Changing brand perception isn’t an easy task; consumers often have strong mental associations that can be difficult to break down. Suzuki is well known by most for its motorbikes and successful range of small cars like the Swift. But Suzuki decided a few years back that this image wasn’t enough and it wanted to be seen as a full strength carmaker. The only way Suzuki could see to show it’s a heavy hitter was to move up a weight division into the mid-size sedan segment. Now, after learning the ropes with a series of concept cars Suzuki has unleashed the production version of its Kizashi sedan for the NZ market. But will it have the deft moves and raw firepower to trouble the established journeyman of this hard fought category? Car and SUV spent some time ringside with the Kizashi Limited and the Kizashi Sport to find out more.
So how does it look?
The Kizashi’s Euro-inspired styling is athletic and handsome with a strong road presence and clever branding. A large Suzuki logo is framed at the front by a wide mesh grille and large HID headlights. A curved bonnet pushes back into lean shoulder lines and thick C-pillars add to the muscular look. But it’s the Kizashi’s rear design which is most distinctive with its curved boot lid, wrap around taillights and integrated stainless steel exhaust covers that pay homage to Suzuki’s motorcycle designs. The stumpy boot and minimal rear overhang help make the Kizashi look compact but boot capacity is surprisingly large at 461-litres.
The Kizashi Sport picks up some extra chrome trim and a boot-lid spoiler compared to the other models. Both the Sport and Limited ride on smart 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in low profile Yokohama rubber. Overall the Kizashi looks fresher and more modern than many competitors and in being an all-new model Suzuki have really made the most of starting with a blank canvas.
Once inside the Kizashi it’s immediately noticeable that the European exterior styling hasn’t filtered through to the cabin. It’s an all-Japanese interior with bright illumination and a wide range of shapes and textures. There’s a basic design to the silver-ringed instrument cluster and a small screen shows various trip and economy information. The central control stack is easy to navigate with equal space allocated to both stereo and climate controls. The fully adjustable steering wheel is a delight to use with its thick-stitched leather finish and multitude of buttons and toggles controlling audio and cruise functions. Everything feels well screwed together and the soft-touch plastics are quality although the contrasting chrome trim may not prove as durable.
Both the Kizashi Sport and Limited models are fitted with full leather trim that reinforces the cabin’s up market feel. The front seats are supportive and have power adjustment with the driver’s offering three memory settings as well. The rear pew has fair legroom, but isn’t class-leading and there’s 3-point seatbelts for all occupants.
In terms of standard equipment the Kizashi is generously endowed for the price. Modern goodies include heated seats, dual-zone climate control, Rockford Fosgate 8-speaker stereo with subwoofer, USB audio input, engine immobiliser, auto headlights and wipers, cruise control and keyless entry and start.
So the Kizashi has all the gear in the cabin, but what’s packed in under the curved bonnet?
Powering all variants in the Kizashi range is Suzuki’s 2.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine, previously used in the Grand Vitara. It’s been upgraded for the Kizashi and is a willing unit that pumps out 131kW of power and 230Nm of torque at 4,000rpm. While it’s not the most rapid machine in its class it can move at a brisk pace.
Both our Limited and Sport test vehicles used Suzuki’s CVT transmission and while it provided smooth changes during regular driving it does feel like it’s robbing the Kizashi of power under heavy throttle. As it stands with the CVT transmission the Kizashi takes 8.8 seconds to sprint to 100km/h but when using the 6-speed manual transmission it will do it a whole second quicker (7.8 sec). The CVT can also produce a slight droning sound as it rapidly changes gear ratios during acceleration. However, if manual changes are wanted, both the Sport and Ltd models have steering wheel mounted paddles. The advantage of a CVT transmission comes with improved fuel economy and the Kizashi returns an impressive 7.9l/100km combined.
When it comes to straight-line power the Kizashi never really feels like a pure performance machine, it’s no slouch but it falls a notch short of having the goods to back up its intensely sporty styling.
The Kizashi’s true strength doesn’t lay in its power but in its clever footwork that comes from a well-sorted chassis and modern suspension set up. With struts up front and multi-link suspension at the rear the Kizashi sits flat during cornering and remains balanced and poised even near its relatively high limits. A touch of torque steer can be achieved with a heavy foot on the Ltd model which is a front-wheel driver but the 4WD Sport model has no such issue. The four-paw system allows the Sport to be switched between 4WD and 2WD through an interior button. It’s a clever set up that gives the Kizashi Sport a claim to its name by being a more sporting steer but can be kept in 2WD for improved economy on more mundane missions. But for many 4WD capability will be unrequired and with the Sport priced at a $6,500 premium the Ltd nearly matches it for specification and pleads a stronger case.
Suzuki is taking no real chances with the safety features onboard all models in the Kizashi range with six airbags, seatbelt pretensioners and traction and stability control included as standard. Braking is also excellent, being handled by Akebono ventilated front and solid rear disc stoppers.
The bottom line is that the Kizashi is a very good entry into the mid-size sedan segment, and deserves buyers’ consideration. As Suzuki’s first foray into building a larger car it should be regarded as a genuine success. Areas of strength lay in its daring exterior design, interior build quality and a well planned and executed equipment list. Dynamically, it is very sharp if not an outright leader in the class and while the engine is modern and strong, when it’s matched to the CVT transmission it’s robbed a real horseshoe-in-the-glove punch. That said, on daily duties the Kizashi is a comfortable ride with nicely compliant suspension and being backed by Suzuki reliability should give owners many years of dependable motoring. If you’re looking for a mid-size sedan there’s no reason at all not to add the Kizashi to your test drive list.
Price: Limited from $41,990, Sport $48,500
What we like:
- Well executed styling
- Interior fit-out
- Sharp handling
What we don’t like:
- CVT transmission
- Price premium for Sport model
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo