Upgraded motor, four-speed auto option and better exteriors make the new Maruti SX4 a nicer car to drive

The refreshed SX4 gets an upgraded motor, but more importantly, gets a four-speed automatic option. It makes what is an easy-to-drive car even more user-friendly.

The Suzuki four-speed auto is a box that's well-matched with the engine's characteristics. It runs reasonably responsively while driving within city limits, and seems to find the right gear quickly to deliver a smooth and seamless drive. However, you won't be greatly rewarded when you want to drive the SX4 enthusiastically. Compared to the more advanced DSG autos we are now accustomed to, the SX4's shift seems a bit tardy.

Should you want more control, you can slide the SX4's smart-looking brushed-metal gear lever through an old-fashioned gate to select the lower gears. In this mode, it won't upshift by itself, allowing you to extend the engine to its redline. The auto does nip some of the engine's power though — 0-100kph takes almost two seconds more than the manual car's time.

The engine is the same 1586cc, twin-cam, four-valve, M-series motor that powers the manual. The only enhancement here being the variable valve timing and one additional horse to power it (now 103bhp). Torque output remains the same but the big change and the main reason why Maruti upgraded the engine was to make it more eco-friendly. This new engine now meets BS-IV norms that come into effect in April 2010 in 11 metros.

On taking a look at the increased power output on paper, you'll tend to think that it's not much, but in reality it feels distinctly better than before. Now equipped with variable valve timing (VVT), the engine breathes better. Throttle response is more prompt and the engine feels a lot more willing to rev to its 6500rpm redline than before. There's a marked improvement in performance. The five-speed manual sprints from 0-100kph in a brisk 11.3sec, which is 0.8sec quicker than the old car. Changing gears is no chore, and the shift action is precise. In-gear flexibility isn't as impressive as before; 20-80kph and 40-100kph take longer than the old car, and that's mainly due to the taller gearing. Still, stay above 1500rpm in any gear, and the engine pulls forward cleanly and almost immediately.

We could confirm the fact that the refreshed SX4 — with its VVT engine — is smoother and slightly quieter than the older motor, but what we couldn't answer in this brief drive is: Is the car more fuel-efficient? The previous SX4 had quite an appetite for fuel but chances are that this new motor with its taller gearing and better breathing will be a bit more frugal.

As is with all midlife upgrades, there are a whole lot of improvements to the car. Maruti has played around with the MacPherson strut/torsion beam suspension settings so as to make the ride less lumpy and more levelled.

Changes to the exterior are quite prominent — there's the new honeycomb grille, new alloys and the VVT badges on the flanks. There are changes to the interiors too. The dashboard is now a lighter shade, there's a USB port in addition to the aux-in port of the earlier car and the seats feel a bit more comfy now. The mock-wood panels on the door pads add a certain splash of richness to the car.

Maruti has also ditched the old car's massive rear headrests (which limited rear visibility) for smaller units.

The SX4's unique traits of an SUV-like driving position, humongous ground clearance and easy-to-drive nature remain. The auto box option only serves to widen its appeal.

Spec for spec, it cost approximately Rs. 20,000 more than the old SX4, but considering how much nicer the car is to drive now, it's completely worth it.