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Car reviews - Suzuki - Kizashi - XL Sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Steering, handling, ride, punchy engine, manual shift, CVT auto’s smoothness and economy, compact proportions, rear styling, refined and comfy cabin, all-round quality, accessible pricing
Room for improvement
Thick pillars and big boot limit vision, 1400rpm vibration through CVT model, tighter rear-seat and boot space than normal midsizers, boot lid opening too low, no digital speedo, anonymous front styling, not much else!

10 May 2010

“What are you driving this week?”

“A Kizashi.”

“Oh … gesundheit!"

This really happened. Promise. But sneezing jokes aside, the Kizashi (meaning “something good is coming”) is so good that it has the ability to really give the upper-small and mid-sized sedan establishment a nasty cold.

Except – weeks following on from its release in Australia – consumers still don’t know what this oddly badged car (is it the first to ever be sold locally with a Japanese name?) really is.

So, to really get our heads around the new Kizashi, we lived with both the base XL CVT automatic and the upper-spec XLS manual. By the way, how 1970s Ford Cortina are those model designations!

Anyway, we have come away even more impressed than we did after testing the current Swift back in February 2005.

Something good certainly has come. Since 2003, Suzuki’s car arm has adopted its motorcycle division’s lofty standards, going from making domestic market-focused economy tools such as the Ignis and Liana to engineering higher quality, driver focussed European challengers.

Subsequently today’s Swift, SX4 AWD hatch, Splash (sadly not for Oz), and Alto have won over sceptics worldwide, and now the six-years-in-the-making Kizashi is doing the same.

Stylistically the handsomely proportioned four-door sedan stands out and invites comment. “It looks like an Alfa from behind” or “Is it Italian?” To our eyes the designers have infused hints of modern BMW (E60 5 Series) while still keeping things original.

Unlike the nose – a Volkswagen Jetta rip-off with its jarring crosshatch grille that is entirely at odds with the pretty posterior. Clearly this car is aimed at the Americans and Chinese who love jowly VW sedans.

Jetta also seems to have influenced the Kizashi’s size, since it straddles the Holden Cruze and Toyota Camry, like a latter-day old Honda Accord Euro or Mazda6. Goldilocks, here is your ride. But it is not small-car tight inside.

Getting in is effortless due to wide doors, with a un-Suzuki solid thud when they close. Toto, I don’t think we’re in a Liana no more!

There’s nothing four-cylinder eco weenie about the front seats either, as they’re large, noticeably bolstered on the sides and exquisitely comfortable – a bit like a sofa really. Really!

We also rate the classy woodgrain-look cloth seat and door-card patterns that magically seem to change colour from dark grey to a deep Gillard burgundy depending on the available light (or potency of your prescription…).

Finding the ideal driving position is as quick and easy as deposing an Australian political leader thanks to a liberal range of seat and steering column adjustment options. The leather-clad three-spoke wheel – complete with remote audio, cruise and satellite trip computer display controls – is a beauty too.

But not everything about the Kizashi’s interior is as neatly resolved as the end of every Hollywood movie.

As with most new models lately, we grow weary of the restricted vision imposed by fat doorposts and roof pillars, high waistline, big bum and shallow back window. This alone is enough to step up to the radar-equipped XLS, or tick the reverse-sensor option. At least the mirrors are massive.

And then there is the curiously General Motors-like ambience to the look and feel of the Kizashi’s dashboard design and layout, making it seem more like a Cruze than an Accord. We hoped the fascia would have had more fizz and pizzazz.

But it is a whole lot better than any Suzuki effort in recent memory (remember the low-fi futuristic theatre of the early Liana’s digitised instruments?), with lovely analogue dials that are a pleasure to behold. The same applies to the LED trip computer window’s white on navy background. A secondary digital speedo would have been nice though.

There is nothing remarkable about the competent centre console layout except that it features buttons seemingly designed for fat fingers, knobs big enough for a bear to operate, and an audio screen that’s XXL enough to double as a news ticker tape readout.

Although the cabin feels brilliantly built, we reckon that Suzuki’s decision to swathe the lower console area – particularly the lidded cupholder part – with elephant skin-like hard plastic trim will hurt the Kizashi’s showroom appeal.

But the engineers really got the rear quarters spot-on, beginning with a sumptuous bench that sees its occupants sitting significantly higher.

Among the amenities included as standard are overhead grab handles, knee-level face vents with a flow monitor (behind the front cabin storage bin with its vinyl covered lid), coat hooks, map pockets, cubby facilities, fat padded centre armrest with a retractable cupholder tray, and rear windows that disappear into the door completely (yeah!). The only demerit points go to the hard centre sin-bin position.

