2010 Suzuki Kizashi

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Suzuki motorcycles have always offered technological innovation and emotional connection. Suzuki cars, on the other hand - not so much. The most famous four-wheel Suzuki was the Samurai, which was best known for its propensity to roll over. (Actually, it was a pretty cool little cute-ute.) And a few years ago, the company expanded its lineup by badge-engineering Daewoos, which was like putting lipstick on Korean pigs. But with the SX4, developed with Fiat, Suzuki gave American buyers something interesting to consider. And now the new Kizashi establishes Suzuki as a player in the mid-size family sedan segment.

When I first saw a pre-production Kizashi, I remember being struck by its handsome shape and stately presence, which seemed to repudiate Suzuki's reputation for otherness. And when I first drove it on the track, I was impressed by its well-behaved manners and willing performance. But spending a week with a Kizashi SE was a revelation. The big surprise was what I didn't find - anything weird, in the Suzuki tradition. In fact, I came away from experience convinced that the Kizashi ought to be part of the Camry/Accord conversation.

If the Kizashi sells in appreciable numbers, it will be partly because of price: You can get a stripper for less than $20,000, though most cars will go out the door for a few thousand dollars more than that, maxxing out around $25K. But the Kizashi doesn't feel like a cheap car. Despite all the hard plastic, the interior is a harmonious space, and the ride quality is what you'd expect from a more expensive car. The 180-horsepower four-banger won't win any drag races, but it's perfectly adequate. My biggest gripe is the CVT transmission, which seems boggy around town and makes a racket when pushed. (A six-speed manual is offered, but who's going to buy it?) I understand the rationale behind CVTs, but this seems to be yet another form of automotive technology that punishes people who take pride in their driving skills. Upmarket models are offered with all-wheel drive, which is an interesting touch.

Since its debut, the Kizashi has deservedly garnered a bunch of accolades from the automotive media. But for the car to succeed in the marketplace, Suzuki is going to need dealers as accomplished - and ambitious - as the new model they're selling. With any luck, the Kizashi will finally lay the ghosts of Aerios, Forenzas and Grand Vitaras to rest.

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