Introducing the car every other Japanese manufacturer is worried about. The Suzuki Kizashi.
Subaru, Mazda, Toyota, they’re all (or at least should be) anxiously biting their nails waiting to see how the Kizashi is going to impact their mid-size car sales; even Lexus expressed hesitation when we proposed an IS250 comparison test. Surely a $35k Suzuki isn’t Lexus good?
Well no, it’s not. But it’s not far off; it’s certainly Mazda6 good and that’s enough for Suzuki’s first attempt at a car this size to make a serious play for the number one spot in the category.
At the higher end of the Kizashi range, the $42,000 Limited spec, with front and rear parking sensors, sunroof, high intensity discharge lights,18” wheels, premium Rockford Fosgate audio, rain sensing wipers, photo-chromatic rear view mirror, electrically adjustable, heated and leather clad upholstery kills competition on spec versus cost comparisons. Those comparisons could look all the more one-sided after the proposed GST increase too, which all bodes well for the Kizza’ as it needs to steal market share from key competitors if its to meet Suzuki NZ’s sales expectations.
Factor in that the $35k manual base model also features impressive kit like dual zone climate control, full iPod integration with steering wheel audio controls, trip computer, electronic stability control, six airbags and keyless entry/start and there’s undeniable potential for the car in our market.
But as the Mazda6 has shown year on year, Kiwi’s don’t mind paying for dynamic ability, for a long time now the Mazda – at least in my humble opinion – has set the benchmark for mid-size, mainstream ride and handling. The Suzuki really needs to bring it’s A game here to do well.
Good news then. I’ve just clocked up 1000kms in my tester and I’m still enamoured with how it drives.
Wisely the Kizashi has borrowed a lot of DNA from the awesome Suzuki Swift and its Sport variant. Obviously things are scaled up, but there’s a genuine small car eagerness and agility that remarkably shines through. Yet at the same time it feels all grown-up with a comfortable, quiet ride and an impressive confidence over slick surfaces, thanks to a broad foot print and tenacious mechanical grip.
It’ll eventually be available in All Wheel Drive too, but I wonder if that could actually detract from the chassis’ playfulness at the limit. As it is, the front-drive version seems to cover all the bases beautifully, comfy and solidly planted for Mum and the kids, rewarding and easy to drive fast for enthusiasts.
The power and torque delivery feels more than the sum of it’s 131kW / 230Nm parts. I won’t lie, it’s much, much better in the base model manual version which out accelerates the CVT by a full second up to 100km/h, but putting my typical hatred of the whiny CVT transmission technology aside for a second, ithe auto is tuned with a relatively sporty bent and still manages good performance. Shame the manual isn’t available in the range topping Limited spec, the enjoyable snick-snack of the six-speed manual is great and the clutch take up makes it an easy drive.
It’s not without its weaknesses. The styling has lost the aggressive, smack-in-the-face styling of the original design concept, and Suzuki seem to have fallen into the trap of styling the car for bland American tastes. See also Subaru Legacy and Nissan Maxima. The Kizashi has managed to stand out in this company, but Mazda remain truer to their philosophy and are better looking for it. There’s also a little more hard plastic around the cabin than what you’ll find in the Mazda, but it’s screwed together so the drive experience isn’t marred with rattles and the like.
Had you asked me a fortnight ago what mid-size sedan to go for my immediate response would have been the Mazda; who would’ve thought a small car specialist would’ve been the one to change my mind, but they have.