However, if you’re expecting Camry, Mondeo, Liberty or Mazda6 levels of rear-seat legroom, forget it. Indeed, forget about the whole car. It ain’t in the race for rear legroom honours.

Instead, as a true medium sizer, the Kizashi offers sufficient – rather than superior – space for knees, heads and shoulders. Try before you buy. As this is a seriously appealing car, ditching it for an extra few millimetres of back-seat real estate would be such a pity if it weren’t really needed.

The same applies to the 461-litre boot, which is actually bigger than the pert rear proportions suggest. Still smaller than Camry and co., a load-through ski port acts as a thoughtful amenity to the split-fold backrest.

Two observations: be sure to press the solenoid release button firmly or you’ll think the boot is locked and watch that you don’t hit your head since the boot lid in the fully-open position is still too low. We found ourselves adding a ‘t’ to the end of ‘Kizashi’ on more than one occasion!

Conversely, we were more likely to attach an ‘ne’ to the name when it came to fuel economy, since the automatic returned combined city and highway figures that were at least 10 per cent superior to the sweet-shifting six-speed manual. How does 9.0L/100km sound?

How come? As with the underrated SX4 AWD we raved on about recently, the ‘auto’ in the Kizashi is a Continuously Variable Transmission – one so deftly executed that it only sounds like a slipping clutch when you’re pressing pedal to the metal hard.

Behind that garish grille is a 2.4-litre twin-cam motor delivering a competitive 131kW of power at 6500rpm and 230Nm of torque at 4000rpm (only the new Hyundai i45 and Accord Euro betters those).

Manual or CVT, Suzuki has achieved a happy balance between low-down pull and high-rev tractability here (a new variable valve inlet set-up helps), for the Kizashi feels like it has a deep well of power to draw upon for rapid mid-range progress.

However, though it displays an almost laid back attitude to cruising, we found that our Kizashi in CVT guise suffered from persistent vibration at low speed when the engine was ticking over at 1400rpm. The subsequent low-fi reverb through the wheel and throttle – accompanied by tedious engine drone – had us longing for the almost flawless manual experience. Maybe our car’s malady was a one-off.

Otherwise, keen drivers need to listen up. The Kizashi’s weighty, linear steering places it ahead of every other front-drive midsizer this side of a Mondeo. Words like ‘fluid’ and ‘interactive’ and ‘predictable’ sum it up nicely. The whole dynamic demeanour of this car is definitely more European than Japanese or American and that we didn’t expect.

Increase the speed and the Suzuki ups the ante, displaying exceptional levels of body control for what is a base family car. This is a vehicle whose safety devices like the ESC and effective braking system work with, rather than against, it, encouraging the driver to engage and enjoy.

Some testers have ride comfort issues concerning the slightly slammed XLS – with its gorgeous turbine-look 18-inch alloys. Nonsense we say, even after hurrying this thing along some crappy urban roads. Quite firm sums up the worst of its absorption qualities.

But if maximising ride comfort is paramount then the XL’s supple 17-inch wheel/tyre set-up is the go, for this really is a well damped and isolating suspension experience.

It is worth noting that both test cars employed thick dealer-fit mats that act as more effective sound deadeners against unwanted road and tyre noise intrusion. We really recommend that you insist on the same.

Not that equipment levels are sparse. The XL includes six airbags as well as the ABS/ESC/EBD/BA alphabet soup of serious safety tech.

Then there’s the aforementioned dual-zone climate-control, 17-inch alloys, and keyless entry/push-button start thing, along with AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB audio with wheel controls, cruise control (CVT only), footwell lights, trip computer, alloys and full-size spare wheel/tyre combo, among other goodies.

Meanwhile, the XLS adds the glam of leather, self-levelling high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlights, sunroof, fog lights, a multi-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system upgrade, 10-way powered driver’s seat with lumbar and memory, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights and sexy 18-inch alloys.

But the XLS desperately needs factory-fitted Bluetooth and sat-nav if Accord Euro Luxury customers are going to be swayed.

Still, as a dynamic, comfortable and enjoyable family car, the Kizashi makes an incredibly impressive debut for Suzuki.

This is a standout sedan that ranks right up there with the Mazda6, Accord Euro and Ford Mondeo as the pacesetters in the medium sized class. From nowhere the Suzuki has emerged as a podium finisher.

It may sound like something you say when somebody sneezes, but the Kizashi has really blown us away.

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