Car prices are ridiculously high right now, and yet one vehicle — a relatively reliable, manual, all-wheel drive one perfectly suited for winter duty — remains dirt cheap. So consider this a service to all in search of a good winter beater: The Suzuki SX4 might be the Chosen One.
Obviously, having not driven one of these, I can’t really say any of this with too much confidence, but I’ve done a bit of basic research, and am now thoroughly convinced that I need to sell my gas-guzzling, slow, automatic 2002 Lexus LX-470 and buy a reasonably efficient, also-slow, manual Suzuki SX4. The Lexus has been good to me, but I need a manual winter car, and ideally it’s one that’s not worth a lot, because Michigan winters are harsh.
The SX4 that I’m currently looking at buying is for sale in upstate New York, where I will soon drive from Los Angeles as I help my friend Andrew Collins with his cross-country move. Once in New York, I need to get back to Michigan, which means I have to buy a car and immediately put it to the test by driving it 650 miles. There’s no other way to get home, right?
Just look at that little hatch. As a 2007, it’s far newer than any car I have ever owned, it has four-wheel disk brakes, alloy wheels, all-wheel drive, and fuel economy in the high 20s. HIGH TWENTIES, folks! The last time I owned a car that could reliably get over 25 MPG, I was elbow deep in the engine bay of a shitty 1995 Honda Accord. Those were dark times.
I don’t think this Suzuki will be as bad as that Honda, though. I’ve read good things on online forums about the 143 horsepower Suzuki J20A 2.0-liter inline-four engine mated to a five-speed transmission; apparently the hardware holds up well if properly maintained. Would I rather have a 2008 model with a taller fifth gear? Yes. Would I much rather have a 2010 to 2013 with a six-speed? Sure. I really am not looking forward to listening to that engine spin at 3,500 RPM on the highway.
I reached out to a man who knows a thing or two about dirt-cheap normal-person cars (and also Daewoos), Kevin Williams of my friend Andrew Collins’ new website Car Bibles. Kevin hit me with some profanity-laced wisdom (the best kind). “The Suzuki SX4's orphan status does give me pause,” he said, noting that parts availability could be a struggle.
Still, he was mostly in agreement with me. “But, they’re cute, and stupid cheap to buy,” he continued, “Most of em’ have AWD, and you can find a decently kept manual AWD car with not that much effort. Replacement parts might be hard as fuck to source, but oh well life is short. Buy the car, and enjoy it, and feel superior that it’s not a fucking Subaru with a leaky head gasket.”
I agree with him, even if my mom would get mad at me for using those exact words.
You know who else is a fan of the SX4? Legendary Top Gear/The Grand Tour host Richard Hammond, who in his 2010 review for British newspaper The Mirror — a review titled The Suzuki SX4 4x4 Is An Ice Breaker — wrote:
What this seems to be then, is a small crossover car that doesn’t compromise itself. There are faster, better looking cars for the money, there are more serious off-road cars, too, but they will all be very good at one thing and then useless at others. What this is, is just “some” car. About 12 grand’s worth, in fact.
It’s not a star, it has no bar-room boasting points, but it’s good looking enough, practical enough, fast enough and economical enough to get on with its job.
No one will ever sit dreaming about owning one and few of them will be polished to perfection on a Sunday morning but as a practical, sensibly-priced tool, it makes a good case for itself.
Plus, perhaps more important than any of this is the fact that, per Suzuki, the SX4 is “Mightier than the Mini” — that’s a big deal according to my colleague Mercedes Streeter, who sent me this ad:
The SX4 that I may buy in upstate new York is for sale for only $2,400 or best offer. If I can snag this apparently “Meticulously serviced and maintained” all-wheel drive, manual hatchback for under two G’s, do some basic maintenance, and throw on some winter tires, I’ll be crushing Michigan’s snowy winter in basically a brand new car as far as I’m concerned, rowing through a five-speed like an absolute boss...At least, in my head I will be. To everyone else, I’ll just be a 30 year-old dude driving a tiny shitbox Suzuki, but I’m more than okay with that.