Thanks to the power of the Internet, automotive enthusiasts can now quite easily see what models and powertrains the rest of the world gets, attach photos of said vehicles to a snarky email, and provoke the ire of an entire marketing department.
But in this case, Suzuki's marketing department came to us: specifically, the assembled members of the media during the 2009 Grand Vitara's launch event.
They asked us to drive a European-spec 2008 turbodiesel SX4 hatchback, fill out a questionnaire, and provide feedback to determine if it should be sold in Canada.
The 20-minute drive, though, wasn't exactly generous. How could I be sure this vehicle would meet the needs of Canadians without a more extended test drive? I asked for a weekend; Suzuki gave me 24 hours.
One day. How far could I go in just one day?
My drive was ambitious, especially as I'd be travelling alone, in a commuter vehicle, without cruise control.
The route: I picked up the car from Suzuki's headquarters in Richmond Hill, headed up Hwy. 400 to Huntsville, through Algonquin Park on Hwy. 60, into Ottawa for dinner, then back to Toronto using Hwy. 416 south to the 401.
When I stopped in Bracebridge for lunch and a quick top-up of diesel, an older man approached me, puzzled. He looked at the car, looked at my T-shirt, jeans and suit jacket ensemble, looked back at the car and said, "I didn't know they made those in diesel."
The same scenario more or less happened three more times: in Ottawa, at a rest stop off of the 401, and in Richmond Hill the following day before I took the car back.
I don't think it was the SX4's bright blue paint or my optimistic sense of fashion, either. Diesel enthusiasts just come out of the woodwork when they spot something new.
Through Algonquin Park, the car's European-tuned lineage was obvious: why we don't get such direct handling, low body roll, and well-spaced gear ratios is beyond me.
The part I was supposed to be evaluating, the engine, performed flawlessly. Lots of torque, impressive in-gear acceleration, and reasonably quiet at speed.
I averaged a combined 4.94 L/100 km over a total of 1,025 km. To the skeptics: I doubt Suzuki Canada could have massaged this car before I picked it up, because it had only 1,163 km on the clock when I left the head office â€“ it wasn't even broken in.
I also calculated the economy numbers for each leg of my trip. The run from Richmond Hill to Huntsville, through Algonquin Park and into Ottawa, showed average consumption of 4.3 L/100 km. What happened? Well, Ottawa traffic and keeping up with the lunatic drivers in that city, plus the highway drive home, contributed to an average of more than 5.3 L/100 km. So did a slog up the Don Valley Parkway to return the vehicle the following morning.
Suzuki's official numbers on the car quote 6.4 L/100 km city and 4.6 L/100 km highway, for a combined average of 5.3 L/100 km. They're from the thorough "European test directive," and are likely close to what a typical driver can expect.
All of this fuel-economy goodness comes from a Peugeot-sourced 1.6 L direct injection turbocharged four-cylinder motor. It makes 88.5 horsepower at 4000 rpm, and 158.6 lb.-ft. of torque at 1750 rpm, meets stringent European emissions standards, and will hit 100 km/h in 12.2 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 175 km/h.
I deliberately under-fueled the car at gas stations to see how easy it was to find diesel, and, on the routes I took, a diesel pump never seemed any farther than 50 to 75 km up the road.
While priced higher than gasoline, the prices I saw seemed to fluctuate less based on locations, and were typically only three cents a litre more than regular grade gasoline.
The model I drove costs about Â£12,000 in Britain â€“ equating to about $22,600 in our currency. Its only direct competitor here would be a base model VW Jetta Wagon, which starts at $25,775 â€“ admittedly standard with more horsepower but arguably not as potentially go-anywhere as the SX4.
If you're interested in a car like this, email Suzuki Canada or your local dealer. I found it suited my needs very well and â€“ if priced competitively â€“ could help kick-start the diesel movement in Canada.
Well, thousands of diesel enthusiasts are already here. They're just looking for something to drive.
Freelance auto writer Michael Banovsky can be reached at banovsky.com