Pros: Rare all-wheel-drive option at this price; confident highway ride; ample cargo capacity in both sedan and hatchback versions

Cons: Subpar fuel economy; leisurely acceleration with CVT; sparse standard features; non-telescoping steering wheel

The aging 2012 Suzuki SX4 is a capable compact that has never reached its full potential. That's a shame, because the fundamentals are strong with this one. The SX4 loves to cruise at highway speeds, imparting a sense of solidity that many compacts can't touch. But Suzuki hasn't managed to compel consumers or critics with the SX4's overall package.

That's not to say you shouldn't try one. On the contrary, we suspect Suzuki dealers are eager to move SX4s off the lot, so you might be able to get a great price on this solid car. If you live in the snow belt, an SX4 Crossover hatchback could be your most affordable all-wheel-drive option. If you're looking for an urban commuter with a little extra spice, the SportBack hatch with the six-speed manual transmission delivers pretty good bang for the buck.

The SX4's Achilles' heel remains its low fuel economy relative to other compacts, which is a concern amid today's volatile gas prices. But if you save thousands on the purchase price, that's a lot of gas money, right? Truth be told, we have a soft spot for the SX4; it's a decent product that deserves better than its slow-selling status. Take one for a spin, and see if you notice the same potential we do.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 is available as a sedan, hatchback (SportBack) or all-wheel-drive hatchback (Crossover).

The sedan comes in two trim levels: LE and Sport SE. The LE starts with 15-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, power accessories, air conditioning, a tilt-only steering wheel, a trip computer,and a CD audio system with satellite radio. The Sport SE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a body kit, foglamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, an integrated Garmin navigation system and optional Bluetooth.

The front-wheel-drive SportBack hatchback includes a sport-tuned suspension and is offered in  Base and Technology versions. The Base's feature content is similar to that of the SE sedan, but it doesn't have the Garmin nav. That's rectified in the Tech model, which gets the Garmin as standard.

The all-wheel-drive Crossover hatchback comes standard with essentially the same equipment as the LE sedan. The Premium package adds cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the Tech Value package adds alloy wheels, foglamps,  and heated seats.

The SX4's front seats are elevated SUV style, and not just in the Crossover model. It's nice to drive an economy car without feeling like you're going to get run over by the truck behind you, but there's also something a little strange about being perched up so high in a small car. Front-seat comfort is fine for highway cruises; just don't expect much lateral support, even in the SportBack. Sadly, the SX4's steering wheel doesn't telescope, and its fixed position is too close to the dashboard for taller drivers.

The SX4's gauges are refreshingly simple, with none of the hyper-styled binnacles and so forth that are spreading through this segment. The climate and stereo controls are similarly no-nonsense. The materials Suzuki uses aren't anything special, but the dashboard gives the impression of quality construction.

The SX4's back seat is not one of its strong suits: unless the folks in front are on the small side, there's not much legroom left for those in back. Headroom is good, though, thanks to the SX4's high roofline. The sedan has a large 15.5-cubic-foot trunk, and the hatchbacks also impress with 16 cubic feet in the cargo hold and 54 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded down.

Technology

If you're looking for lots of high-tech features on a budget, you probably shouldn't get a 2012 SX4. Bluetooth is an extra-cost option that's not even available on the LE sedan, for example, while iPod connectivity is optional. Moreover, the available navigation system is just a portable Garmin unit like the ones Costco sells. At this price point, we recommend brands such as Scion and Hyundai for more up-to-date technology solutions.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Every SX4 is powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 engine. With the six-speed manual transmission, it's rated at 150 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque. With the optional continuously variable automatic transmission, horsepower drops to 148 hp. Although most SX4s will be sold with the CVT, we encourage you to try the six-speed manual if you're not opposed to shifting your own gears. The CVT feels like it subtracts more than just 2 hp from the engine, and it causes a racket during hard acceleration. Even with the manual, the SX4 isn't quick, but the improvement is noticeable.

Front-wheel drive is standard on all SX4s except the Crossover, which gets standard all-wheel drive.

Fuel economy tops out at 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway with the manual-transmission sedan; the automatic sedan gets 25/32 mpg. The SportBack is rated at 22/30 mpg with the manual and 23/30 with the automatic, while the all-wheel-drive Crossover gets 22/30 mpg with the manual and 23/29 mpg with the automatic.

Safety

The 2012 Suzuki SX4 comes with standard stability control, four-wheel ABS-a nice touch; many economy cars get inferior rear drum brakes-and eight airbags (front, front side, rear side and full-length side-curtain).

The government hasn't crash tested the SX4 using its new methodology. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the SX4 its highest rating of Good for frontal offset and side impacts but its second-worst Marginal rating for roof and rear impacts.

Driving Impressions

As long as you can make the tilt-only steering wheel work for your frame, the SX4 is a pleasant surprise on the highway, remaining composed and planted at high speeds. Similarly, road and wind noise are less intrusive than in some other compacts. In urban driving, the SX4's firm ride can yield some impact harshness, but it's not objectionable. The sedan and Crossover don't inspire confidence on winding roads, but the SportBack does, thanks to its sport-tuned suspension and lower ride height.

Other Cars to Consider

Scion xD - Similarly sized and packed with technology and customizability, the xD is a strong SX4 competitor.

Kia Rio - Available as either a sedan or a hatchback, the stylish, engaging Rio is an up and comer in this class.

Chevrolet Sonic - The Sonic is also offered as a sedan or a hatch, and it's especially entertaining in turbocharged LTZ trim.

AutoTrader Recommends

The SportBack would be our pick. We like the way it looks, and it drives well, too.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

Related Articles & Car Reviews

Find Cars for sale near you:

Research by Vehicle Type

  • Convertible
  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Hybrid
  • Luxury
  • Sedan
  • SUV
  • Truck
  • Van/Minivan
  • Wagon

For Sale on Autotrader.com

Please enter your ZIP to see prices and listings near you.

Loading Ajax Content Loading Ajax Content