Since Suzuki first entered the South African market, it has managed to establish itself as a serious contender in the compact segments; models such as the Alto, SX4 and Swift have not only established solid reputations for quality and performance, but have also become volume-sellers. In a few short years, the brand has managed to find a solid footing, which is why it feels that it’s time to spread its wings and enter the hotly-contested C-segment with the Kizashi mid-sized sedan.
With a new car comes new opportunities, like speaking to different potential buyers (in this case, executives and families who require space), but also new challenges. The Kizashi is Suzuki’s first foray into the mid-size passenger market and, while first impressions after a short drive with the newcomer in Gauteng remain positive, it does face stiff competition from the likes of the Honda Accord, Mazda6, Toyota Corolla, Audi A4, Volvo S40, to mention a few. These are heavyweights in the industry and something that Suzuki is acutely aware of…
A quick walk-around reveals a non-offensive design, with a couple of attractive and sporty details, such as the shapely headlamps, body lines, boot lid, 18-inch alloys and chrome-tipped exhaust outlets. The front is somewhat reminiscent of a previous-generation Volkswagen Jetta and on the road the rear has flashes of a BMW 5 Series and 1 Series, but, overall, the look of the car remains distinctive and should prove popular.
The interior is similarly impressive with comfortable leather seats up front (with electric adjustment for both), good room in the back and a big boot (461 dm³). The facia is neat and tidy, with a logical layout to the controls for the standard radio/CD audio system with USB connectivity and dual-zone climate control. Other standard features include an anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, controls for the audio and cruise control on the steering wheel and park distance control.
The range currently only has a single engine, a 2,4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine similar to the unit used in the Grand Vitara, but with 131 kW at 6 500 r/min and 230 N.m of torque at 4 000 r/min on tap (compared with the 122 kW/225 N.m of the Vitara).
The manual Kizashi comes with a six-speed transmission, while the Vitara has a five-speed unit. The resultant shorter ratios and increased performance gives the Kizashi a freer and more willing power delivery compared with the Vitara and, even at altitude, the car managed to reach higher speeds with relative ease (but sometimes requiring third to be hooked). A turbocharged engine is available in oversees markets, but Suzuki didn't say if this model could be added to the local line-up.
Also available is a CVT automatic transmission with the option of shifting with the gear lever or paddles behind the steering wheel. I have never been a fan of CVTs, finding them too noisy, but didn’t find the unit too intrusive here. Hard acceleration still sent the revs close to the red line (Suzuki has limited the maximum engine speed to 6 000 r/min on the CVT) and a fair amount of engine noise did penetrate the cabin. That said, the CVT offers a smooth driving experience and aids fuel consumption.
The car’s ride quality offers a good compromise between a plush ride and sporty handling, although it does exhibit a fair amount of body roll through corners. The steering is also rather vague and too light to offer the desired amount of feedback. That said, it compares well with its competitors in this segment. It is a sedan, after all.
Standard safety and driver aid features include six airbags, ABS with EBD, ESP and a hill-hold function.
Suzuki has done well with its first effort in the mid-sized passenger market. The Kizashi is well-specced, roomy, attractive and offers good performance. But, it faces very stiff competition from established rivals and, while it may be deserving, it remains to be seen if it will challenge the Germans (and its Japanese foes) in the monthly sales war.
Kizashi 2,4 SLX R295 900
Kizashi 2,4 SLX CVT R310 900
All prices include a three-year/100 000 km warranty and six-year/90 000 km service plan.