Not too long ago, Suzuki ran an ad campaign with a tag line asking viewers if its cars were as much fun as its bikes. Though this tag line was designed to get potential customers to associate the thrills of two-wheeled motoring with a reskinned GM CUV, the obvious answer to this question was a resounding “no.” But then few automobiles -- especially those made by Suzuki -- can offer the excitement of a GSX-R at wide-open throttle.
However, Suzuki does know a thing or two about building a car that is enjoyable to drive. No longer burdened with the task of selling rebadged Daewoos, Suzuki is finally offering goods it designed and built itself in North America. What’s more, Suzuki has even designed and built a car specifically for our market: the very Japanese-sounding Kizashi midsized sedan. Can Japan’s No. 1 Kei car builder produce a car suitable to our supersize market? We drove an AWD Suzuki Kizashi SLS for a week to find out.
A midsize sedan needs V6 power if it wants to be a serious contender in the North American auto market, which is why Suzuki made the Kizashi’s engine bay large enough to hold a six-cylinder engine. Unfortunately, the V6 option is not yet available, and Suzuki has yet to give a hard date as to when the sedan will be offered with a V-shaped power plant.
What the Suzuki Kizashi does have is a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter four cylinder, which in our test car was mated to a six-step CVT. This CVT thankfully lacks the rubber band feel we find on most gearless transmissions, and it helps the four-banger get the most of its 170 lb-ft. of torque. No one will ever accuse the Suzuki Kizashi of being fast, but on more than one occasion it did feel as if it had two extra cylinders.
So, while the Suzuki Kizashi is no rocket, it is enjoyable to drive. The suspension tuning is firm and European in feel, and with our test car’s AWD system, the Kizashi offered a surprising amount of grip. This car is a competent commuter, but it will also reward the driver who prefers to take the longer road home.
As you would expect from a reasonably priced Japanese sedan, the Suzuki Kizashi is best described as “nondescript.” It’s an attractive car (it sits nicely on 18-inch alloy wheels, has more than a bit of Volkswagen design influence and boasts snazzy dual exhaust tips integrated into the rear bumper), but there is nothing about it that stands out. This Suzuki won’t turn heads, but it won’t look horribly dated and unappealing like an X90 either.
Our top-of-the-line Suzuki Kizashi SLS tester spices up the cabin with the inclusion of features like a 10-way adjustable power driver’s seat, rain-sensing automatic windscreen wipers, sonar parking assist, ambient lighting, a 425-watt Rockford Fosgate 10-speaker sound system, integrated iPod controls, and heated front seats.
Things are simple and tidy inside the cabin. Again, no crazy interior design or innovative control schemes -- just a plain and basic layout. Despite the abundance of black plastic, the materials used look and feel to be of a high quality, and everything seems to have been put together well. Sitting in the front, the cabin feels spacious, and unlike most bargain vehicles, it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position in the Kizashi.
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