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2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport Compact Economy Sedan

What was tested? 2008 Suzuki SX4 Sport ($14,770).

Options: Convenience package ($500).

Price as tested: $15,270.

Pros: It's affordable and amazingly fun to drive.

Cons: It's not very fast, isn't a good highway cruiser and doesn't have standard traction control.

RATINGS: (1-10)
Style: 4
Performance: 7
Price: 10
Handling: 9
Ride: 7
Comfort: 4
Quality: 5
Overall: 7

Is there any more forgettable car brand than Suzuki?

This Japanese company only makes five basic vehicles, and I can usually only remember two of them -- the mid-size XL7 SUV and the tiny Reno commuter car. Or is it the Rio? No, that's a Kia ... I think.

It's not that Suzuki makes bad cars. If they sold junk, at least that would be worth remembering. But they don't. They have entire dealerships filled with cars that are neither ugly nor gorgeous, fast nor slow, cheap nor -- oh, never mind. I forget what their cars are like.

Suzuki also makes the Grand Vitara and Forenza, both of which I know I've driven but can't recall a single detail about. I think I liked the Grand Vitara, but then again, maybe I hated it.

Finally, we come to the SX4 Sport, a car I didn't even know existed until I got the keys to one this week.

In many ways, the SX4 is unremarkable. It comes in a sedan called the Sport and an all-wheel-drive wagon called the Crossover, both of which you'd never notice even if they were painted neon purple, doing donuts in the parking lot and being driven by a cross-dressing Ronald McDonald.

The Sport version I drove did have one memorable attribute: it was dang fun to drive, especially for the price.

When you're driving a new car that starts under $15,000, you usually don't expect much driving satisfaction. More often than not, it's just about the simple act of transportation -- moving you and your stuff from one point to another.

In the SX4, though, you get a sense that engineers actually cared about how the car felt to pilot. Things like steering feel, engine response, handling dynamics and brake feedback -- stuff normally associated with BMWs -- all feel like they've been tweaked to make the driver happy. When Suzuki touts the SX4's "sport tuned suspension," it's definitely more than marketing hyperbole.

Then there's the engine -- oh, that wonderful engine.

In cheap cars, you usually get the impression that the engine would be a better fit powering a chainsaw or Weed Eater. In this one, though, the engine seems to grin when you push it. It lets out a happy squeal and instantly, effortlessly, freely responds to whatever your right foot desires.

That's not to say it's a fast car. It's actually quite slow, as you'd expect with a little fuel-efficient, 143-horsepower engine.

None of that matters, however, because it feels fast. Its zero-to-60 time is measured in eons, but the steering is so perfect, the handling so sublime that you just don't care. It feels like you're in a jet car.

It also comes with some standard doodads, including power doors, windows and locks, 17-inch wheels and air conditioning. You can also add some oddly high-end features in this low-end car, including the SmartPass keyless entry and start system, a six-disc CD changer and iPod integration.

On the downside, this is the first car I've driven in a long time that didn't have traction control. That only comes with the Touring package, which costs $1,500.

It's also clear that Suzuki didn't even try to disguise the fact that the SX4 is a cheap car. The interior is covered in cheap materials everywhere you look, which isn't too surprising given its price. That could even be viewed as a good thing because it means this car is honest and unpretentious. Is there anything worse than an economy car that tries to look "upscale?"

Overall, I like the SX4 Sport just because of the way it drives. It was such a pleasant surprise that I might even remember it six months from now.

Or maybe not.