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  • 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS

    Styling and suspension upgrades add sizzle to Suzuki’s mid-sized sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport

    The Kizashi sedan is Suzuki’s lynchpin in a strategy to expand its repertoire beyond the small cars the company is best known for, and open the door for higher sales volumes in North America. Last September the automaker added a sport package, including an aero kit, special 18-inch wheels, tires and suspension.

    The Sport SLS grade includes some upscale interior features as well, such as leather upholstery, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers and a power sunroof.

    Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 185 horsepower and a six-speed manual gearbox.

    Base price is $24,699, including the delivery fee. The test car is equipped with satellite radio, special paint and premium floor mats, bringing the MSRP to $25,304. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport

    Midsize sedan gets a retuned suspension and appearance enhancements

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport

    2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport

    Last year, Suzuki rolled out the Kizashi: its first foray into the midsize sedan segment. While the Kizashi is a large car compared to the compact SX4, the sedan‘s agile platform reflects its creators’ years of experience producing motorcycles. For 2011, Suzuki adds a Sport variant, consisting of lighter wheels, a lowered chassis with retuned suspension, body and  interior enhancements.

    The Sport grade begins under $23,000 for the GTS model with a six-speed manual transmission. The upscale SLS with the manual gearbox starts under $25,000. Both models come standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 185 horsepower.

    Buyers can upgrade to a continuously variable automatic transmission for $1100 more, and add all-wheel drive for enhanced four-season performance ($1350). The all-wheel drive system automatically transfers up to fifty percent of engine power to the rear wheels as driving conditions dictate. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Suzuki Kizashi SE AWD

    Suzuki packs a punch with value and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi

    The Kizashi is Suzuki’s newest flagship: a midsize sedan that the automaker hopes will extend its global reach. Because midsize sedans outsell all other passenger cars, the segment holds allure for companies trying to build volume. But entering it means swimming in shark-infested waters: full of heavy hitters such as the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Acura TSX.

    While Suzuki can’t match the panache of some European luxury brands, it does offer a significant value to customers who seek style and performance on a budget. A base price of $22,749 for the all-wheel drive test car includes such upscale features as keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate controls, three-position driver’s seat memory, and an iPod compatible audio system.

    All models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 185 horsepower, and the choice of either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The front-wheel drive manual model accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 7.4 seconds.

    This week, I had the opportunity to drive the SE: one of four available grades. The continuously-variable automatic transmission has a manual gear select mode, allowing the driver to make the most of the engine’s available power.

    Because the Kizashi comes with a large roster of comfort and convenience features, floor mats and premium paint are the only options on the test car. Suzuki includes the delivery charge in the base price: MSRP is $23,004. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Suzuki Kizashi SE

    Midsized sport sedan moves Suzuki into the mainstream

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi

    The midsized Kizashi is the keystone of a product offensive that Suzuki hopes will make it a major player in North America. While Suzuki is well known in the US for its motorcycles, marine products and ATVs, automotive sales lag behind Asian competitors such as Toyota and Honda.

    Midsize sedans are the biggest segment of the passenger car market. Suzuki’s strategy is to build on its reputation for value pricing, adding performance rivaling European competitors..

    All four Kizashi grades come with a 2.4-liter, 180-horsepower engine and choice of a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available on all but the base model. Standard safety features include four-wheel disc brakes with four channel antilock braking, electronic stability program and traction control.

    The test car is the front-wheel drive SE, with keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, a ten-way power driver’s seat, and a seven-speaker audio system with MP3 and iPod compatibility. Base price is $21,499 including destination and handling. Floor mats and special paint bring the MSRP to $21,754. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara Limited

    Value-packed compact sport-utility vehicle

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara

    2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara

    Despite being one of the older models in its vehicle line-up, the Grand Vitara remains one of Suzuki’s best products. The compact sport-utility with true off-road capability embodies the automaker’s core values: fun, adventure and affordability.

    While Suzuki’s footprint in the US car market is relatively small, the company has accrued legions of fans for its motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and marine products. Suzuki customers take their playtime seriously; the Grand Vitara was designed to meet their automotive needs.

    It also fits their budgets. The limited grade is the most upscale of four available trim levels. Yet base price for the four-wheel drive model is just under $27,000.

    Standard comfort and convenience features include navigation with real-time traffic, news and weather updates, heated leather seats, automatic air conditioning, a MP3 compatible audio system, cruise control and a tilt steering wheel. The Grand Vitara’s high content level saves buyers the hassle of wading through myriad option packages at the dealership.

