Monday, December 23, 2013

2010 Suzuki Kizashi Full Test Review

We spent a week driving a 6-speed manual AWD Kizashi GTS locally and beyond and came away impressed. We have found Suzuki's small cars and SUVs lively in spirit, especially the sporty AWD SX4s, and good in most ways;but we had no idea what to expect from their first foray into midsize sedan territory.

Aggressively styled and pleasingly proportioned, it previewed a semi-upscale "D-segment" sport sedan. In the global auto business, the C-segment is compact cars, and the size-up D class is what we know as midsize-the incredibly competitive field of both family and sporty sedans. And, with a powerful, aero-slick design theme characterized as "a dynamic athlete in motion," this concept clearly showed that Suzuki's coming flagship sedan would be aimed at the emotional end of the scale. Japanese automaker Suzuki chose the mid-2007 Frankfurt (Germany) Motor Show to unveil a most interesting new concept car called Kizashi. They said its name was Japanese for "prelude" or "foretaste" and that it foretold of something coming from a company known better here for its motorcycles, ATVs and outboard motors than for its small cars and SUVs.

An even more aggressive Concept Kizashi 2 followed at the October Tokyo Motor Show then a third variation debuted at the March, 2008 New York Auto Show. This one, Concept Kizashi 3, was much tamer and more production-realistic. It looked, in fact, a lot like the real thing is now hitting the market and demonstrated Suzuki was serious about taking on the well-established entries in the U.S. market's most competitive car class. Inside, the fits and materials are generally good, though not up to typical Euro-sedan standards, and the seats are handsome and nicely supportive with available leather trim. The instrument panel's major gauges have a precision look: Its faux brushed-aluminum-rimmed center stack mirrors the front grille's rounded-V shape, and its controls are intuitively easy to see, reach and operate. We especially appreciated the nicely padded three-spoke steering wheel with handy spoke-mounted audio and other controls.

The only engine residing beneath that power-dome hood for now is a willing 2.4-liter aluminum four good for 185 horses with a standard 6-speed manual transaxle, or five ponies fewer with the available continuously variable transmission (CVT). Rare in this size and price class, the option of Suzuki's latest "intelligent" all-wheel drive (i-AWD) can improve both bad-weather traction and cornering capability. The systems constantly variable front-to-rear torque split is a function of a number of factors, including wheel slippage, throttle and steering input.

Standard on the sub-$20K base Kizashi S are push-button start, steering wheel audio controls, dual-zone climate control and a split-folding rear seat with a pass-through for long objects such as skis. Standard safety features include Electronic Stability Program (ESP), anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and a class-leading set of eight airbags.

The next-level SE adds the CVT automatic transmission, 17-inch tires on alloy wheels, a 10-way power driver?s seat with three-position memory, cruise control and leather wrapping on the steering wheel, shifter and parking brake lever. The sport-oriented GTS offers 18-inch wheels and tires, power moonroof, fog lamps, a 425-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system with integrated Bluetooth hands-free phone capability and a choice of manual or CVT transmission, the latter with paddle shifters for manual gear selection. The top-of-the-line SLS features leather seating, three-stage heated seats, a four-way power passenger seat, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors and automatic on/off headlamps.

We spent 7 days driving a 6-speed manual AWD Kizashi GTS locally and beyond and came away impressed. We have found Suzuki's small cars and SUVs lively in spirit, especially the sporty AWD SX4s, and good in most ways-but we had no idea what to expect from their first foray into midsize sedan territory.

We found it less than plush yet surprisingly comfy and quiet, well put together and fun to drive. The manual gearbox shifted surely and crisply, and the 4-cylinder engine performed well at lower RPMs but tended to run out of breath at higher engine speeds. On-road handling was good, steering precise, and braking strong and stable as needed. A bit smaller inside and out than typical midsize sedans, it?s no limo but sufficient in back for full-size adults.

We later enjoyed an opportunity to put a group of Kizashis (manual and CVT, FWD and AWD) and key competitors through a series of handling tests and a handful of laps at Virginia International Raceway (VIR), near Danville, VA. They performed impressively and (not surprisingly, since the tests were designed by enthusiastic Suzuki engineers) better overall than the selected high-volume competitors on hand. The highlight was a couple of fast track laps in a prototype V-6 powered Kizashi that likely foretells of future availability.