to 160 km/h while still attaining an admirable 10.5 km/L with mixed city and highway use.
Around the city, the SX4 Crossover is a treat to drive, fitting in the tightest parking spaces and easily squeezing through some traffic jams. Despite its height, it handles like a typical Suzuki: tight and agile with great stability at high speed. Whether full or flying solo, the ride feels like most subcompacts, only a tad stiff and more comfortable when fully loaded. There's some road noise at highway speeds but it's typically quiet within the city.
As for safety, the SX4 is equipped with disc brakes on all fours with ABS, EBD and dual airbags fitted as standard.
For those in the market, the SX4 Crossover is priced at PhP899,000 (just P9000 more than the SX4 Aero sedan). It's a tough choice as the price puts it in the territory of entry-level compact sedans (Corolla, Civic, Mazda 3) and a fully loaded Jazz can be had for a little bit less. It's far more civilized than the Avanza, although the Toyota can fit more and costs less.
Like Suzuki's other vehicles, it's an emotional choice - something you'd get if you want to stand out or are a fan of the brand. It's a clever little car, though the lack of all-wheel drive derives it of that much-needed edge.