Suzuki Finally Gets Serious
Word doesn't travel fast when you're a small-time player, but the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi has been a labor of love some four years in the making. It is by far the most important car Suzuki has ever launched in the United States.
Although compact cars rule most parts of the world, midsize sedans will make or break you in the U.S. market. So when the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi goes on sale in December, the American outpost of Suzuki has an opportunity to reinvent itself from scratch. The company has never had a presence in the midsize sedan class. That is, unless you count the short-lived Verona, a rebadged sedan from the Korean market.
Maybe you don't want to take the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi seriously, either. (Oh, that name.) So you'll just have to go for a drive in one. And make sure it's a back road with some tight corners. Do this for an hour and you get the feeling that Suzuki's chassis development engineers get real joy out of driving and they've tuned a midsize sedan for those of us who feel the same.
Concept versions of the Suzuki Kizashi were said to have a General Motors-sourced 3.6-liter V6. This gave some of us the impression that the whole car would borrow GM platform architecture, much like the current Suzuki XL7. But this is not the case.
Instead, the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi is an entirely homegrown design. Its basic architecture is front-wheel drive, although an all-wheel-drive version with a clutch-pack-type center differential is optional. And while the Kizashi is coming to the United States first, it will eventually be a world car. So Suzuki has had to make it a little smaller than a biggie-size Accord or Camry.
The Kizashi stretches 183.1 inches nose to tail and rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase with a track of 61.6 inches. It's close in size to the Acura TSX and the 2005-'09 Subaru Legacy.
Like the TSX, the Kizashi uses a 2.4-liter inline-4 engine. This engine has twin balance shafts and features variable intake valve timing. It's rated at 185 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 170 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. With the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), power maxes out at 180 hp at 6,000 rpm. You can only get AWD with the CVT, which also has shift paddles for its simulated manual mode.
Obviously, the Acura TSX and Subaru Legacy 2.5GT offer more horsepower, but the Kizashi easily tops the non-turbocharged Legacy's 170-hp rating. And among all four-cylinder midsize sedans, only the Accord EX (190 hp), and Volkswagen Jetta Wolfsburg and Passat (200 hp) beat it in the power department.
Suzuki plans to undercut the prices of most potential rivals anyway. The base 2010 Suzuki Kizashi S should come in below $20,000, and our high-line SLS with a six-speed manual transmission should cost about $25,500 (there are SE and GTS trim levels between these two). Expect to spend $27,500 on an AWD Kizashi with the CVT.
Doesn't Drive Like a $25K Car
Why mention the TSX and Legacy GT if the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi is so cheap? Well, it just so happens the Kizashi feels a lot like those cars, specifically the smaller 2004-'08 TSX and 2005-'09 Legacy that we liked so much.
In developing the 2010 Kizashi, says Gene Brown, vice president of marketing and public relations for American Suzuki, "we wanted to build world-class sport sedan at a price the average person can afford."
Of course, you'll never find a true sport sedan in the form of a front-wheel-drive midsize car with a $25K price tag, but the Kizashi offers a level of entertainment that has been refined out of most other midsize sedans. Like the older TSXs and Legacys, it feels relatively lightweight, agile and honest in communicating its intentions.
You're not supposed to be put off by the body roll through tight turns. Rather, this is your cue to push harder, because it's then that the Kizashi really digs in. Grip, not understeer, is the prevailing sensation here, thanks to some inspired suspension tuning and an above-average set of all-season tires — P235/45R18 94V Dunlop SP Sport 7000s. The electric-assisted steering is a little shy on feedback, but it weights up so usefully off-center that you scarcely notice it's electric. Stability control can be fully disengaged, and our Kizashi SLS test car slaloms at 64.8 mph and manages 0.88g on the skid pad.
Brake pedal feel is a tad abrupt at tip-in, but the brakes have ample power and resist fade well — exactly what you want if you're going to play around back roads. Our test car's best 60-mph-to-0 stop is 122 feet.
What really makes all of the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi's cornering capability a neat trick, though, is the midsize sedan's composure on the highway. Even with 18s, our Kizashi SLS never rides harshly. Road noise isn't a problem, either.
Engine's Just OK
We can't muster quite the same enthusiasm for the Kizashi's 2.4-liter engine, but it's perfectly adequate for everyday driving. Low and midrange torque take priority here, and the upshot is that it's easy to get going in low-speed traffic and take full advantage of passing zones on back roads.
What we don't love is the engine's demeanor at high rpm. Power begins to drop off before the 6,600-rpm redline, and the 2.4-liter is not the smoothest or the freest-revving engine in this class. Rather, it's just average, and this stands out because the rest of the drive is far above average.
As today's manual gearboxes go, though, the Kizashi's six-speed is pretty good. Clutch engagement is a bit vague, but the long-throw shifter moves through the gates with precision. Heel-and-toe downshifts come easily if you want them.
This combination is good for an 8.3-second 0-60-mph time (8.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) at our testing facility. The quarter-mile goes by in 16.0 seconds at 86.6 mph. For comparison, a current-generation Acura TSX with an inline-4 (201 hp, 172 lb-ft) and equipped with a six-speed manual runs the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 89.8 mph. Most other non-premium four-cylinder sedans are a second slower than the Kizashi, save for the 2.0T-equipped VWs and the Accord EX.
There's more in store for the Suzuki Kizashi in the engine department. We're not holding our breath on a turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter, but Suzuki is already a testing a V6 AWD version, which does, in fact, have the GM-sourced 3.6-liter V6 from the XL7 along with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Snug but Well-Trimmed Cabin
Cost considerations evidently didn't allow for serious sport seats in the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi, but the cabin is otherwise driver-friendly. The seating position is neither too high nor too low, and the three-spoke steering wheel offers both telescope adjustment and a comfortable grip.
Most controls are easy to find, and though the audio display in our pre-production Kizashi SLS isn't the most state-of-the-art, Suzuki is working to source an upgraded head unit for production models that will allow more characters to be displayed. Keyless start and a USB port are standard on all Kizashis, and GTS and SLS models get a Rockford Fosgate audio system and streaming Bluetooth capability.
Suzuki will offer an upgradeable Garmin navigation system for the Kizashi, but this time the screen is larger and built into the dash. The $1,300 price tag for navigation includes a back-up camera and real-time traffic updates.
The only thing that gives us pause is the somewhat snug rear-seat headroom and legroom, but that's merely a consequence of this being a world car. If you're way over 6 feet, don't get in the back of a Suzuki Kizashi.
Save Your Jokes
On the whole, it's pretty amazing how much Suzuki gets right with the Kizashi. This midsize sedan handles well, rides well and accelerates respectably. It's also attractive in an unconventional way and has all the features you'd expect in a mainstream car.
The only obstacles standing in the way of the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi's success are its funny name and Suzuki's scant dealership network in the U.S. (Actually the latter really isn't funny at all, as dealers are few and far between even in import-friendly Southern California.)
But for those willing to track down a 2010 Suzuki Kizashi, this is a chance to own a right-size sedan that drives like the TSX and Legacy once did. If the Kizashi can find some buyers, it could change the fortunes of a small-time Japanese player that until now hasn't had the right kind of four-wheeled product for America.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.