First Drive: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi

October 15, 2009
2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Typically, when a manufacturer brings competing models out on a drive event for a vehicle—especially one that involves track time, such as what TheCarConnection.com recently attended—it's a signal that they're serious to prove a point. Such is the case for Suzuki, who very soon will re-enter the mid-size sedan arena and roll out an all-new flagship sedan, the exotically named but quite normal-looking 2010 Kizashi.

Turns out, the most eye-opening part of the day involved a relatively simple exercise involving a slalom of cones and a very wet section of tarmac. Driving an all-wheel-drive 2010 Suzuki Kizashi back to back with a 2009 Audi A4 and 2010 Subaru Legacy, we were able to sample each car past its limits of adhesion, and sample how well its stability control worked. At a speed that sent the stability control chirping on the other two vehicles—with the cruise control on—we negotiated through the cones with just a little bit of slip, the tail out the slightest bit and tucking right back, but still very much in control. We know the exercise was carefully chosen by Suzuki, yet it proved the point to us: Suzuki has engineered a capable sport sedan with a chassis that can take on much more expensive vehicles.

As we've reported before, the Kizashi lands somewhere between mid-size and compact, with an overall length that's just a few inches longer than compacts like the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, and Volkswagen Jetta but a longer wheelbase of 106 inches that's more in line with mainstream mid-size sedans—and close to the Camry and Altima. But to give you an even better idea of its size, think Audi A4, Acura TL, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Suzuki actually benchmarked the Kizashi in Europe against vehicles in the near-luxury sport-sedan class, though it starts at less than $20,000 (a fully loaded Kizashi SLS will total about $24,000).

The first time we walked up to the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi, we couldn't help but notice that the Kizashi has a lot of details that are a bit borrowed. Yes, there are hints of other recent models in many of the Kizashi's details (ehem...VW perhaps), inside and out. But overall, the Kizashi's proportions just work—much better in person than in pictures, we should add. And yep, a little bit of Bangle Butt never hurt anyone; it sure works here.

The 185-horsepower (or 180 hp), 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's standard on all Kizashi models (a V-6 is on the way) provides spirited acceleration, though our choice between the two gearboxes is the manual. Out on the racetrack, we learned that there's no point in winding this engine all the way to its 6500-rpm redline, though; it's happy toward the middle of the rev band. The automatic CVT is a bit sluggish in its response to raise the revs, so there's a substantial lag from the time you ask for a quick squirt of power for passing until it's delivered. But paddle-shifters alongside the steering wheel allow access to six simulated ratios on all but base 'S' models, and pre-ordering one of those ratios allows better responsiveness. With the CVT, the Kizashi comes either with front-wheel drive or the new i-AWD system, which is configured for enhanced cornering and managed via the stability control system.

The 2010 Suzuki Kizashi has a firm yet very absorbent ride; on coarse surfaces, it soaks up irregularities, and even minor bumps don't boom into the cabin as in some other sporty sedans. The Kizashi handles very well overall, with nicely weighted steering that lends some feel of the road—though it tends to feel a bit lifeless on center. The brakes, which are larger than those in rival vehicles and incorporate Akebono calipers, have a firm, confidence-inspiring feel, and they didn't fade appreciably even with heavy use out on the racetrack.

As for the interior of the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi, we'll have more for you soon in a follow-up post, but in brief the Kizashi has a cabin that's comfortable enough for four full-sized adults; surprisingly pleasant, upscale materials; and well-bolstered sport seats on all trims, not just the top model. Controls for the audio and climate control have a positive, high-quality feel with a textured grip (with slightly angled buttons that remind us of Mercedes-Benz interiors), and wouldn't be out of place on a car costing twice as much. The only thing that interrupted the top-notch refinement: the engine can be sound a little coarse and boomy when pushed (though it's vibration-free), and in the pre-production test car we spent the most time in also had some pronounced wind noise around the passenger-side mirror above 70 mph.

Suzuki typically offers few if any options on its U.S. vehicles, instead including a strong list of standard features, and the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi takes that to a new level. Dual-zone climate control, push-button start, and steering-wheel audio controls are offered even on the base S, while top GTS and SLS trims get Rockford Fosgate audio, Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free calling, plus on the SLS there are some features worthy of a luxury model, including leather upholstery, heated front seats, rain-sensor wipers, rear parking sensors, and heated mirrors. Later in the model year, an in-dash nav system will be optional—though we've found the pop-up Garmin system in other Suzuki vehicles like the 2010 SX4 to be perfectly agreeable.

TheCarConnection.com just posted our Bottom Line assessment of the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi. Overall, we love the Kizashi's pleasing materials; quiet, well-isolated cabin, roomy interior and cargo space; maneuverability; and how it succeeds in providing a premium feel at a bargain price. The only downsides to the Kizashi include an engine that's a little gruff when worked hard, headroom that can become tight with the moonroof, and a manual transmission linkage that's not as precise as we'd expect in a sport sedan.

That said, we were quite impressed with this sedan that's competent in all areas and excellent in several respects. But how does Suzuki—a relative unknown—prove its point that this is a great, economical sport sedan and not get lost in the fray? Perhaps the odd model name will help them here, but only time will tell.

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