Throwing Down the Challenge
Steve Schaefer, Fri, 18 Feb 2011 03:04:55 PST
Suzuki, a giant Japanese corporation, has been around for more than a century. Known in this country until recently primarily for its motorcycles, the company has offered a variety of compact and all-wheel drive sedans and SUVs here for decades. But they've become the Rodney Dangerfield of Japanese brands-they don't get no respect!
Well, a little knowledge can change perceptions-you have to drive a Suzuki to understand that the company's flagship sedan-the Kizashi (Kee-zah-shee) is a fully capable and well decked out performance machine. Suzuki's goal is to offer a lower cost, higher efficiency alternative to an Audi A4, Mercedes C Class or BMW 3 Series-not to mention the upscale Japanese competition.
The Kizashi debuted as a 2010 model, and has boldly presented itself as a worthy combatant in the sport sedan wars ever since. In its sophomore year, it's available in four series, from the base S and more-contented SE up to the Sport GTS and Sport SLS.
Even the S gets things you don't expect in a "base" model, such as automatic dual-zone climate control with passenger rear vents, push button start, electronic stability control and eight airbags. The SE steps up with a standard CVT automatic transmission; 18-inch tires on alloy wheels; a 10-way power driver seat with three-position memory; cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift lever and parking brake lever.
The GTS and SLS models get "Sport" added to their names this year. The cars wear a bolder, muscular front with chrome accents and a lower grille that floats mere inches from the ground. Body side sill extensions and lower body side molding with chrome accents give a hunkered-down look. It actually does sit 10 mm lower. The resulting better aerodynamics improves efficiency and the lower center of gravity enhances handling. There's a spoiler on the trunk and custom lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels for looks.
Step up to the Sport GTS for upgraded alloy wheels, a moonroof, fog lights and a killer stereo: a 425 watt Rockford Fosgate3 audio system with 10-speakers, including a subwoofer and advanced digital sound processor and optional Bluetooth5 hands-free calling. The Sport SLS adds leather, heated seats (3 way); rain-sensing windshield wipers; rear parking sensors; exterior heated mirrors; an automatic rear-view mirror; automatic on/off headlamps and optional XM Satellite Radio ($350).
All Kizashis use a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 185 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque (180 hp with the CVT manual). The 3,241-pound car goes from 0 to 60 in a healthy 7.4 seconds with the standard six-speed manual. The manual's gearing is set for quickness off the line but also for low RPM cruising, for better fuel economy.
Suzuki's all-wheel-drive system, i-AWD, is driver-activated. Once it's on, it sends engine power to the rear wheels as needed and even aids in cornering. And, it works well with the electronic stability control system to keep you going where you've pointed the steering wheel.
The EPA gives the Kizashi ratings of 20 City, 29 Highway with a manual and 18-inch wheels. The 16-inch wheels on the lower level models deliver slightly higher numbers. I averaged 26.2 miles per gallon. EPA Green Vehicle Guide numbers are 5 for Air Pollution and 5 for Greenhouse Gas--exactly average. The Greenhouse Gas number rises to 6 with the CVT.
The interior is exceptionally well finished and equipped. My top level Sport SLS vehicle (in Platinum Silver Metallic - add $130), like all Sport models, had a special sport steering wheel with perforated leather grip and contrasting stitching in the shifter boot and parking brake boot.
The car is definitely fun to drive. The six-speed manual shifts easily. The dashboard cowl sits a little high-the car doesn't feel low slung like a sports roadster-but with plenty of sound insulation and apparently diligent assembly the car is a quiet place. The steering wheel offers substantial grip and provides redundant audio controls so you can keep your eyes on the road.
The car has all of today's safety equipment: eight airbags; electronic stability program; an anti-lock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution; and a tire pressure monitoring system. It already meets the 2012 higher-speed front crash standards and new, more stringent 2014 side barrier and side-pole crash standards.
The front-wheel-drive S with manual transmission starts just under $20,000, including shipping. The top of the line Sport SLS with the CVT and i-AWD comes in at $28,024. My Sport SLS with front-wheel drive and manual transmission was $25,304.