Long time readers of The Garage know that I have a soft spot for the Suzuki brand. This goes back to the early 90’s when we spent some serious time with a pair of Swift GT’s. Our ’89 road car not only did daily duty for about 10 years, but also competed in several years of Solo 1 & 2, not to mention well over a hundred navigational rallies. It was abused hard and kept on rocking. We also did some time as both service crew and driving crew for a ’92 that was a fully prepped performance rally car. Great little car that GT, no matter how many people thought it had 3 cylinders and a turbo or that we had mistakenly put Suzuki badges on a Pontiac Firefly.
Perhaps that has been Suzuki’s greatest flaw. The cars were invisible thanks to lackluster brand marketing.
I get the feeling that that was the old Suzuki. The folks from Suzuki at the launch of the 2010 Kizashi were a vibrant, enthusiastic and forward looking bunch. It shows in the development of this new sedan which is a new direction for the company which has been known for smaller cars and motorcycles. The name Kizashi means something great is coming which points towards not only this model, but future product as well.
While the target competitors for Kizashi are cars like the Accord, Camry, Altima and Mazda6, engineers were looking to take the driving experience to a higher level. More premium sports sedans tend to offer a higher performance drive, which leads to a stronger emotional response from the driver. In other words, make the look fit in with the class, yet blow the consumer away with a driving experience that is above their expectations and do it for a more reasonable price. Sounds like a pretty tall order.
Visually, the styling is appealing though not extravagant. In fact if one looks around, there are several clues as to where the designers drew their inspiration. The most obvious to my eye is the front center section which sports a shape rather like the current VW/Audi family. Nevertheless, fit and finish is at least equal to (in some cases, better than) all of the competition. Likewise, the interior is stylish and consists of materials that feel good to the touch. Standard front sport seats can be clad in attractive cloth or leather. Our on road tester had the cloth seats which were comfortable and supportive over a 3 hour drive which included enough turns to put the deep side bolsters to work holding my girth in place. The back seat is surprisingly roomy also, as we managed to stuff close to 600 pounds of auto writers back there for photos with no serious damage to the car or us.
So important is the quality of this interior to Suzuki, that they had a senior Noise, Vibration, Harshness engineer on hand to see what the journos thought of his baby. When asked, the only NVH issues my driving partner or I could come up with was a slight rattle from the dome light. Out came the note pad and details like noise, speed, road surface were scribbled. While some of these cars were pre production units, you can bet the source of that niggly little issue will be found and corrected on future cars. So confident are the engineers of their chassis, they brought along a body in white to show off. In the photos, you’ll notice the blue sections of the shell indicate the safety components while the orange areas show spots that have been reinforced strictly to improve NVH.
The 2010 Kizashi is motivated by a 2.4 liter, 16 valve four cylinder engine mated to the buyers choice of a 6 speed manual or a CVT. While the CVT is nice for those who don’t like to shift themselves, the 6 speed is a sweet shifting unit that makes the most of the 185 horsepower and 170 ft-lb of torque on tap. Also available is an awd system which should be a welcome addition up here in the Great White North.
Enough details already, I know you want to know what the car drove like. Really, the interior feels nice, certainly better than the Camry and with interestingness (is that a word?) on a par with the Mazda6 or Altima. I must be honest, I haven’t driven a current Accord, so I can’t comment. This is an interior I would be happy to live with. While I’m not a big numbers guy, I expected the 185 horsepower to feel a little weak on the performance side. Fortunately the engine spins up quite freely, much like our beloved old GT but without the noise. The gearing in both CVT and manual forms is just right for the engine, so acceleration is lively if not outright fast.
Where the Kizashi wins hands down over the competitors is in the performance driving arena. On twisty roads, the Suzuki feels light and nimble, more like a TL than a Camry. Bump the speeds up a notch to track speeds and things get interesting. We did some driving exercises in a few competing cars and the differences were glaring. Perhaps the most dramatic was in the emergency lane change, where the Altima and Legacy on hand broke free quite easily requiring the electronic nannies to kick in at just 67 MPH. In the same section, the Kizashi’s stability control did not become evident until the same event occurred at over 70 MPH. During our lapping session at Portland International Raceway, the Kizashi was a hoot to drive. Stable at all speeds, the chassis responds nicely to throttle and steering inputs at the limit, meaning that us old rally types can have a bit of sideways fun in the turns. Acceleration off the turns in the FWD car is quite good, with a minimum of wheel spin on the tight stuff. The AWD car just ups the ante with superior grip off the turns meaning that every available pony is making it to the pavement, without any dramatics. This car saw time at the Nurburgring during development and that attention to performance shows when driven at the limit.
Also on hand during our track visit was a test mule that had a 3.6 liter V6 from the XL-7 stuffed under the hood. We were told in no uncertain terms that this is a test mule only and not to read anything into it’s presence. You can draw your own conclusion, but it would seem likely given that Accord, Altima, Camry and Mazda6 all come with both 4 and 6 cylinder variants. The 6 cylinder car was substantially faster on the track as noted by my onboard seat of the pants device, but shared the same wheel & tire and brake combination. That combination made the car slower to turn in, rotate and brake than the 4 cylinder car. Still fun to drive, but not as nimble as the production model.
Suzuki seems to have accomplished what they set out to achieve with the Kizashi. A mid sized sedan that equals or betters the competition in quality, with a more passionate driving experience. I’m sure that when Canadian pricing is announced it will be a winner on that front too. The initial marketing videos that we were shown are more exciting than those we’ve seen from Suzuki in the past. Let’s hope the full campaigns live up to the product that the team have produced and then we’ll see lots of Kizashi on North American roads.