    There is no destination charge, further simplifying the buying progress. Suzuki’s seven year/100,000 mile warranty is a bargain as well, and is fully transferable. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Suzuki Kizashi SLS

    Suzuki introduces its most luxurious sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi

    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. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Suzuki Concepts Boost SX4′s Power

    Zuk and SXForce to debut at the New York International Auto Show

    Suzuki SX4 Crossover

    Suzuki SX4 Crossover

    This week, Suzuki ups the ante on its economical SX4 Crossover and Sport with concepts that promise to deliver on the track. Zuk and SXForce, debuting at this week’s New York Auto Show, have turbocharged engines that add a dose of fun to the driving experience.

    Both the SX4 Crossover and Sport fit within our ALV super-value category, with pricing that starts at $16,000 or less. Suzuki has led the way in creating affordable products with features active buyers look for, including standard all-wheel drive and navigation.

    While the naturally-aspirated engines have enough power for the average driver’s needs, the cars aren’t exactly barn burners. Turbocharging, which uses exhaust-driven turbines to push more air through the engine, gives the crossover and sedan concept 300 and 250 horsepower respectively. That’s club racing material.

    Road Race Motorsports produced the turbo kit for both concept cars. Zuk, the five-door concept, has 19-inch alloy wheels, with grounds effects, mirrors and exhausts inspired by Suzuki’s Hayabusa and GSX-R sportbikes.

    The SXForce sedan sports white pearl and orange metallic paint, with sportbike-inspired mirrors and dual exhausts. Suzuki won’t release photos until after the unveiling, but this writer expects a buzz around the podium.

  • 2009 Suzuki Equator Crew Cab Sport

    Big truck; bigger value

    By Nina Russin

    2009 Suzuki Equator Crew Cab

    2009 Suzuki Equator Crew Cab

    The name, Equator, conjures up images of a truck much bigger than the actual product. Suzuki’s midsized truck shares underpinnings with the Nissan Frontier. While Nissan uses the Frontier to offer certain Titan features on a downsized platform, the Equator is the first vehicle to bring big truck capability into Suzuki‘s showrooms.

    Because Suzuki has such a loyal base of motorcycle, ATV and marine customers in the United States, it makes sense to sell a light duty truck capable of hauling these vehicles around. That’s where the Equator comes in.
    Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2009 Suzuki SX4 Sport

    Suzuki adds standard navigation to its best-selling compact sedan.

    By Nina Russin

    2009 Suzuki SX4 Sport

    2009 Suzuki SX4 Sport

    Suzuki exemplifies everything good about being small: as a niche automaker, it competes successfully against much bigger companies. A strong brand character, consistent throughout the model lineup, appeals to value-conscious customers looking for versatile, fun-to-drive vehicles.

    The SX4 Sedan, Sport, and Crossover are three rather different cars that share the same compact platform. The entry-level Sedan competes against products in the sub-fourteen thousand dollar range with a high level of standard safety, comfort and convenience features, and a seven year/100,000-mile fully transferable warranty.

    The five-door Crossover adds additional cargo versatility, available all-wheel drive, and a standard navigation system for customers who carry large items such as bicycles, skis and snowboards, and who require some all-terrain, all-weather capability.

    The Sport shares the Sedan’s four-door configuration, but with bigger wheels and tires, four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking, a sport suspension, and standard navigation system. With a base price under sixteen-thousand dollars, it’s a steal.

    Collaboration with Garmin

    The SX4’s standard navigation system is the product of a collaboration between Suzuki and Garmin. A small, pop-up screen at the top of the center stack displays maps and points of interest. The 4.3-inch touchscreen display is integrated into the car’s audio system, so directions are broadcast through the SX4’s speakers.

    The map is a little small and harder to read than larger displays on pricier systems. But it’s unique for any automaker to offer standard navigation in less than a luxury car. Since it’s integrated into the audio system, the driver has verbal commands as a backup: a distinct advantage over aftermarket products.

    Buyers can upgrade the system to add Microsoft network functions including real-time traffic, stock quotes, local event listings and a gas station finder. The upgrade also adds Bluetooth hands-free phone technology, on-screen and audible text messaging.

    Sporty, not thirsty engine

    Suzuki’s two-liter, 143-horsepower engine gives the SX4 Sport performance comparable to its motorcycles. The high-revving, high-compression engine has excellent low end power, especially in the critical twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range.

    At the same time, the SX4 has no problem passing other vehicles on the highway, or making the occasional evasive maneuver at speed. Seventeen-inch wheels give the sedan a big stable footprint for a positive on-center feel.

    The engine incorporates a lot of components normally reserved for bigger, higher-performance blocks: chain-driven camshafts and a forged steel crankshaft among them. It isn’t important to know how these components work; simply understand that they add durability, and reduce expensive maintenance procedures after fifty thousand miles.

