First Drive: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi [Review]

As the Hyundai Genesis Sedan has shown, you don't need a fancy name to move up the automotive food chain. But can just any automaker make the same shift? We're about to find out as Suzuki's all-new mid-size Kizashi is set to hit the U.S. market later this year.

When most Americans think Suzuki, they tend to conjure up images of motorcycles and tiny econoboxes. But with the new Kizashi sedan, Suzuki is hoping to change that public image. And change it for good - the Japanese word Kizashi translates to "something great is coming".

A mid-size sports sedan from Suzuki? Really?
Admittedly, a mid-size sports sedan from Suzuki does sounds like a head scratching proposition. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, the SX4 is a pretty decent little car to drive. But taking on the behemoths in the mid-size sedan segment?

Don't think of the Kizashi so much as a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord rival, but rather as an alternative to the boring appliances that seem to populate the mid-size segment. Whereas most mid-size sedans try to cater to the masses in a plain vanilla kind of way, the Kizashi stands out with a healthy dose of sport and style. And, from what we experienced firsthand, the Kizashi just might have the chops to steal away some sales from the traditional heavy hitters of the segment.

Size and style
Walking up to the Kizashi, you'll first notice its rather small size. While most sedans in the mid-size segment are now bumping against the full-size classification, the Kizashi is more in line with the first few generations of the Honda Accord.

Thanks to that compact footprint, Kizashi designers were able to give the car a very taut and muscular look. The Kizashi's design doesn't do enough to scream "Hey, look at me" - after all, it's still technically a mid-size sedan - but it does look far more sporting than most of the Camcords of the world.

Up front, the Kizashi retains its show car-inspired grille, flanked by aggressive-looking projector headlamps. A sculpted hood and wide fender flares round out the Kizashi's front end.

The best view of the Kizashi is undoubtedly from the rear three-quarters. Although parts of the Kizashi's look seem a bit derivative, they work well on the mid-sizer and add to its sporting flare. The Kizashi's slightly upswept beltline meets with the car's C-pillar to create a rear haunch reminiscent of the Dodge Challenger or Chevrolet Camaro. A better looking version of BMW's Bangle-butt design adorns the Kizashi's trunk, complete with an attractive ducktail spoiler treatment. Stylized bumper-mounted exhaust outlets continue the spirit of the Kizashi concepts.

And the interior?
Overall, Suzuki did a very nice job on the Kizashi's interior - especially considering it's the brand's first attempt at a "premium" offering. The center stack is more than a few notches up from what you'd expect in a Suzuki and the designers did a nice job of incorporating the shape of the automaker's new corporate grille.

The twin-pod gauge cluster is also attractive, but a little difficult to read. The number marks on the speedometer are every 20mph, with the 10mph marks consisting of barely noticeable lines. Keeping speeds that end in 5 is a bit of a guessing game in the Kizashi.

Suzuki went with soft-touch material for much of the Kizashi's interior, which is always a good move in our book. However, some pieces do feel a little on the cheap side, dragging down the cabin's overall feel.

One aspect that doesn't let the Kizashi down is its Rockford Fosgate audio system. A thumping system on its own, the stereo is unbeatable when paired with optional Bluetooth streaming audio. The Kizashi's back seat also offers a surprising amount of room.

Sporting intentions
Power for the Kizashi is sourced from a 2.4L four-cylinder making 185 horsepower when mated to the six-speed manual transmission and 180 horsepower when hooked to Suzuki's CVT. Like most modern CVTs, Suzuki's unit offers a "˜sport' mode, simulating six forward gears, complete with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

The CVT can be had on front and all-wheel drive models while the six-speed manual is reserved for front-drivers only.

Although the CVT does offer slightly higher fuel economy numbers - 23/32mpg vs. the six-speed's 20/29mpg rating - we'd opt for the manual setup. The CVT takes something away from the Kizashi's sporting nature and the six-speed unit is rather good. Clutch action is very well weighted although throws are a bit on the long side.

When mated to the six-speed manual, the Kizashi is capable of making the run from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds - putting it on par or ahead of the four-cylinder competition. However, the Kizashi obviously falls short when compared to its six-cylinder counterparts.

But where the Kizashi's "˜sport' designation really comes into play is in the twisties. Thanks to a sports tuned suspension and a super-stiff chassis - as well as a curb weight of just over 3,200 pounds - the Kizashi is easily the most athletic car in its class, and even a few rungs up. How do we know? We tested the Kizashi on Virginia International Raceway against competitors like the Mazda Mazda6, Nissan Altima, and Subaru Legacy, and even some cars a few classes up like the Volkswagen Passat CC, Acura TSX and Audi A4.

Suzuki engineers worked closely with KYB to design a suspension setup uniquely tailored to the Kizashi and they simply nailed it. Driving the Kizashi back-to-back with the TSX through a 60mph emergency lane change made the Acura feel totally out of shape. And that's saying a lot considering how well the TSX drives.

Out on the open track, the Kizashi continued to shine. Not surprising considering the Kizashi spent most of its early life on Germany's famed Nurburgring. That track time really comes through as the Kizashi is a blast to throw around in the corners. Turn in is great and the Kizashi is an extremely well-balanced front-drive car, exhibiting virtually zero understeer and hardly any body roll. The Kizashi's brakes are equally impressive and are a result of a tie-up with Akebono - the company responsible for making the brakes for Japan's bullet trains.

Suzuki hasn't announced pricing for the Kizashi as of yet, but look for the base model to list from under $20,000. The volume trim level will top out in the low $20,000s, but pile on the options and the Kizashi can tip the scales at a hearty $27,500.

Leftlane's bottom line
With its combination of good looks, decent fuel economy and great handling, the Kizashi could be just the hit Suzuki has been search for. However, the Kizashi's success largely depends on potential buyers getting over the "˜S' on the car's grille. But if you're in the market for a vehicle in this segment, you owe it to yourself to put the Kizashi on your short list.

Words by Drew Johnson. Photos by Drew Johnson and courtesy of Suzuki.