To date, Suzuki's effort in the midsize sedan segment has been roughly as resolute and effective as the Belgian war machine 70 years ago. Oh, they technically put up a fight, but it was all over so quickly, nobody really noticed. Does the name Suzuki Verona ring a bell? Didn't think so. This time around, however, Suzuki is bringing heavy artillery and a sophisticated battle plan. No more rebadged Daewoos or half-hearted efforts. The 2010 Suzuki Kizashi is the real deal, a family sedan unlike anything the brand has ever produced, and one that could easily be mistaken for something from Europe.
Indeed, to say that the Kizashi was influenced by Volkswagen would be an understatement. The front looks like a Jetta and the dashboard design looks inspired by the Passat. However, the Kizashi isn't just a visual homage to VW — Suzuki has gone to meticulous lengths to ensure that it feels like one, too. The interior materials are first rate, with soft surfaces and pleasant textures. There is a certain solidity to the body structure and ride that is far more German than Japanese. Handling is perhaps the main area where the Kizashi departs from VW — it's substantially better. On our skid pad and slalom, the Suzuki with the funny name achieved better numbers than the VW CC.
It's one thing to set your sights on Volkswagen, but unlike the Belgians, it's not the Germans Suzuki really has to worry about. The heavy hitters in the family sedan segment are the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. Will the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi realistically stand a chance at putting a dent in their armor? Doubtful, given Suzuki's limited dealer network. But thanks to its Teutonic flair and Japanese price point, the Kizashi is at least prepared for a fight. If only King Leopold had been so bold.
For now, the Suzuki Kizashi comes with only one engine: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 185 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. A V6 is likely to arrive in the future, but the volume sellers in this segment are four-cylinder models, and the Kizashi's four is certainly competitive. Our test car had a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual are available). In performance testing, the Kizashi accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, which is on par for the class.
Like many engines hooked to CVTs, the Kizashi's emits a rather grating drone when you open the throttle. That's because a CVT is unburdened by discrete gear ratios, so it simply zings the engine straight to its sweet spot, which in this case is above 5,000 rpm. The Kizashi's transmission can be a bit slow to react when left in Drive, but you can compensate somewhat by using the wheel-mounted paddle shifters that simulate conventional gears for additional control. Fuel economy is competitive at 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined.
The brakes are excellent, with our test car coming to a stop from 60 mph in 114 feet — that's sport-sedan territory. So is the 0.89g skid pad reading. The 65.6-mph slalom run is marginally outdone by a few V6-powered rivals, but it's still near the head of the pack. This athleticism translates well to the real world, where drivers will find an engaging driving experience highlighted by a well-balanced chassis, an abundance of grip and steering that's a tad numb but nicely weighted. The 2010 Suzuki Kizashi has a lightweight-feeling liveliness to it that has largely disappeared from this class in recent years.
As you'd expect from such a sporty car, the Kizashi's ride quality is on the firm side, but drivers used to European sedans or friskier Japanese ones should find it suitably comfortable. Rough pavement is swallowed with sophisticatedly muted thumps. There's a solidity to the Kizashi that you just don't get in an Altima, let alone a Camry. At the same time, wind and road noise are kept well in check, just like in — you guessed it — a Volkswagen.
Despite being smaller on the outside than its competitors, the Kizashi actually offers similar interior space. Headroom is ample all around, and only supersized rivals like the Honda Accord and Subaru Legacy offer noticeably better rear legroom; moreover, the Kizashi's expertly contoured rear-seat cushion is one of the most pleasant we've encountered. While the driver seat could use a slightly wider range of adjustment, it offers good support over long distances. The telescoping steering wheel didn't slide out far enough for our longer-legged editors, but the driving position will be plenty comfortable for most.
The 2010 Suzuki Kizashi comes standard with items not normally found on a base-model family sedan: keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control and an iPod interface. Our GTS trim level added a sunroof, steering wheel shift paddles, Bluetooth and a 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate stereo while still costing less than $24,000. That's a deal.
Principal controls for the audio and climate control systems are large and well-labeled, though some editors thought the reach to the volume and tuning knobs was too great. The standard iPod interface is easy to use, as it properly mimics the iPod's menu structure. Unfortunately, the display screen features a massive dot-matrix font that's not ideal for showing in-depth iPod and satellite radio information (apparently we're listening to "Dude Loo" by "Aerosmi").
At 13.3 cubic feet, the trunk is 2 or 3 cubes smaller than the norm, but it still offers plenty of space for golf clubs and a suitcase. Notably, the structural bracing behind the rear seat impinges on the pass-through space when the seatbacks are folded, though this would only be an issue for exceptionally tall and wide items. Considering its large backseat, it should not come as a surprise that a rear-facing child safety seat fits well in the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi.
Design/Fit and Finish
Suzuki clearly invested a lot of time, money and effort in designing a cabin with materials that could easily be found in a Volkswagen or an entry-level luxury car. The surfaces within reach are soft and richly textured. The switchgear has a rubbery, grippy feel to it, while the climate control knobs have a high-quality plastic finish that does a fair impression of the knurled metal finishes in a Bentley. One disappointing area is the dash top, which reflects too much into the windshield.
The exterior is less memorable, with styling that's a tad derivative of other sedans — the Jetta, the Acura RL and a bit of BMW 5 Series in the trunk lid. Nevertheless, those aren't ugly cars to be sampling from, so at least the overall look is handsome.
Who should consider this vehicle
Think of the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi as an inexpensive European-style sedan attached to a strange Japanese name. Consumers looking for a family sedan that offers a more involving driving experience and better handling than the norm would be wise to check out the Kizashi. Its solid construction and high-class interior also set it apart.
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