    The block and pistons are aluminum to minimize weight. Despite its 10.5:1 compression ratio, the engine runs fine on 87-octane gas.

    A five-speed manual transmission on the test car has a light clutch with wide enough gear range to make it practical for city driving. Though I appreciate the drawbacks of a manual-transmission in urban traffic, the gearbox adds a lot of character to the peppy SX4 Sport. I’d recommend it.

    Power rack-and-pinion steering has enough assist at low speeds, without too much play on the highway. The chassis feels balanced going through cloverleaf turns at speed. Making quick lane changes at speed is a non-issue.

    Standard four-wheel disc brakes stop the car quickly on wet or snow-covered roads. Discs are easier to service than drums, especially for those living in northern climates. Having used a sledge hammer to whack rust ridges off old drum brakes, I can vouch for the fact that replacing drum shoes is not a fun way to spend the weekend.

    Ergonomic interior

    Except for lacking a center console bin, the SX4 has an almost perfect interior. Adults will be surprised by the amount of head, leg and hip room in the out-board second-row seating positions.

    The manual seats are easy to adjust with adequate lower lumbar support. Audio and climate control knobs on the center stack are intuitive, and easy to reach from either front seating position. A twelve-volt power point on the base of the center stack allows passengers to recharge electronic devices on the go. Two shelves below the climate controls hold compact discs or other small items.

    A technology package on the test car adds redundant audio and Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel, fog lamps and cruise control. The technology package also upgrades the standard sixteen-inch wheels to seventeen-inch rims and adds an aero body kit.

    Side mirrors do a good job of eliminating blind spots to the side and rear of the car. The SX4 has a strange A-pillar configuration: the pillars extend to the front of the car: triangular glass pieces fill the gap between the pillars and side windows.

    The arrangement doesn’t make much sense to me except as a money-saving measure. The pillars are annoying because they interrupt the driver’s forward vision, but they don’t create any blind spots.

    All four doors have bottle holders that will hold small water bottles. Two cupholders up front and one in the rear are also large enough for water bottles. Though the test car doesn’t have a sunroof, there’s enough ambient light in back to keep second-row passengers happy.

    Spacious trunk

    A spacious trunk with a pass-through can easily hold groceries and luggage. With the rear seatbacks folded flat it’s possible to shoe a bike frame in back. But passengers who want to carry their bicycles on a regular basis would be much better served by the five-door crossover.

    Standard safety

    All models come standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, electronic stability program, traction control, antilock brakes, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

    MSRP on the test car is $16,539, not including a $695 destination charge. The peppy SX4 Sport is ready to test drives at Suzuki dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: An affordable, fun-to-drive compact sedan with standard navigation and electronic stability program. A seven-year, fully-transferable warranty helps the SX4 to maintain its value.

    Dislikes: Odd A-pillar design disrupts the driver’s forward vision. A center console bin would add valuable storage space.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Suzuki
    Model: SX4 Sport
    Year: 2009
    Base price: $15,739
    Price as tested: $17,234
    Horsepower: 143Hp @ 5800 rpm
    Torque: 136 lbs.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Comments: Price as tested includes the $695 destination charge.

  • 2008 Suzuki SX4 Crossover

    Suzuki’s all-wheel drive hatchback packs a lot of content in a subcompact package.
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Suzuki SX4 Crossover

    2008 Suzuki SX4 Crossover

    Last Fall, I was pleasantly surprised by the sporty performance of the Suzuki SX4 sedan. This week, I got behind the wheel of its five-door sibling, the SX4 Crossover. Standard all-wheel drive gives the crossover off-road capability, and an added measure of protection in wet weather.

    On the down side, all-wheel drive adds weight to the hatchback: gas mileage is slightly worse than for the Sport. It also impacts ride and handling. Sixteen-inch wheels on the Touring grade improve the Crossover’s cornering, but it lacks the SX4 Sport’s high-speed finesse.

    Having said that, drivers who need more cargo space than the SX4 sedan offers should consider the Crossover. For just under $17,000 Suzuki includes standard features rarely found in this price range: keyless entry and start, a XM ready, MP3 compatible sound system, four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS, and standard electronic stability program.

    Peppy, fuel efficient engine

    Power for the SX4 comes from an inline four-cylinder engine. Both the block and cylinder heads are aluminum, minimizing engine weight. The engine reaches peak torque at 3500 rpm, so the driver can effectively use its power when accelerating into high-speed traffic.

    Having seen many four-cylinder engines fall victim to broken timing belts, I love the fact that this one comes with a timing chain. It may be a little noisier, but it won’t leave the driver stuck on the side of the road with a string of bent valves.

    The five-speed manual transmission is easy to shift. The clutch pedal is light enough to work in stop-and-go traffic, and the gears have enough range so the driver doesn’t have to shift constantly. A four-speed automatic transmission is available for drivers who don’t want the inconvenience of shifting.

