GIVEN its penchant for knocking together a sound range of motorbikes, compact cars and SUVs, Suzuki is not a marque that you’d automatically associate with a car such as the Kizashi. Its decision to wade into the terra incognita that is the D-segment and place its largest saloon offering up against the likes of such established players as the VW Passat, Honda Accord and especially the segment stalwarts from the German Big Three could be construed as either brave or foolhardy. So, which is it?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Suzuki was keenly aware of the tough, established opposition the Kizashi would come up against and was therefore compelled to make its first impression as eye-catching as possible – indeed, the car’s name is translated as “omen” or “something great is coming”.
The overall look incorporates curvaceous lines with pronounced wheelarches and a lightly kickedup tail section capped off by a neat integrated spoiler. The multi-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, sizeable contoured exhaust finishers and a honeycomb grille are usually features that would potentially render a large saloon something of a dog’s dinner, but they work well on the Kizashi.
The cabin may not possess the exterior’s overt style, but it is nonetheless a pleasant place to be. The facia is cleanly executed, with its combination of dark-plastic finishes and chrome-effect trim while simple, legible ancillary controls, good engine-/road-noise suppression and an above-average level of perceived quality lend the interior an upmarket air.
There’s plentiful space both fore and aft and the front seats are supportive and well contoured. Boot space is often a deal-breaker in cars of this ilk, but the Kizashi’s 416 dm3 boot (expanding to 1 444 dm3 with the rear seatbacks folded) is better than most cars in its class and is especially impressive when you consider it accommodates a full-sized alloy spare wheel. If we have to nit-pick, the only negative aspects are that the electrically adjustable driver’s seat doesn’t drop quite as low as some would like and the execution of the two main dials is rather busy.
The Kizashi is generously equipped and offers auto xenon lights and wipers, park-distance control, cruise control, leather upholstery and a raft of other standard- tment niceties that would normally constitute a considerable list of extras on other cars in its class.
Dynamically, it’s fair to say that the Kizashi lives up to its sporty looks and strikes a respectable balance between entertaining handling and civilised road manners. Unlike most cars with electric power steering, the Kizashi’s helm is precise and provides a satisfying level of feedback when pressing on. Being front-wheel driven, it will push its nose out a bit when tackling a tight bend at speed, but the car feels light, its handling is reassuringly predictable, there’s a good deal of grip from the 235/35 rubber and body roll is well contained thanks to a taut MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension setup. Around town, the Kizashi is relaxing to drive and, although the suspension is firm, it is sufficiently damped to offer a supple ride under most conditions. The brake pedal has a steady, progressive action and the ABS and EBD-equipped anchors brought the car to a stop from 100 km/h in an average time of 2,93 seconds, earning an excellent rating in our 10-stop emergency braking test.
If there has to be a black mark against the Kizashi’s name, it would be its engine. On paper, the 2,4-litre DOHC four-cylinder petrol engine looks as though it delivers the goods – peak power stands at 131 kW at an admittedly peaky 6 500 r/min with 230 N.m of torque available at 4 000 r/min.
However, a common bone of contention among members of the CAR test team that sampled the Kizashi was that its engine lacks sufficient grunt to make smooth, swift progress the order of the day. The engine, although free revving, tends to fall out of the power band on upshifts and needs to be kept spinning to avoid downshifts on uphill sections or when overtaking slower traffic. The in-gear acceleration times are testimony to this lack of mid-to-upper-range impetus, with the 60-80 km/h run taking 7,37 seconds in fifth gear while 100-120 km/h in top gear took a leisurely 10,55 seconds. This means frequent stirring of the six-speed manual gearbox that, thankfully, exhibits a light but precise shift and easily modulated clutch action.
Despite its revvy nature and the regular working it requires, the engine still managed to return a respectable 8,4 litres/100km on our fuel route run – considerably less than the 9,48 litres/100 km CAR Fuel Index. Even so, the latter most consumption figure would still see the Kizashi covering 664 km on its 63-litre tank.
For Suzuki’s first foray into the D-segment, the Kizashi is a commendable effort. The combination of stylish packaging, good perceived quality, a balance between comfort and dynamics, and generous specification give it a sound grounding against more established, but arguably less distinctive and well-equipped, rivals. The only obstacles standing in the way of the Kizashi’s success in this segment are the public’s tendency to congregate towards well-established brands and the 2,4-litre engine.
Little can be done about the former – only time and a sturdy track record established by more open-minded buyers can change that. Given Suzuki’s reputation for reliability and service, that should be the battle half-won right there, but we can’t help but feel that the application of a torquey 1,8- or 2,0-litre turbopetrol unit in the Kizashi would have given it serious edge over its peers. That said, if conforming to the norm and potential resale consequences are not overriding concerns, the Kizashi is a competent, distinctive and engaging choice. If this is the portent of things to come from Suzuki, there could be some interesting times ahead.