Suzuki SX4 - it's good to be different

If you want to get ahead in the car business, small is the biggest game in town. Superminis, compact hatchbacks, call them what you want, the small car sector is the one to be in, says Iain Dooley.

If you want to get ahead in the car business, small is the biggest game in town. Superminis, compact hatchbacks, call them what you want, the small car sector is the one to be in, says Iain Dooley.

The trade-off is that there's little in The way of genuine variety. Sure, style-wise there's much to differentiate one supermini from the next, but at the end of the day you're still driving a supermini. And if you want a small car with a bit of attitude or go-anywhere ability it's a case of getting something, well, bigger.

Which is why cars like Suzuki's SX4 have managed to carve out a successful niche for themselves. Presenting a noticeably more rugged face to the world while managing to retain the same footprint as a conventional supermini, the SX4s of this world offer something a little different.

Different, yes - but also different in a good way. Choice is always welcome in the car business, but cars such as the SX4 must deliver what the marketing-speak promises. Suzuki has form in the small car market so this isn't an issue. From city cars to compact 4x4s, the Japanese firm has made a good living from this end of the business.

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The SX4 is, if you like, a cross between a small hatchback and a mini sport utility vehicle. All the telltale clues are present - the high roofine, raised driving position, chunky styling and all-wheel drive. This latter feature might only be present on one variant, but for anyone with a need for such it sure beats having to manhandle something larger on country lanes.

First let's consider the front-wheel drive SX4; it's more than just a 'soft-roader' for the city. The raised driving position, lofty stance and spacious cabin all make perfect sense in the city where visibility is often at a premium and getting down into and up out of a regular car can be a chore - and a genuine pain for some.

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With the ease-of-use box ticked, next consider the car's performance. There's a straight-forward choice between a thoroughly revised 120bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit and a 90bhp 1.6 diesel. If you plan on racking up the miles, the diesel is the better option.

For more urban-centric motoring the petrol engine is an excellent all-rounder. Improved performance, economy and refinement have made it a more rounded proposition now, and it's also the engine used in the all-wheel drive SX4.

Now, this might appear like overkill, but there's a lot to be said for all-weather ability. You don't have to be stuck in snow to reap the benefit, as even wet, leaf-strewn roads have the potential to cause a problem. Also, if you happen to live or travel in rural areas, something small and economical like the SX4 can make more sense than a bulky, traditional 4x4 - why use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, after all.

And the SX4 - with all-wheel drive - is so easy to live with. A simple rocker switch activates the 4x4 mode, giving you the option of on-demand all-wheel drive when you lose traction, full 4x4 lock and a front-drive mode.

A genuinely versatile, practical and easy to drive car, Suzuki's SX4 might appear to be a left-field choice in the supermini sector but the more you examine it, the more it makes sense. You don't need to live at the top of a mountain to make the most of it, while it feels just at home on the open road as it does on muddy country paths.

For 2010 Suzuki spruced up the car's interior, improved equipment levels and added more colour-coded trim to the exterior. For the asking price, this is a small car the genuinely punches above its weight.

Price: �11,640 to �14,095.

Engine: 120bhp 1.6-litre petrol, five-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.

Performance: 0-62mph 10.8 seconds; top speed, 112mph.

MPG: 42.2mpg combined.

Emissions: 165g/km.

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