New Car Reviews

Driven: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Suzuki wants to reinvent its image in the United States. Actually, let me rephrase that: Suzuki wants to invent its image in the United States. If cars were movies, the Reno and the Forenza would’ve been as straight-to-video as the Olsen twins’ How the West was Fun. The SX4, though, is a spunky little bundle of value, and now we have the Kizashi, Suzuki’s most serious attempt yet to muscle into the automotive mainstream.

The Kizashi (pronounced the way Snoop Dogg would ask for some healthy breakfast cereal, as in, “Yo, pass me that box of Kiz-ashi”) is a deceptively large four-door aimed at the sporty fringes of the mid-size-sedan market. The Kizashi isn’t meant to take on the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord – in fact, Suzuki’s press materials explicitly disparage the “soulless transportation appliances” that rule the segment. Fortunately, the Kizashi has enough personality to distinguish itself from the mainstream, as well as from Suzuki’s own recent past.

To our eyes, the Kizashi looks much smaller than a Volkswagen Jetta, but in fact, it’s nearly four inches longer. The stubby trunk fools you into thinking that the Suzuki is compact, but a six-foot-tall passenger can sit in the back seat behind a six-foot-tall driver without feeling like a conscripted member of the U.S. bobsled team. It’s a useful size, big enough to fit four adults but small enough to feel wieldy – and still ten inches shorter than the leviathan Mazda 6.

For now, the sole engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 185 hp when mated with the six-speed manual transmission or 180 hp with the CVT automatic. The engine is utterly smooth and rev-happy, as you’d expect from a company famous for its screaming motorcycle powerplants. Balance shafts help quell the bad vibes than can emanate from big four-cylinders, and an aluminum block and head keep weight down. The crankshaft and the connecting rods are forged, which is probably a good idea for a company that provides a 100,000-mile
powertrain warranty. With the manual transmission, the front-wheel-drive Kizashi does 0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, says Suzuki, and manages about 30 mpg on the highway. All-wheel drive is an option.

Care to know more about the Kizashi’s performance? Suzuki picks some very specific performance metrics to assert the car’s superiority. For instance, the Kizashi is quicker than the four-cylinder versions of the Acura TSX and the Mazda 6 in the vaunted eighth-mile drag race. It also has higher lateral grip when turning left on dry pavement (0.98 g, according to Suzuki). So if you were going to race for an eighth of a mile and then turn left, the Kizashi is the clear winner. But what if you’re accelerating to 43 mph, braking to 20 mph, and rolling down the windows while turning right? Suzuki isn’t telling.

Per modern regulations for any vehicle sportier than a shopping cart, the Kizashi’s suspension was tuned at the Nürburgring. The chassis is good fun on a road course, demonstrating a little bit of lift-throttle tail-happiness to tuck the front end into a corner. Suzuki points out that the brake system uses components from Akebono, the company that makes the brakes for the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan. And if a bullet train found its way onto GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, where we drove the Kizashi, it, too, would probably experience brake fade. But repeated threshold braking from 90 mph – as experienced during a lap of GingerMan – is probably not a pastime that many Kizashi owners will pursue.

Suzuki makes the rare acknowledgement that the Kizashi’s competitive set includes used cars (like off-lease BMWs and Audis), and its interior is designed to satisfy people who might be cross-shopping used luxury rides. The SLS model is trimmed in leather and has heated front seats and a Rockford Fosgate sound system. If you’re not familiar with Rock- ford, it’s like Bose for people who drink wine out of a box. We don’t know about the soundstage or slope of the crossovers, but the Kizashi’s system doesn’t distort until it’s turned up loud enough to shake the rear fascia off the car.

There’s nothing earth-shattering about the Kizashi’s specifications. But you get the impression that Suzuki put a lot of work into getting this car right and paying attention to the details. Notice, for example, the extruded-aluminum lower control arms in the rear suspension. Those are pretty nice pieces for a family sedan. We appreciate it when a mainstream car exhibits evidence that the people who built it care enough about driving to do certain things the hard way (which is to say, the expensive way).

