Rare breed on prowl!
By David Morgan
IF you want a low volume car spoken about, you'd be as well to follow Suzuki's example with its new Kizashi.
On the face of it, news of a larger Suzuki from a manufacturer renowned for fine small cars is hardly something to set the heather on fire – especially when Suzuki expects to sell no more than 500 a year in the UK.
But in the case of the four-door Kizashi, the newcomer has set tongues wagging throughout the industry simply because it's a real oddball in so many respects.
For a start, you'll struggle to spot one on the roads because of its restricted numbers, but more bizarrely it comes only as a four-door saloon with a lively but unfashionable 2.4-litre 16-valve petrol engine and no prospect of a diesel version which would have multiplied its desirability by a factor of 10.
That's because among the surprising Kizashi's many attractions in a super generous standard specification is a six-speed paddle shift CVT automatic transmission and snow defeating switchable 4x4.
This is a car of contrasts that got me wondering – why?
Why would Suzuki launch such a low volume car? Why would it give the vehicle such a rich and impressive level of standard equipment at a bargain price?
And why stop its potential dead in the water by not offering a turbodiesel option?
The last question is the clincher, not that there's anything wrong with the lively four-cylinder 176bhp 2.4-litre petrol engine. It's just that a modern high torque and frugal diesel would have worked well with its switchable 4x4 and may have triggered another possible option – a manual transmission.
The answer to all those questions is simple. Suzuki has produced this unexpectedly appealing mid-sized car because it can.
It's a signal that Suzuki is not just good at budget superminis, outboard motors and motorbikes, but is capable of delivering significantly larger cars with the same underlying Suzuki value, reliability and build quality.
It's an impressive package that includes electrically adjustable seats with three-position memory function, full leather, three-stage heated front seats, intelligent all-wheel-drive, and CVT transmission with paddle shift control.
It has a sporty character, drives well and has a premium feel and trim with an electric glass sunroof, keyless entry, seven airbags, HID headlamps with pressure wash, dual zone air conditioning, cruise control, and an eight-speaker radio/CD system with Bluetooth and USB port. It also has front parking sensors, but none at the back where they would have been more useful.
Kizashi also qualifies for the "luxury" tag and is relaxed and comfortable. But there have to be negatives. The car's standard "sports" suspension is too firm and lively for its "luxury" character – and while the 461-litre cargo capacity is good, the fact that the split and fold rear seats leave an irritating step in the loading floor makes the car less practical than I had hoped.
Mind you, I still managed to get my student son's full-sized racing bike in the back with the front wheel removed.
But the biggest bugbear was its ride – lively and unsettled. The test car's 18-inch alloys shod with 235/45 Bridgestone Blizzak tyres didn't help – higher profile rubber would have taken the edge off the lively and sometimes noisy ride, but would have done little for the Kizashi's propensity to roll into a corner when in front-wheel-drive.
I got better results by driving the car in 4x4 – a simple dashboard push button action that firmed up the car and made it feel far more stable, at the expense of slightly higher fuel consumption.
Which brings me to the car's other limitation – its engine and its economy. To be fair, I drove the car fairly hard and fully loaded from Moray to Aberdeen "over the hill" via Dufftown and Alford after yet another A96 closure because of an accident on this most dismal of Scottish trunk roads.
I managed just over 30mpg heading south and just under 32mpg with less weight and using the A98 route via Banff on the return – some way below the quoted over-optimistic Government combined average of 34mpg.
Suzuki says it's not economically feasible to fit a diesel engine for the low volume UK market – understandable but a pity when it would boost economy and still deliver a good drive.
But those doubts apart, there is no denying the quality and finish of this substantial little luxury car. Its styling is fresh and handsome – and while its big grille may look a little over the top, it helps to distinguish the Kizashi on the road.
This is a remarkable car in many ways, and a strange one. It's a solid beast that weighs in at 1.62 tonnes at the kerb, will tow a 1.7-tonne braked trailer, and has a gross weight of more than two tonnes. So it's no Japanese lightweight then.
It's compact at 4.65m long and offers space for five adults in its well equipped and smartly finished interior.
It may have the Japanese love of too much plastic around the dash, but everything works well and the instruments and controls are clear and crisp. My only handling gripe is the car's over-light power steering.
The car's 63-litre petrol tank should deliver a 400-mile range, and its engine is lively with a strong overtaking delivery thanks to torque of 170lb.ft. With maximum power coming in at 6,000rpm and peak pulling power arriving at 4,000rpm, the engine thrives on high revs.
The engine is fairly high capacity for a mid-range four-cylinder power pack and not as smooth as you might as expect from Suzuki. It growls under hard acceleration but calms down in the cruise.
Overall the Kizashi is impressive and with standard switchable 4x4 would be the perfect compact car for those who want affordable and comfortable luxury transport and live in areas, such as the north, where all-wheel-drive ability is a winter necessity.
It's a car that's as much a statement of ability as it is a coming together of Suzuki's ingenuity.
If you can lay your hands on one of these saloons I doubt you'll be disappointed. The Kizashi may be a luxurious rarity – but it's also usable and excellent value.
FINAL THOUGHT: Interesting venture into larger cars from Suzuki will be a rare bird on British roads, but if you value switchable 4x4 in a handy and well-appointed package the Kizashi is worth a close look.
Suzuki Kizashi 4x4 auto
- Price: £21,995
- Capacity: 2393cc
- Power: 176bhp
- 0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
- Maximum speed: 127mph
- Economy: Combined 34mpg, Urban 42.8mpg
- Motorsnorth average: 31.1mpg
- CO2 emissions: 191g/km (VED J)
- ESP: Standard
- Insurance: Group 26