DANVILLE, Ark. -- For today's fun ride we snag a Kizashi and send it flying down Ark. 7, a way-curvy highway running over granite-crusted rumples of the Ouachita Mountains in western Arkansas.
This unusual moniker (say: "key-ZAH-she") in the language of Japan means something great is coming. When applied to a vehicle, it becomes the next big idea coming from Suzuki of Japan.
Shapely Kizashi the car, conformed as a rather tall and broad four-door notchback sedan for the mid-size segment with front-wheel-drive (FWD) or push-button all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction, supports a five-seat passenger compartment loaded with features of convenience and luxury.
The 2010 Kizashi stocks a juicy four-in-line engine with linkage to either a six-speed manual (6MT) or automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with an infinite number of gears.
And each of four trim versions of Kizashi employs a push-button keyless ignition system.
Kizashi rolls on 215/55R17 or 235/45R18 radials with 17-inch or 18-inch alloy wheels and rides on a chassis of exceptional rigidity with a broad track and extended wheelbase for stability.
It carries mechanical hardware which promotes sporty handling traits, such as a suspension system that's independent at each wheel -- MacPherson struts in front and the rear multi-link.
Steering uses a rack and pinion device controlled by electronic power assistance and brakes consist of ventilated discs up front and solid discs in back.
A carload of safety equipment is standard on every Kizashi -- anti-lock brake system (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), traction control system (TCS) and electronic stability control (ESC) plus eight air bags including side-impact and side-curtain shields for outboard seats front and rear.
And the bodywork, with a keenly canted windshield and convoluted sheetmetal surfaces worked into an artful montage of slinky shadows and streaked highlights, reflects a sensuous and shapely elegance of automotive design.
Despite the premium assets and sophisticated hardware, Suzuki's 2010 Kizashi lands in the North American marketplace with price points which tilt to the bottom of the class among four-door mid-size imports.
Suzuki sets the MSRP for a base Kizashi S FWD edition with manual shifter at only $18,999 as Kizashi's lowest mark. With the CVT specified, Kizashi S FWD comes to $20,499, or pick the asphalt-clawing AWD version for $21,749.
Kizashi SE as the projected volume model adds the automatic CVT, alloy wheels and power controls for the driver's seat. It lists for $21,499 (FWD) or $22,749 (AWD).
Kizashi GTS scores lots of premium equipment with the six-speed manual transmission or a performance-geared CVT with paddle shifters posted on the steering wheel. The GTS goes for $22,499 (6MT/FWD), $23,599 (CVT/FWD) or $24,849 (CVT/AWD).
Kizashi SLS packs luxury goods including soft leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic rain sensing wipers and automatic headlamps. These top-tier Suzuki models bear price tags of $24,399 (6MT/FWD), $25,499 (CVT/FWD) or $26,749 (CVT/AWD).
Then Suzuki supports all Kizashi models with a substantial warranty which extends well beyond protection for other vehicles. The powertrain is insured for seven years or 100,000 miles and the warranty is transferable to succeeding owners and free of deductible limits for covered items. Also included is a three-year roadside assistance program which covers tire changes, out-of-fuel and lockout service, even towing to a Suzuki dealer.
Once regarded as the builder of itsy-bitsy economy cars fitted with tepid powerplants, Suzuki in recent years has focused on the Grand Vitara sport-utility wagon plus a compact called SX4 in conventional sedan or unconventional SportBack and crossover wagon formats.
With the arrival of Kizashi, however, Suzuki shows it can compete in the mid-size sedan segment with a sophisticated vehicle that begs the shopper's question: Why pay more?
Our time in the driver's seat of a Kizashi SE 6MT/FWD, running over those twisty mountain roads in Arkansas, clearly shows us that this is a car of reasonable power with competent road manners and very comfortable accommodations.
Sleek external styling in the manner of premium European touring sedans features exaggerated corner headlamp clusters up front and a sculptured hood with defined shoulders and flat-sided arches flaring around the wheelwells.
There's a bow in the roofline culminating in a graceful shape for the back pillar that tapers into a brief rear deck and the stubby tail.
Chrome appears only in headlamps, as the prow goes monochromatic with a narrow grille filled in black honeycomb. Bumpers and fascia front and rear reflect the color of the body and blend subtly into the overall package.
Kizashi's cabin design -- with a tall wrap of windows, a high ceiling and ample elbow room due to the structure's broad wheel track -- seems spacious.
There's 41.7 inches of legroom for front riders and 35.6 inches of legroom in the backseat. Shoulder room is also good -- 55.5 inches for the front seat and 54.6 inches for the backseat.
Two contoured bucket seats mount up front on either side of a floor-mounted center console, while the rear bench, notched with seats for two but space for three, has a seatback with a pass-through portal to the trunk.
At the new manufacturing facility in Sagara, Japan, Suzuki builds the all-new engine for Kizashi.
Constructed with an aluminum block and aluminum cylinder heads, the dual-cam in-line four-cylinder plant displaces 2.4 liters and features an over-square bore/stroke ratio and a 10:1 compression ratio.
When combined with the six-speed manual transmission, Kizashi's four-pack generates 185 hp at 6500 rpm with 170 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Using the CVT, this engine musters 180 hp at 6000 rpm.
Suzuki's performance figures in a FWD Kizashi with the six-speed manual transmission indicate it can run from zero to 60 mph in a tick over eight seconds.
EPA fuel economy figures reach as high as 31 mpg for highway driving using the CVT shifter with a FWD Kizashi, or 23 mpg for city driving. For a Kizashi CVT/AWD, the fuel burn scores tally to 23/30 mpg for city/highway.