KIZASHI – THERE’S NO getting around it. Suzuki’s most ambitious automotive adventure yet has a name that sounds like it ought to be emblazoned across the fuel tank of a superbike. On-line dictionaries translate it roughly as omen – a good sign? Say it like you’re a disgruntled Samurai about to attack the Emperor’s palace in your best Japanese accent – Keeezasheee – and wild thoughts escape. But the Kizashi is no supercar-slayer with an injustice to avenge. Instead it’s merely a C/D-segment three-box, four-door sedan from a brand more synonymous with compact hatches and dinky SUVs. And with most sedans being white goods, you’d be tempted to think the most fun thing about it is its name. You’d be dead wrong.
Sure, the production car hasn’t turned out quite as muscle-bound as the 2008 Kizashi 3 concept car promised, but much of the essence remains. Imagine someone grafted the pert butt of BM’s 1 Series coupe onto an old Jetta 5 and then blew really hard up the exhaust pipe, exaggerating every curve, line and surface feature in the process. I only use an old Jetta here because Suzuki appears to have adopted an adapted version of VW’s now abandoned shield grille and headlight arrangement. In reality, the car’s proportions are very different with loads of unique bits too like the pronounced wheel arches, jutting lower airdam, decorative, concept-style exhaust caps and black, diamond-mesh grille. It also looks wider, more squat and pleasingly shorter than its 4.65m length suggests. During the two-week test, our snow white pearl example copped quite a few stares. Not bad for a family sedan.
The dashboard layout has been rendered in a design language that will be familiar to most current Suzuki owners, albeit in a more executive dialect. All plastics employed are of the unflinching variety but the padded armrests, tight shut lines and excellent build integrity make up for it. Not the most inspiring of interior designs, but it is quite pleasant in here; the centre console’s matt black section – flanked by satin aluminium ‘wings’ – has buttons and rotary knobs backlit in red and the main instruments have a semi-premium wristwatch feel. The only jarring aspect is the coarse grain of the main dash. Seriously, it’s like studying rhino skin through a magnifying glass.
Despite 10-way motorised adjustment, it took a while to feel really comfortable in the driver’s seat. By day two though, the seating position and I had gelled, allowing time to appreciate the thick-rimmed, leather-trimmed steering wheel. The oval-shaped tiller is narrower than it is tall which makes it feel psychologically smaller and sportier, without obstructing the instruments. Clever. I did keep missing the handbrake lever, which is positioned more ideally for the LHD American market.
Two point seven metres between axles is a fairly common wheelbase stat for a car in this class. In the Kizashi it translates to a comfortably-sized cabin and a smaller-than-Passat (565-litres), but still large, usefully-shaped, 461 litre boot. A 60:40 split folding rear backrest also boosts practicality.
Suzuki’s welcome Kizashi policy of everything standard no options, includes leather, cruise control, dual-zone aircon, sunroof, keyless start, auto on HID projector headlamps with washer, rain-sensing wipers, electrically adjustable front seats (with 3-position memory for the driver) and parking sensors at both ends.
Six airbags, Isofix anchors, full-size alloy spare. ABS, EBD and an Electronic Stability Programme form part of the comprehensive safety package.
Powering the Kizashi is a subtly reworked version of the unit found in the Grand Vitara; changes to the ECU release nine additional kilowatts. Essentially the same engine, it feels more lively, less workmanlike in this application, but also less frenzied thanks to the extra cog in the gearbox. The naturally aspirated 2.4-litre has twin balance shafts and features variable intake valve timing. It’s not afraid of revs, emitting an eager exhaust note nearly all the way through its range and encouraging you to get on with driving. Better than merely honest, but no modern powertrain marvel either, maximum power (131kW) is produced at 6500rpm with maximum torque of 230Nm available at 4000rpm. Our acceleration runs produced an average 0-100kph time of 8.5 seconds. Scrubbing that speed off again is a much quicker exercise, taking just 2.71 seconds over an impressively short 39 metres.
Also impressive is the absence of noise at idle, with the cabin seemingly very well insulated from engine bay and exhaust noise. The engine ticks over almost imperceptibly just north of 650rpm. It’s clear Suzuki’s NVH team earned their wages with only the A-pillar/side mirror combo saying hello at freeway speeds. Engineering polish can be found everywhere, with a well-measured heft to the various mechanical aspects from pedal action to steering feel to gear changes. Now I’m not talking über-luxury levels of refinement, but Suzuki’s effort is surprisingly effective and agonisingly close to the segment’s best.
They’ve worked a fine result in the ride and handling department too. Our team loved the way the suspension sumptuously soaked up the abrupt elevation changes that our new parking garage throws up and yet its cornering attitude is remarkable with just the right amount of lean. The combination of very stiff bodyshell and compliant suspension is almost perfect, like a comfortable French car minus the queasiness. On track, the Kizashi feels properly sorted and delivered a mostly neutral handling display, tending at times towards smile-inducing oversteer. It’s all down to front end grip and beautifully judged steering.
I reckon it could be geared quicker off the straight ahead, but the big Suzi possesses laser-like stability at speed and the accuracy with which it tracks around corners is superb for a car of this sort. Its linear response allows confident placement in the bends, while the predictable handling means you extract more enjoyment from them. Put another way, expected output matches input and there are loads of brand new cars you can’t say that about.
After running a long-term Grand Vitara, I was convinced I’d encounter a solid, safe, acceptably boring family sedan. Perhaps I should have known better. Both its Japanese compatriots in Honda’s Accord and Mazda’s 6 offer a spirited drive. The Suzuki is arguably even more fun, with its accomplished ride, free-spinning engine, sweet manual gearbox and ‘where did that come from’ cornering attitude. Like being dragged along to an art movie that starts with a mushy love scene and ends with an epic no-holds-barred battle, the Kizashi leaves you unexpectedly entertained.
It loses out to VW’s Passat on material quality and doesn’t have quite as many toys as the auto-only Sonata, but if you’re sedan man who needs to ‘connect’ with his steed then the Kizashi is worth serious consideration. Assuming of course that you’re not phased by Suzuki’s complete lack of pedigree in this segment. We’re certainly not.