The overall result is a vehicle that doesn’t rewrite the rules of mid-size sedans but makes a case for itself against any of the cars that are out there. We see a strong parallel with Suzuki’s outboard-motor business. A decade ago, Suzuki was an outlier there, too, but it has since revamped its entire lineup, drastically improved public perception, and expanded its OEM availability to 170 different boats. The company changed the question from, “Why would you buy a Suzuki?” to “Why wouldn’t you buy a Suzuki?”

In the case of its cars, and specifically the Kizashi, the answer there would probably be, “Because I bought a Subaru.” The Kizashi’s angle – engaging performance, reasonable price, sharp interior, all-wheel drive – is shared by the Legacy. Pricing is pretty close. The volume-model Kizashi SE is $22,234, but the decked-out SLS with navigation (which includes leather and the Rockford stereo) costs $27,484. That’s for a front-wheel-drive four-cylinder model. Meanwhile, a Subaru Legacy 3.6R Premium – minus leather and a big stereo but with all-wheel drive and a 256-hp boxer six-cylinder – goes for $26,690. And the Legacy definitely can’t be painted with the “soulless transportation appliance” brush. Granted, Suzuki provides a longer powertrain warranty (seven years or 100,000 miles to the Subaru’s five-year/60,000-mile plan), but the Subaru is right on top of it in most important ways.

But whether the Kizashi is better than a Legacy is beside the point. The major revelation is that Suzuki now builds a car that’s worthy of that discussion, a car that seriously makes a case for itself in an arena packed with established competitors. Farewell, Forenza, and pass the Kizashi.

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

base price $19,734

engine 16-valve DOHC I-4
displacement 2.4 liters (146 cu in)
horsepower 185 hp @ 6500 rpm
torque 170 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
transmission type 6-speed manual
drive Front-wheel

steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
suspension, front Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, Rear Multilink, coil springs
brakes f/r Vented discs/discs, ABS
tires Dunlop SP Sport
tire size 215/60VR-16

L x W x H 183.1 x 71.7 x 58.3 in
wheelbase 106.3 in
track f/r 61.6/61.6 in
weight 3241 lb
FUEL mileage 21/31 mpg (est.)

Design Analysis
By Robert Cumberford

If ever there were a “nice little car,” this is it. Except it’s not a little car at all, falling more into the Honda Civic category with its identical 106-inch wheelbase. The Kizashi is almost six inches longer but hides that with its rounded forms. The domed hood, optimized for pedestrian safety, is flanked by quite complex headlamp units, and apart from a cheap-looking plastic grille, the Kizashi looks like an expensive midrange European car. It’s not particularly beautiful or distinctive, but it presents itself well, looks substantial, and promises new gains for Suzuki in the United States. It doesn’t hurt that it’s very nice to drive and comfortable to be in.

  1. These are the best wheels Suzuki has ever offered, and they’re far superior in concept and detailing to those on many luxury cars.
  2. The perpetual rising line keeps showing up on more and more cars. Perhaps someone will try a line parallel to the ground again one day soon.
  3. These gigantic sideview mirrors are one of the deceptive cues that make you think this is a smaller car than it really is. Best get used to it – they are legally mandated in many jurisdictions.
  4. As on most modern cars, the A-pillar is far too thick for excellent visibility, but at least it is nicely straight.
  5. Cutting the door opening into the A-pillar gives a pillarless look to the side glass, despite its being completely framed.
  6. Bereft of any stiffening ribs save at the outer edges, the domed hood provides a relatively soft landing for any struck pedestrian.
  7. The plastic grille texture is unfortunate, but by keeping it black and unobtrusive, Suzuki’s designers have given a quality aspect to the front end.
  8. These outboard inlets add visual width, attract the eye downward, and make for a successful composition for the front end.
  9. The basket-shape grille outline recalls the shield front end of recent Audis and subtly conveys an impression of quality.