2010 Suzuki Kizashi: First Drive

Suzuki cooks up a tasty entrée

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2010 Suzuki Kizashi: First Drive
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Kizashi (pronounced ka-zah-shee) is not a sliced-and-diced fried egg presented by an over-enthusiastic Ghinzu chef, or a gently garnished sea bass smoked via the backyard Hibachi; it’s the newest mid-sized sedan served up by Japan’s ‘other’ automotive restaurateur: Suzuki.

FAST FACTS

1. The Kizashi is an all-new mid-sized family sedan aimed at taking on everything from the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, to the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu.

2. Just one engine is offered, a 2.4-liter 4-cylidner that makes 185-hp with a six-speed manual or 180-hp with a CVT automatic.

3. Fuel Economy with the CVT is rated at 23/30 mpg (city/hwy).

4. Pricing will start at under $20,000.

Suzuki’s newest entrée is an all-new mid-size sedan for the 2010 model year with a base price starting under $20,000. From Japanese, Kizashi translates to “Something great is coming.” Time will tell if this message takes hold.

At an October press launch in the Pacific Northwest, Suzuki Vice President Gene Brown called the Kizashi, “The most substantial car ever built by Suzuki.” The Kizashi replaces the underwhelming, undersized, Korean-built, Forenza sedan and wagon, which exited after the 2008 model year (did anyone notice?). In the 2009 model year, Suzuki snuck by without a true mid-size, sedan.

The Kizashi, manufactured in Japan at Suzuki’s newest and most modern assembly plant, is built from the ground up with Suzuki calling the shots (no partnership agreement with another automaker). While it’s boldly eying smaller European performance sedans such as the Volkswagen Passat as competition, after a day of twisting road driving to Mt. St. Helen, the sporty and well-regarded Mazda6 sedan may be a better comparison.

The Kizashi has a dash of elegant exterior nuances thanks to jeweled headlights and a smallish front grille. It still has an imposing front-end design, however, thanks to a lower center intake that is framed with the same lines that run around the grille. Its stance is slightly toned down from the Mazda6’s sporty looks, but the Kizashi does boast as standard fare (in all trims) dual climate controls, push-button start, secondary steering wheel radio controls and dual tipped exhausts.

CAPABLE 4-CYLINDER, BUT NO V6 OFFERED

The Kizashi is available in front drive or sure-footed all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive (which adds about 125 pounds) is available in all trims sans the base and is activated with the push of a dashboard button. Torque split is automatically regulated depending on factors including wheel slippage and steering input. This marks a notable difference from Japanese mid-size rivals Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Mazda6 which offer front-drive exclusively.

One all-new four-cylinder engine powers the four trims (S, SE, GTS and SLS). At 2.4-liters of displacement it makes 185 horsepower when mated to a six-speed manual transmission, or 180 horses with the performance-tuned continuously variable transmission (CVT). This compares with 170 horsepower from the Mazda 6 four-cylinder. The Kizashi’s CVT offers an infinite number of forward gears (not just five or six) cutting out the ‘lurch’ sometimes felt with conventional automatics.

While just about every mid-sizer out and about offers a V6, Kizashi is content (for now) with its competent in-line four. This could turn off potential buyers who insist that a V6 is a must, but with the V6 sedan segment continuing to shrink Suzuki seems to have made the right decision.

Editions with front drive and the CVT average 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, which are respectable figures when compared to rivals. The CVT comes standard with the SE trim. A six-speed manual is available in the other three trims as well as the CVT, which adds $1,100 to the bottom line. All-wheel drive is a $1,250 hit. For those who enjoy a manual transmission performance and availability in a high-end trim, Kizashi delivers.

SIZING IT UP: KIZASHI SMALL FOR ITS CLASS

At 183.1-inches in length, the Kizashi is at the smaller end of the mid-size segment. The 2010 Camry, by contrast, measures 189.2-inches in length while a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu checks in at 191.8 inches. If you’re looking to put three adults in back for extended travel, look elsewhere.

Inside, Suzuki utilizes soft-touch material for the dash and doors, something usually reserved for higher-end cars. It’s nice to the touch but did provide more front windshield reflection at certain sun heights than what’s found in other competitors. Brushed aluminum trim adds visual balance.

Suzuki refers to the Kizashi’s cabin as ‘minimalist.’ It is well laid out with the controls laced logically. A one-touch manual release lever is used for both tilt and telescoping functions of the steering wheel. Maybe not so minimalist, but certainly welcome, is a standard plug-in for personal musical players such as MP3s so more sound options can be heard.

Lap/shoulder belts mounted on the inside “B” pillar were convenient with no extended reach back necessary before pre-driving pull-and-click rituals. Optional in GTS and SLS is an in-dash navigation system with rear camera.

Rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 split allowing trunk access; a lessoned learned. When Suzuki’s compact SX4 sedan debuted in 2008, rear seatbacks were static. Kudos to Suzuki for acting quickly by incorporating fold down seats the following year, responding promptly to customer feedback.

High-strength steel used around the rear fold down seat structure and large side-view mirrors shaped to drive wind away from the vehicle helps muffle sound. Despite these insulations, some wind noise still seeps in through the windows at higher speeds.

ENJOYABLE, SPORTY DRIVE

Brakes are sensitive, reacting with a light touch. Experiencing the twists and turns of mountainous terrain is enjoyable thanks to able handling. Steering is remarkably precise with little wheel movement needed to point the Kizashi in the desired direction. A multi-link rear suspension helps smooth the way, too. The engine provides a nice throttle sound at low and highway speeds, although it’s a four cylinder and at times, I yearned for more power during passing maneuvers. When floored, the CVT helps the Kizashi sprint to speeds in a timely manor from zero to 40 mph. Beyond that, the car doesn’t pull as hard.

Suzuki’s ace in the hole may be its generous seven-year/100,000-mile (whichever comes first) powertrain warranty. It’s one of the longest warranties and it’s fully transferable to the next owner, a key difference when compared to Hyundai’s 10-year 100,000-mile warranty. The Kizashi meets 2014 crash test standards and includes an impressive eight standard air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control standard in all four trims.

The Kizashi goes on sale in limited quantities in December of ’09, with full production expected by spring of ‘10. Exact pricing is to be announced mid-November, but Gene Brown provided a clear vision. A mid-trim SE is slated to start around $21,500 with more standard equipment than a comparable Mazda6 sedan. A base S trim will start below $20,000 while a tricked out SLS tops out at $27,900.

THE VERDICT

Brown also noted that with Kizashi, Suzuki intends to move from basic transportation to an aspirational boutique brand in the minds of consumers. That could be a tough sell. Framing Kizashi as a well-appointed, sporty-type sedan may be a better pitch as consumers dig their way out of the great recession and look for value-added choices.

LOVE IT
  • Many up-market items such as push-button start and dual climate zones come standard
  • 7-year/100,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty
  • Most competent car designed and built by Suzuki
LEAVE IT
  • No V6 offered
  • Wind noise sneaks in through windows at highway speeds
  • Small dimensions means no more than two adults in back

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