Kizashi is Suzuki’s (almost) great leap forward
summit daily auto writer
In a forward-looking attempt to transcend the not-so-incorrect perception that it’s a company that just makes dirt bikes, outboard motors and small, funny-looking automobiles, Suzuki has gone all crazy with the new Kizashi.
Looking a little like a Subaru Legacy or a Volkswagen Jetta, Suzuki’s first midsize sport sedan is indeed a bold step for the automaker, which frankly remains mostly unknown in the United States but is Japan’s top domestic seller.
Kizashi (Japanese for, roughly, “something great is coming”) won’t exactly usurp Subaru or Toyota, or even Kia, for that matter, but it’s an impressive, slightly up-market move for the company. I suspect the car’s European targets just don’t have a lot to be worried about.
It’s an attractively built and substantial, 183-inch-long, four-door machine with (optional) all-wheel drive, priced competitively (my tester was still under $23K) and loaded with a variety of upscale bits, including a pushbutton starter, a 425-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo and Bluetooth connectivity.
There’s also reasonably good power (and mileage) from a standard, 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, earning an EPA figure of up to 29 mpg on the highway. The trip computer told me I was averaging about 25 mpg.
But while Suzuki’s bargain-minded aesthetic is fine when you’re dealing with fun but simple machines like the little SX4, Kizashi’s overall feel and finish is still a little on the undercooked side.
My bright red ride, a GTS model, was equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission. That fuel-saving technology has vastly improved in other carmakers’ offerings (notably Nissan), but the Suzuki variation is a lot like the early-gen CVTs I experienced several years ago.
That is, when you attempt to merge onto the freeway, you have to absolutely floor the pedal and watch as the revs spiral way out of control, and then wait a bit as the car attempts to catch up to the engine … an unnerving process.
There are paddle shifters to approximate gears (helpful when going downhill), but when you need to harness the power, the CVT is noisy and slow to react. The optional six-speed manual sounds like a better option, especially when you have an 18-wheeler bearing down on you.
At highway speed and around town, Kizashi seemed to take care of business and rode comfortably; my test vehicle idled loudly and suffered from a few other issues, including a squeaky instrument panel. All-wheel drive can be switched on via a button on the dash.
Kizashi’s design gracefully blends elements of Volkswagen’s sedans and the general palette of modern autos, with huge headlamps, a slightly cheesy plastic mesh grille, bazillion spoked 18-inch wheels and a tall, tall trunk lid.
The angular exhaust ports are very much like those on a Mazda6; as I say, the Kizashi’s influences are all over the place but it’s a nice blend.
Inside, Suzuki has done a reasonably good job of moving upscale, with a requisite mix of leather, stippled surfaces and chrome highlights. Everything looks just a little foreign and plain compared to the big boys of the Japanese scene, including the instruments and the controls; audio and AC switchgear is thankfully easy to use.
The well-bolstered, heated, cloth seats did provide good support (power controls and lumbar adjustments on the driver’s side) and even the back seat is large, comfortable and sportily bolstered.
As a point of comparison, a few weeks later I got to drive a front-wheel drive version of the self-admittedly basic, $18,500 Suzuki SX4, and while it’s tiny as hell-the DirecTV delivery van which blew a stop sign and nearly crashed into me made me wonder about the SX4’s diminutive size – it was actually more fun to drive.
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