No. Kizashi (pronounced kee-zah-shee) is not a sliced-and-diced fried egg presented by an over-enthusiastic Ghinzu chef, or a gently garnished sea bass smoked via the backyard Hibachi; it's the newest mid-sized sedan served up by Japan's 'other' automotive restaurateur: Suzuki.
Better known in the minds of many American consumers for building motorcycles and marine engines, Suzuki has marketed smallish, fuel-efficient cars in the U.S. since 1985. While Japan's Big Three automakers (Toyota, Honda and Nissan) have bigger budgets and longer track records, Suzuki has cooked up some relatively new creations to whet customers' appetite for their growing lineup of cars.
Case in point; Kizashi. An all-new mid-size sedan for the 2010 model year with a base price starting under $20,000, It follows on the heals of the compact, SX4 Crossover hatchback wagon and four-door SX4 Sport debuting in the 2007 and 2008 model years respectively. From Japanese, Kizashi translates to "Something great is coming." Time will tell if the message takes hold. Remember though, sometimes small can be advantageous. In 2008, Suzuki was one of only two profitable Japanese car makers (Subaru, another unbehemoth Asian brand is the other).
At an October press launch in the Pacific northwest, Suzuki Vice President Gene Brown called Kizashi, "The most substantial car ever built by Suzuki. " Kizashi replaces the underwhelming, undersized, Korean-built, Forenza sedan and wagon, which exited after the 2008 model year (did anyone notice?) In the 2009 model year, Suzuki snuck by without a true mid-size, sedan, one of the most popular consumer segments.
Kizashi, manufactured in Japan at Suzuki's newest and most modern assembly plant, is built from the ground up with Suzuki calling the shots (no partnership agreement with other automakers). While it's boldly eying smaller European performance sedans such as the Volkswagen Passat as competition, after a day of twisting road driving to view Mt. St. Helen, the sporty and well-regarded Mazda6 sedan may be the best comparison.
Kizashi has a dash of elegant exterior nuances thanks to jeweled headlights and a smallish front grille. Kizashi's stance is slightly toned down from the Mazda6's sporty looks, but Kizashi boasts as standard fare (in all trims) dual climate controls, push-button start, secondary steering wheel radio controls and dual tipped exhausts.
Kizashi is available in front drive or sure-footed all-wheel drive (handy during Chicago's snowman-building season). All wheel drive (which adds about 125 pounds) is available in all trims sans the base and is activated with the push of a dashboard button. Torque split is automatically regulated depending on factors including wheel slippage and steering input. Suzuki estimates 35 percent of vehicles will be sold with AWD. This marks a notable key difference from Japanese volume leaders Honda Accord and Toyota Camry which offer front-drive exclusively.
One all-new four-cylinder engine powers the four trims (S, SE, GTS and SLS). An inline, 2.4-liter, 16-valve delivers 185 horsepower when mated to a six-speed manual transmission, or 180 horses with the performance-tuned continuously variable transmission (CVT). This compares with 170 horsepower from the Mazda 6 four-cylinder. Kizashi's CVT offers an infinite number of forward gears (not just five or six) cutting out the 'lurch' sometimes felt with conventional automatics. Suzuki estimates 85 percent of vehicles will sell with CVT. Most mid-size competitors offer the choice of four or six-cylinder power.
At 183.1 inches in length, Kizashi is at the smaller end of the mid-size segment. The 2010 Camry by contrast measures 189.2 inches in length while a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu checks in at 191.8 inches.
Editions with front drive and CVT average 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, respectable figures when compared to rivals. The CVT transmission comes standard with the SE trim. Six-speed manual is available in the other three trims as well as the CVT, which adds $1,100 to the bottom line. All-wheel drive is a $1,250 hit. For those who enjoy a manual transmission performance and availability in a high-end trim, Kizashi delivers.
Brakes are sensitive, reacting with just a touch. Experiencing the twists and turns of mountainous terrain up to Mt. St. Helen was enjoyable thanks to handling that did not toss the driver or front passenger into the next lane. Steering is remarkable precise with little wheel movement needed to point the Kizashi in the desired direction. Multi-link rear suspension helps smooth the way, too. The engine provides a nice throttle sound at low and highway speeds, although it's a four cylinder and at times, I yearned for a bit more power during passing maneuvers. High-strength steel is used around rear fold down seats and large side-view mirrors shaped to drive wind away from the vehicle also muffles sound. Traveling at 70 miles per hour feels more like 50 miles an hour, although despite adding many sound-muffling insulation, some wind noise still seeps in through the windows at higher speeds.
Inside, Suzuki utilizes soft-touch material for the dash and parts of the door, something usually reserved for higher-end cars. It's nice to the touch but did provide more front windshield reflection at certain sun heights than what's found in other competitors. Brushed aluminum trim adds balance.
Suzuki refers to Kizashi's cabin as 'minimalist,' translated to mean it's user friendly with controls in expected positions. A one-touch manual release lever is used for both tilt and telescoping functions. Maybe not so minimalist, but certainly welcome, is a standard plug-in for personal musical players such as MP3s so more sound options can be heard. Speaking of sound, a nine-speaker stereo comes standard while a 10-speaker, Rockford Fosgated 425 watt version with subwoofer is optional in upper trims.
The instrument panel includes two independent, circular, back-lit analog gauges with a rectangular digital message center in between. Lap/shoulder belts mounted on the inside "B" pillar were convenient with no extended reach back necessary before pre-driving pull-and-click rituals. Optional in GTS and SLS is an in-dash navigation system with rear camera. Cruise control is standard in ever trim except S.
Rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 split allowing access to the trunk; a lessoned learned. When the SX4 sedan debuted, rear seatbacks were static and did not fold. Kudos to Suzuki for acting quickly by incorporating fold down seats the following year and responding promptly to customer feedback. Kizashi second row is best left for two riders. Rear seat headrests fold down if drivers wish them out of the rear mirror view.
Suzuki has announced plans for gas-electric hybrid version of Kizashi, probably sometime near the 2011 model year. Camry has sold a hybrid for a couple years and Ford just introduced a well-executed game-changer Fusion sedan hybrid for 2010. Malibu is not offering a 'mild' hybrid edition in 2010 as was the case in 2008 and 2009.
Suzuki's ace in the hole may be its generous seven-year/100,000-mile (whichever comes first) powertrain warranty. It's one of the longest warranties and it's fully transferable to the next owner, a key difference when compared to Korean automaker Hyundai's 10-year 100,000-mile warranty. Kizashi meets 2014 crash test standards and includes 8 standard air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control standard in all four trims.
Kizashi goes on sale in limited quantities this December at Suzuki dealerships with full production expected by next spring. Suzuki's newest offering is available solely in North American markets for the time being.
Exact pricing is to be announced mid-November, but Gene Brown provided a clear vision. A mid-trim SE is slated to start around $21,500 with more standard equipment than a comparable Mazda 6 sedan. A base S trim will start below $20,000 while a tricked out SLS tops out at $27,900.
Suzuki's past automotive success has been tied to low-cost transportation. Kizashi is much more than basic A to B; it's a great value when factoring in generous standard equipment. Brown noted that with Kizashi, Suzuki intends to move from basic transportation to an aspirational boutique brand in the minds of consumers. That could be a tough sell. Framing Kizashi as a value-driven sporty sedan to those 45 and under may be a better pitch as consumers dig their way out of the great recession depths and look for all the value available.