2010 Suzuki Kizashi SLSPosted on October 16th, 2009
Suzuki introduces its most luxurious sport sedan
By Nina Russin
Suzuki is the compact car king, having grown from a niche player to the eleventh largest automaker globally. High sales volumes in Japan and India have propelled Suzuki ahead of Mazda, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Value-packed offerings such as the SX4 and Grand Vitara kept Suzuki in the black last year. It is the only Japanese manufacturer that maintained profitability throughout the recent slump.
As successful as Suzuki has been within the compact segment, the automaker struggles with attracting upscale buyers. Five years ago Suzuki introduced the Italian-designed Forenza and Reno in an effort to open that door: a strategy that ultimately failed.
This year, Suzuki tries a different strategy, with its introduction of the mid-sized Kizashi sport sedan. Designed from a clean sheet of paper, the Kizashi rolls of Suzuki’s an all-new Sagara, Japan assembly plant.
Power comes from a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 185 horsepower, mated to a choice of six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmissions. True to its value-pricing strategy, the sub $20,000 base model comes with dual-zone climate controls, steering wheel audio controls, remote keyless entry and keyless start.
Market positioning is between the Mazda6 and Volkswagen Passat. Engineers hope to entice customers by imbuing the Kizashi with performance akin to European sport sedans. That’s a tall order to fill.
Equally daunting is luring customers away from core products such as the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Honda Accord. While these sedans may not have the sex appeal of more expensive European models, they are tried-and-true formulas known for their reliability and high resale values.
Four available grades
When it rolls into dealerships later this year, customers can choose from four Kizashi grades, beginning with the base S model and including the upscale SLS. All models comply with 2014 federal safety standards, thanks to eight airbags, standard four-channel antilock braking, traction and electronic stability control.
All but the S grade are available with a continuously variable automatic transmission in lieu of the six-speed manual. The volume-leading SE adds a ten-way power driver’s seat with three-position memory, larger tires, cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The sportier GTS comes with 18-inch wheels, in addition to the Rockford-Fosgate ten-speaker audio system. The GTS also adds Bluetooth interface, fog lights, and a power moonroof. The upscale SLS features standard leather upholstery, three-stage heated front seats, rain sensing windshield wipers and rear park sensors.
Lightweight, advanced all-wheel drive system
The Kizashi’s ace-in-the-hole is fuel economy. Even the all-wheel drive model averages 29 miles-per-gallon on the highway. Engineers achieved the superior gas mileage by minimizing curb weight, and making the all-wheel drive system as light and efficient as possible.
An electronic clutch pack gives the all-wheel drive system quicker response times than traditional systems. It uses sensor inputs from the wheels, throttle position, steering angle and yaw to determine changes in traction. A dedicated computer sends engine power to the wheels with the best grip. A switch on the instrument panel allows the driver to switch between all and front-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive extends the sedan’s gas mileage when traction demands are low.
The four-cylinder engine lacks the power of larger six-cylinder blocks, but the block’s small mass and variable valve timing make it fuel thrifty. Engineers reduced vehicle weight wherever possible, with an aluminum engine block, cylinder heads and pistons. Aluminum suspension components reduce unsprung weight for better steering response.
Test drive in Portland
At a recent media event, I test drove the SLS grade in urban and rural areas around Portland Oregon. Our route included city streets, highways, and two-lane twisting roads near Mount St. Helens.
It’s obvious at first glance that Suzuki has significantly improved fit and finish throughout its vehicles. The Kizashi’s body seams are even throughout the exterior. Engineers used high-strength steel around the passenger compartment to enhance safety without adding weight. Zinc plating under the vehicle and hot wax seals at the suspension attachment points prevent the sedan from rusting in wet climates.
Inside, the leather sport seats are attractive and comfortable with ample lower lumbar support. Rear passengers don’t have an abundance of legroom, but smaller adults should be comfortable in the two outboard seats.
Ambient footwell lighting and the backlit instrument panel give the interior an upscale look. Buttons on the center stack are intuitive and easy to reach from either front seating position. Power points at the base of the center stack recharge portable electronic devices. A USB port interfaces with iPods or MP3 players.
All passengers have ample access to cup and bottle holders: in all four doors and the center console. Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin. The power moonroof on the SLS adds a welcome dose of ambient light.
A standard rear pass-through folds the back seats flat in a 60/40 pattern. The driver can lock the seats to protect rear cargo when the car is parked. While sedans aren’t as suitable for carrying bicycles as cross-utility vehicles, the Kizashi can hold a road bike with the rear seats folded flat and the front bike wheel removed.
Redundant steering wheel controls include audio system volume, cruise control and the Bluetooth interface. Large gauges are easy to read. A digital information screen in the gauge cluster gives the driver real-time fuel economy data.
Visibility is quite good all the way around the car. A navigation system that becomes available after the initial roll-out will include a rearview camera.
Excellent steering response
Engineers combined a rigid body structure with a fully independent suspension to enhance handling and offer a compliant ride. I felt well in control of the car on switchbacks through the mountains around Portland.
Suzuki used Akebono to supply components for the four-wheel disc brakes. Akebono is known in Japan as a major supplier for the bullet train system.
Front-to-rear weight balance is 60/40 for the front-wheel drive car: about 58/42 on all-wheel drive models. The car seems quite well balanced on challenging roads. It doesn’t exhibit any overt tendency to understeer or push.
A balance shaft keeps the four-cylinder engine vibration free. The engine has ample horsepower for highway performance, and enough torque for good acceleration in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range.
The engine feels somewhat anemic when the driver needs lots of low end power to pass slower cars. Peak torque is 170 foot-pounds. The six-speed manual transmission makes better use of the available torque than the continuously variable automatic.
Braking is firm and linear without being grabby.
Engineers did an excellent job minimizing noise intrusion to the interior. Somebody on the team must have a love affair with loud exhaust notes. The Kizashi emits a convincing growl when the driver opens up the throttle. The sound would be more fitting with a bigger engine car. On the Kizashi, it seems a bit overkill.
Entering dealerships late 2009
Pricing for the Kizashi begins under $20,000 for the S grade. The upscale SLS model starts at $25,500. All-wheel drive, available on all grades adds about $1250.
The 2010 Suzuki Kizashi rolls into dealerships in December.
Likes: An attractive, well-built sport sedan priced under $20,000, with a high level of standard comfort, convenience and safety features.
Dislike: Engine lacks low end power during hard acceleration.
Base price: Under $20,000
As tested: $27,900
Horsepower: 185 Hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 170 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 22/29 mpg city/highway.
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