    Four-wheel disc brakes are firm and linear. Many compact cars in this price segment have rear drums, which don’t stop as well and are harder to service. The rear discs and standard antilock braking add value to Suzuki’s package.

    Standard electronic stability program on the Touring grade uses the engine and brakes to prevent excessive yaw, and keep the wheels from spinning on wet surfaces. A shut-off switch on the center console gives the driver some extra control off-road, or when driving the car for sport.

    Speed sensitive power steering adds more steering assist at lower speeds to make parking easier. Reduced assist at highway speeds gives the driver better control when making emergency evasive maneuvers.

    While the Crossover is slightly less maneuverable than the SX4 Sport, it is easily capable of quick lane changes. Sixteen-inch wheels on the test car are an upgrade from fifteen-inch rims on the base model: they enhance the car’s footprint, improving stability on and off-road.

    A toggle switch on the center console allows the driver to switch between front and all-wheel drive. On dry, paved roads, front-wheel drive optimizes the car’s fuel economy. An automatic setting engages the all-wheel drive, sending up to fifty percent of the engine torque to the rear axle when wheel slippage occurs. A lock mode for off-road driving maintains more power at the back wheels.

    The SX4 Crossover has just under seven inches of ground clearance: ample for unimproved roads, and some off-road trails. The car’s short wheelbase gives it the ability to navigate through narrow turns.

    Visibility around the car is good, with the exception of an annoying front pillar design. I’m not quite sure why designers put the A pillars so far forward. They are especially noticeable when cornering to the left.

    Versatile interior

    Inside, the SX4 Crossover has most of the features active buyers want, including a few they might not expect. Keyless ignition allows the driver to open and close the doors by depressing a button on the door handles, as long as the remote fob is in his pocket. The car has a traditional ignition switch rather than a start button, but it will start the car without the use of a key.

    The standard cloth upholstery is attractive and more practical than leather for those who like to get dirty on the weekends. All four doors have map pockets and bottle holders. There are two additional cupholders in the floor console and one behind the center console: all big enough for water bottles.

    Though there isn’t a center console bin, front passengers should find adequate storage space in the oversized glovebox, and two open shelves at the base of the center stack. A twelve-volt power point on the center stack can recharge electronic devices.

    The Touring grade comes with an AM/FM and XM-ready radio, and CD player. The nine-speaker sound system is MP3 compatible. Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel allow the driver to change programming with a minimum of distraction.

    Though Suzuki calls the SX4 a five-passenger car, few adults will want to sit in the center rear position, since the transmission tunnel limits legroom. Legroom in the outboard positions is adequate for smaller adults. Head and shoulder room are not a problem.

    The 60/40 split second-row seats tumble forward to extend the cargo floor. It’s an easy two-step operation: levers on the seatbacks fold them flat, while straps in back of the seat cushions releases them. The SX4 Crossover meets our bicycle-friendly standards. Standard roof rails are useful for carrying additional cargo.

    New front-wheel drive model with standard navigation rolls out this summer.

    Suzuki is introducing a front-wheel drive version of the SX4 Crossover for the 2009 model year: the new models roll into dealerships this summer. Having not driven that car, I can’t say whether its performance will come closer to the SX4 Sport. But it will certainly do better at the gas pump.

    Suzuki is spicing up the front-wheel drive package with a standard navigation system. In addition to the car being a steal at $16,000, an option package adds Bluetooth capability and Microsoft software, including real-time traffic, weather, local event listings and a gas station finder. Buyers who don’t need the all-weather or all-terrain capability of all-wheel drive should wait a few months till the ’09 SX4 Crossovers come out.

    All Suzuki models come with a seven-year, 100,000 mile fully transferable warranty. Suzuki builds the SX4 Crossover at its assembly plant in Konsai, Japan.

    Likes: An affordable car with standard features rarely found in this price range, including all-wheel drive, four-channel antilock brakes, and electronic stability program. The hatchback’s rear seats are easy to fold out of the way: it easily meets our ALV bicycle friendly standards.

    Dislike: A pillars obstruct the driver’s forward vision.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Suzuki
    Model: SX4 Crossover Touring AWD
    Year: 2008
    Base price: $16,870
    As tested: $16,870
    Horsepower: 143 Hp @ 5800 rpm
    Torque: 136 @ 3500 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Off-road: Yes
    Towing: No
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Fuel economy: 21/28 mpg city/highway
    Comments: Suzuki is offering buyers three months of free gasoline with the purchase of any 2007 or 2008 model through June 30. Customers purchasing the SX4 Crossover receive a pre-paid card covering gasoline expenses up to $355.