Driving Northwest: A new model that may surprise you

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by TOM VOELK / KING5 car expert

NWCN.com

Posted on January 28, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 22 at 8:17 PM

For many Americans the brand Suzuki means motorcycles, boat motors or, if you’re into classical music, a method of learning the violin. Cars?  Not as much. Unless you’re a gearhead, it’s easy to believe Aerio, Esteem and Equator are hip clothing stores. Surprising then that worldwide, Suzuki sell more cars than BMW, Mazda or Mercedes. Been in a Chevy Sprint, Tracker or Geo Metro?  Then you’ve experienced Suzuki. Their Wagon R is one of the most popular cars in Japan. Just a little fun fact for the carpool gang tomorrow morning.

After that tidbit, throw out this word- Kizashi (and don’t be surprised if someone responds gesundheit). Suzuki has chosen this name for their new midsized sedan, a segment not for the faint of heart. In Japanese Kizashi means “prelude” or “a sign of great things to come”. Appropriate since Suzuki appears to be getting serious about the American market. Kizashi runs with Altima, Accord, Fusion, and Passat but they also claim Acura TSX and Audi A4 as competitors. The Suzuki undercuts them all when it comes to price. A front drive Kizashi that includes power windows and locks, dual zone climate control and keyless ignition starts at $19,700 including shipping and prep. 

Value doesn’t mean cheap looking here

My loaded SLS all-wheel drive tester stickers for $27,480. That’s a pretty decent deal. It’s a bit of a black art to build a car to a lower price point. The old phrase robbing Peter to pay Paul comes to mind. Common places for the bean counters to cut are the headliner, carpeting and lower door panels but these all look fine. Lights on the door bottoms illuminate any puddles lurking in the dark. Kizashi’s only real budget give-a-way is a lack of hydraulic struts for the hood.

Cabin materials look darn good. The instrument panel’s top may be hard plastic but the ones that matter, those that are touched have a soft feel. Satin finshed trim looks smart. The lined glove box opens with a dampened glide. Leather chairs are supportive and motorized with the driver’s throne getting 3 memory positions. They also have 3 levels of heat. Camry only has an on/off setting. The Kizashi’s fit and finish handily beats the last Toyota I drove but the interior is less roomy. The lighting could use a little calming though. Gauges are white, knobs get red.  There’s also green and blue. Foot well lights are gold. It’s like my neighbor’s house at Christmas. Volkswagen now owns a chunk of Suzuki. I suggest they talk.

The power to move you

Kizashi’s only engine is a 2. 4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 180 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque when mated to the optional continuously variable transmission. Order the 6-speed manual gear box and there’s 5 more HP on tap. Kizashi is quick, 0-60 happens in 6. 5 seconds. Under hard throttle the engine makes itself heard but during cruising it is quiet and smooth. 

As mentioned, Suzuki’s auto tranny is a continuously variable unit. It’s the mandatory gear(less) box if the selectable AWD system is ordered. Some won’t care for the gliding and rubbery dynamics of the CVT transmission. A good friend and fellow car writer took the Kizashi for a spin and found it perfectly acceptable. I’m lukewarm. Kizashi has paddle shifters that simulate gear shifts. I’d like to try the 6-speed manual. At the very least test drive both.

The best thing about the driving dynamic is cornering. Kizashi is a kick in the curves. It remains poised and planted when tossing through my favorite route. Body roll is minimal. Fortunately the firm ride quality doesn’t cross into harsh though sharp pumps can be felt occasionally. Of note, the anti-lock brakes have excellent modulation and feel. EPA rates Kizashi’s fuel economy as high as 23 city 31 highway (23/30 with AWD).

Lot’s ‘o tech

Kizashi offers iPod support, dual zone climate control and keyless ignition standard. Thank you very much. SLS models get reverse parking sensors, sunroof, Homelink system, Bluetooth for phone and audio, and an excellent Rockford/Fosgate sound system (425 watts of power, 8 channels and 10 speakers). Front seats are firm, supportive, heated, leather, and powered (yes, both of them). Traction and stability control is standard too. Remember, this is not an expensive car. 

Width wise, three average sized adults will be OK but best that they know each other. The seats themselves are quite comfortable. Tall carpool members might get a little grumpy about the reduced headroom. On the plus side they’re well protected. Kizashi comes with side torso airbags in the rear, usually optional on cars if available at all. It gets 5 stars on all government crash tests (4 stars rollover but I can’t think of a car that gets 5). Suzuki crows that this sedan is compliant with NHTSAs 2014 crash standards.

Time for another edition of trunk vs.  toilet paper.

The first thing you’ll notice is gooseneck hinge arms that take up space. So does the subwoofer. Seatbacks split and fold to hold longer items though and there are plenty of tie downs to be found. Most average sized sedans hold 6 packs and so does Kizashi but they have to be wedged in. Good thing those bundles are malleable. Once full the lid can be shut but those hinge arms will smoosh the TP.

So does Kizashi equal A4 and TSX? 

Sorry, not really. But it is considerably less expensive than the premium brands, even lower in price than the standard players like Malibu and such. Suzuki is aiming to position Kizashi higher than the average mid-size. At this writing they’re challenging Audi and Acura to a death match. Well, maybe more of a duel. Test drive a Kizashi and A4 or TSX and Suzuki will give you a hundred bucks if you buy the expensive car within 10 days (I’m not a lawyer, see the dealer for details). Kizashi is more compact than Camry, Accord and Mazda6 so passengers won’t have as much room to stretch out. Also, smaller?  Suzuki’s dealer network.  There may not be a store near you.

Kizashi hits all the points that people want in a car. It’s handsome inside and out, well appointed, fun to drive and a very good value. A hybrid model is expected. I’d like to see a sport model equipped with a turbo motor. Suzuki does not enjoy the bullet proof reliability of many other brands but the build quality of my preproduction tester bodes well. I’ve also enjoyed their SX-4 sedan and crossover too. The name’s a bit unusual but the Suzuki Kizashi is a very appealing package. It should make Suzuki a household name.
 

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