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.

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I live in a large American city with over 300k residents, yet too bad there isn't a single Suzuki Auto dealership within 100 miles.

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