Test Drive: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Best known for small cars and SUVs, Suzuki sends brand-new model into crowded midsize sedan market

by James M. Flammang

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Mention the name Suzuki, and most people are likely to think of compact cars and smaller-size crossovers/SUVs. Actually, Suzuki has tried larger vehicles before - notably, the midsize Verona sedan that was marketed in 2004-06.

While the Verona never captured much in the way of either attention or sales, Suzuki has considerably higher hopes for its newest model: the rather oddly named Kizashi. Cars with names that don't roll easily off North American tongues tend to face a formidable barrier right from the start. Volkswagen, for instance, got a fair amount of criticism for calling its SUV the Touareg. Yet, the Touareg has sold reasonably well. So, maybe in today's world, unfamiliar-sounding names aren't quite as threatening as they once were.

Though billed as a midsize family sedan, ready to compete against the likes of Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the Kizashi neither looks nor feels quite as sizable as those competitors. Suzuki claims the most standard safety features in this sedan's class, adding that the Kizashi already meets 2014 safety standards issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available in every trim level - provided its has the continuously variable transmission (CVT). Eight airbags are standard, including front/rear side and curtain units. Also standard, even on the "entry-level" S sedan, are pushbutton keyless start, dual-zone climate control, electronic stability control, and a 9-speaker audio system with steering-wheel controls.

Suzuki's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine develops 185 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, when coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox. With the CVT, horsepower output dips to 180.

Noise is the only factor that keeps the Kizashi short of excellence in the midsize-sedan field. When accelerating even lightly in a CVT-equipped GTS model, considerable droning assaults passenger ears, with light vibration felt as well. When letting up on the gas, at cruising speeds, the noise disappears smartly. Touch the pedal again, though, and it's back. Many drivers will get used to the surplus noise without fuss, but some extra insulation might be welcome.

Apart from those unwanted sounds, Suzuki has come up with an impressive vehicle that performs smartly, handles capably, and is even fun to drive. Those attributes aren't necessarily present in every one of Kizashi's competitors, including those priced markedly higher.

Not only does the Kizashi look smaller than most midsize sedans, it drives like a smaller model. Steering takes more effort than some, but yields solid control. On most road surfaces, the ride is quite nice, too. Takeoffs are more energetic than expected from a four-cylinder/CVT combination. Highway passing/merging performance impresses even more.

Easy to enter and exit, the Kizashi has plenty of front-seat space. No visibility issues are evident, but gauges are very dark in sunlight - sometimes nearly impossible to read.

Kizashi sales began in December 2009. Pricing starts at $18,999 (plus $735 destination/handling charge) for the "entry-level," front-wheel-drive Kizashi S with a six-speed manual gearbox. Suzuki's CVT raises the outlay to $20,499. Stepping up to a CVT-only Kizashi SE brings the total to $21,499, adding such extras as steering-wheel paddle shifters, a 425-watt Rockford Fosgate premium audio system with 10 speakers, 18-inch tires, foglamps, and a power moonroof. Topping the line is the Kizashi SLS, starting at $24,399 with manual shift. All-wheel drive adds about $1,300 to the price of each model.

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Text and photos by James M. Flammang