Suzuki clearly has lofty expectations for its new Kizashi sedan, which we recently drove on the roads around the Washington/Oregon border, as well as on Portland's eponymous international raceway. The company undertook a rigorous design and development program targeting serious contenders in the midsize sedan segment, and its engineers left no fastener unturned in their quest for class-leading dynamics. Ride and handling calibrations were fine-tuned in environments as varied as the autobahn, the Alps and the NŸrburgring racetrack in Germany. Suzuki will also offer an all-wheel-drive variant for those whose climatic conditions require it.
With an exterior design blending Japanese and European flavors, the Kizashi stands out in a largely bland crowd. It's an attractive design, with an aggressive front-end look. The company threw plenty of talent and money at the interior too, which is richer and more tasteful than what one usually finds in the midsize category. So, let's see how it drives.
The Kizashi is powered by an all-aluminum 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine equipped with a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods. Variable valve-timing helps optimize the torque curve, and when hooked to the six-speed manual transmission, the engine produces 185 hp at 6500 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
Cars with the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) have slightly reduced power, at 180 hp, but neither configuration feels particularly peaky. A balance shaft minimizes vibration, so the Kizashi's engine never feels or sounds strained . There is an increasing induction snarl as the revs rise, but it's an appropriate soundtrack to fast driving.
Stability control and ABS are standard on the Kizashi, and the brakes are heavy-duty units supplied by Akebono, which makes brakes for bullet trains among other things. The all-wheel-drive system is an option, and the i-AWD—as Suzuki calls it—is integrated with the ESC stability control and has strategies that combine with the usual brake operation to stabilize a wayward Kizashi. For example, it can transfer torque to the front wheels in the event of a rear-wheel slide.
Engineered to meet upcoming 2014 crash standards, the Kizashi is equipped with no fewer than eight airbags. Rear sonar and a backup camera are available options.
All of Suzuki's painstaking chassis work has produced a seriously nippy contestant in the midsize sedan league. In slalom and lane-change tests set up by Suzuki at the Portland International Raceway, we compared the Kizashi to several competitive cars from Subaru, Acura and Volkswagen.
Naturally, the Kizashi spanked them. Well, who sets up a test they're gonna lose, right? But the fact of the matter is that the Kizashi turns in better, resists roll with more determination, and exhibits way less understeer in exercises that call for rapid changes of direction than most of its competitors.
Any lingering doubts about how the tests may have been rigged were largely dispelled on the track during hot lapping, where the new Suzuki demonstrated excellent stability and poise along with its responsive handling. Some of its secrets were revealed by a sectioned bodyshell, where numerous gussets and welded-in bridges were clearly in evidence. This is one stiff structure, particularly in the engine-box area.
As is normal on racetracks, the Kizashi's 185-hp engine isn't exactly strong enough to scare anyone, and in this case the situation is exaggerated by the chassis' potential for faster laps—particularly with the AWD option. But as the track instructors pointed out, having a chassis that's faster than its engine is always a good thing. Besides, there's a 3.2-liter V6 in Suzuki's arsenal, and it's sure to find a home in the Kizashi soon.
Out on the open road, the Kizashi certainly feels quick enough. It also rides smoothly enough to contradict its serious sport-driving credentials, although rough surface textures on the roads around Portland pipe a fair bit of tire roar into the cabin—clear proof of high bushing durometer values. To be fair, the noise subsides dramatically on smooth pavement, where Suzuki claims a sound level of just 63.5 dBA at 62 mph, and where the Kizashi displays altogether acceptable manners.
The Kizashi's sporty proclivities are very much to our liking, along with its subtly aggressive styling and attractive interior design. Suzuki only wants a small bite of the large midsize sedan market, and it's playing against manufacturers with sales volumes and marketing budgets that totally eclipse its presence on the stage.
That's why we think the Kizashi's smallish rear seat space is okay. The original Mazda6 had a similar setup until it was discovered that buyers were walking past the car to check out bigger rear seats in Hondas and Toyotas; then Mazda supersized the 6 . But in this case, the compact dimensions and superior dynamics are a vital part of this new Suzuki's charm.
Suzuki hasn't set prices yet, but the sticker will walk from around $19,000 for the entry-level car to about $24,000 for a loaded all-wheel-drive version. As usual, you pay for the big options, but the real story here is how much car you get if you're willing to forgo stuff like power seats and backup sensors. If the company does well with this model, it could mean a renaissance for the brand in this country. Until then, enjoy this fresh new dash of sporting flavor in the humdrum midsize market.
This is an article about the model Suzuki Kizashi