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First drive: Slick Kizashi sedan shows Suzuki's new side

Super Suzy: Suzuki's new Kizashi mid-sizer has European levels of refinement.

Suzuki’s first mid-size sedan and all-new flagship, the Kizashi, is a cracking drive


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12 May 2010

IF YOU haven’t seen Suzuki’s classy new Kizashi on television then it’s only a matter of time.

The multi-million-dollar TV commercial is just a part of one of the most expensive advertising campaigns ever undertaken by Suzuki in Australia, and it’s designed to herald the arrival of the brand’s first mid-size sedan – and all-new flagship – to a new type of buyer that’s never previously considered a Suzuki.

If the marketing message works and Suzuki gets, as they say, bums on seats in significant numbers, there’s every chance the Kizashi could become a smash-hit in Australia – because one quick drive is enough to learn this Suzuki sets new dynamic benchmarks for a Japanese car in the mid-size sector.

Of course, the Kizashi will face some seriously stiff competition from the likes of the accomplished Mazda6, Australia’s popular privately purchased mid-sizer. But after covering more than 400km during this week’s national press launch of Suzuki’s new star, it’s clear the Kizashi has even sharper dynamics than the recently facelifted version of Mazda’s accomplished new Six.

The Kizashi felt more European than Japanese over some of the worst sealed country roads we’ve experienced in Australia – between Southport and Warwick in southeast Queensland – as well as on suburban freeways and in peak-hour Gold Coast traffic.

Refreshingly firm but never harsh – even on the top-shelf XLS model’s 18-inch wheel and tyre package over shocking course-chip bitumen – the Kizashi’s outstanding ride/handling set-up reminds us of a BMW 3 Series.

Its pin-sharp electric steering feels a little heavy and wooden in a straight line, making the Kizashi super-stable at speed, but it quickly becomes alive and communicative as the pace picks up.

Combined with a sporty suspension tune that delivers impeccable body control, plus a rigid, well-balanced chassis with plenty of mechanical grip and a non-intrusive stability control system, the Kizashi is undoubtedly a driver’s car that also doubles as a comfortable family sedan.

A thoroughly reworked version of the Grand Vitara’s 2.4-litre petrol four might lack the midrange flexibility of the Mazda6’s and Subaru Libery’s larger 2.5-litre engines, but it delivers good torque off the line and does its best work up top, where it also sounds quieter and more refined than its Japanese rivals.

Matched with either a slick-shifting short-throw six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission like that in the Liberty, the Kizashi never feels slow. The CVT sends the tacho needle directly to 6000rpm – where it stays regardless of road speed – when you floor the accelerator pedal, which may feel strange to drivers of conventional automatics initially, but is effective and worlds away from earlier CVTs we’ve sampled.

Our car saw plenty of revs on the return back-road trip to metropolis with three full-size adults and all their luggage on board, yet it averaged fuel consumption of just under 10 litres per 100km, which is as impressive as the official combined figure of 7.9L/100km, bettering all but the diesel and hybrid-powered versions of its rivals.

Clearly identifiable as a Suzuki but tightly sculpted with a pronounced shoulder line and boldly chromed exhaust outlets at each corner of the rear bumper, the Kizashi is appreciably bigger than the small SX4 sedan and wider and taller than a Mazda6, but a fair bit shorter overall than most mid-size sedans.

However, the Kizashi is cleverly packaged inside, where it offers impressive leg and shoulder room for four adults both front and rear, although the heavily tapered side glass areas might cramp headroom for taller passengers and give the impression the cabin is closer to small rather than medium in size.

Also restricting headroom is the standard sunroof in flagship XLS models, while the low turret design, super-fast windscreen angle and thick A-pillars do tend to sacrifice visibility for visual appeal.

Other negatives include the old-school gooseneck boot hinges eat into boot space and the heavily humped centre rear seat position that’s suitable really only for kids, thanks to a folding armrest that doubles as a ski-port, aiding the 60/40-split folding rear seatback in making the sizeable 461-litre boot even more flexible.

No, the Kizashi isn’t perfect, but shortcomings are few and far between. Overall, the well-designed and highly ergonomic cabin reeks of quality, with a driver’s seat height adjuster in all models suiting a wide range of body shapes and neat touches like a lane-change indicator and large door, glovebox and centre armrest compartments making its highly user-friendly.

Soft-touch skin-textures abound on all interior surfaces and the classy centre console and instrument panel designs (the latter comprising a 6500rpm-redline tacho and 240km/h speedo with simple but stylish white-on-black dial lettering) are up there with the Mazda6’s.

Matching the impressive design and build quality are European-like noise, vibration and harshness levels that in isolation make the Kizashi seem quieter than any of its Japanese rivals. Without doubt, noise suppression is another highlight of Suzuki’s largest passenger car.

Despite the attractive $27,990 entry price, which undercuts all but the Mazda6 Limited sedan’s pricetag, the Kizashi comes fully loaded with dual-zone climate-control, a seven-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system with USB compatibility, a multi-function steering wheel with reach and rake adjustment, keyless starting, footwell lights, a trip computer, power windows/mirrors, cruise control (CVT only), 17x7.0-inch alloy wheels and a full-size spare wheel/tyre.

The $34,990 XLS grade adds standard top-end equipment such as full leather trim, self-leveling high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, a sunroof, foglights, a 10-speaker 425-Watt Rockford Fosgate sound system, 10-way powered driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment and memory, front/rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, automatic headlights, steering wheel gearshift paddles, a lower ride height and 18x8.0-inch alloys.

Bluetooth connectivity and satellite-navigation are offered as dealer-fit options now, but should eventually become factory-fitted options.

Of course, it goes without saying that all Kizashis come standard with a full suite of safety features, including twin front, front-side and side curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, five three-point seatbelts and five adjustable head restraints.

Suzuki says that when you take into account its superior standard specifications, both the base XL and premium XLS Kizashi variants are about $3000 better value than their direct Mazda6 competitors, although Mazda doesn’t charge extra for metallic paint – which is a $475 option on all Suzukis and red is the only non-metallic colour for the Kizashi.

No, the Kizashi doesn’t break the medium sedan mould, but the stylish new mid-size four-door is a brilliant first-time effort from Suzuki that pushes new boundaries for the class in terms of dynamics and value.

While hatchback and wagon body styles and a diesel engine option are unlikely to emerge from the Japanese small-car specialist, we can’t wait for the bodykitted all-wheel drive version powered by either a V6 or turbocharged petrol engine. And North America’s upcoming Kizashi Hybrid would give Suzuki unprecedented marketing firepower for its new flagship.

If Suzuki’s expensive marketing campaign works and Australian mid-size sedan buyers put the Kizashi on their shopping lists, there’s no reason it can’t be just as much of a smash-hit for the brand as the Swift is.

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