First Look: Suzuki EcoCharge Concept

As more and more attention is lavished on new all-electric vehicles, there are still plenty of manufacturers aiming to cut carbon emissions with hybrid versions of their existing cars. At the New York auto show, Suzuki will dip its toe into the world of hybrids with the EcoCharge concept, a hybrid version of the Kizashi sedan.

The transformation to gas-sipping hybrid begins with a new 2.0-liter inline-four engine, rated for 144 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque, ousting the standard Kizashi's 185-horsepower 2.4-liter engine. To compensate for the reduction in raw output -- and to help save at the pump -- the engine is supplemented by a 15-kilowatt electric motor. It's a combination motor/generator attached to the engine via an accessory belt. A 0.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery stores electricity during braking, and juices the electric motor to aid acceleration.

To further improve economy, the EcoCharge has engine stop-start functionality, low-rolling-resistance tires, and the engine computer cuts the fuel flow when the car is decelerating. Suzuki aims for a 25-percent improvement over the regular Kizashi's highway fuel economy. The thriftiest current model, the front-wheel-drive Kizashi S, returns 31 mpg highway, meaning the EcoCharge could be rated as high as 38 mpg.

The powertrain is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, a choice unavailable in the standard Kizashi. In spite of the eco-friendly modifications, Suzuki claims the EcoCharge retains the sporty handling and braking we've come to love in the standard Kizashi, while the electric motor's boost is said to offer "spirited" acceleration.

The EcoCharge stands apart from its non-hybrid forebear with blue-tinged white satin paint, lightweight aluminum wheels, unique headlights, and LED foglights. The seats are constructed from undisclosed "advanced" materials, but as Suzuki claims they require 84 percent less energy than traditional seating surfaces, we'd hazard a guess that they use some sort of recycled material.

There's no word on whether the EcoCharge will make it to production, but it seems like a solid bet given the rising popularity of hybrid cars. If the hybrid does indeed retain the base car's engaging dynamics, we'd welcome a handful more miles per gallon in a Kizashi. As to the car's potential competition, Buick recently introduced a similar belt-driven hybrid system called eAssist, which boosts a four-cylinder engine's fuel economy by 25 percent. eAssist launches this fall on the Buick Regal.

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