The Suzuki Kizashi is possibly the most underrated medium car in its segment.
From a driver's point of view, it's one of the best handling cars for the money. It comes packed with heaps of features, it's quiet, smooth and definitely a car you can live with as a daily commuter. Yet it manages only four percent market share in its segment.
One can write an entire PhD on where the disconnect between the car and the buyer could be, but Suzuki is far more proactive than that and in order to make things more exciting, it has added an all-wheel drive variant to the range.
The Suzuki Kizashi Sport AWD is going to be one of those cars that I will remember for some time – it has the potential to be an icon if the right variables fall into place.
From the outside, the modern styling can be a little too much for some, but for those of us that appreciate something outside the traditional conservative Japanese design, the Kizashi is a welcome change.
From the front, the deep, U-shaped grille is similar to what Audi has been doing for some time, which gives the Kizashi a more European look. The headlight structure blends well into the rest of the car and although you can see bits of the Suzuki SX4 in the design, it's inherently a far more sophisticated creation.
The rear is a standout as well, thanks largely to the twin chrome exhausts that are anything but hidden. Although the Kizashi is classified as a medium car, compared with a Hyundai i45 or Subaru Liberty, it has a noticeably smaller side profile. This 'small car' perception is just that, a perception. It's partially due to the short overhangs both front and rear (which help handling and reduce road noise).
Step inside and it's a rather spacious interior with enough room to carry four adults comfortably over a long distance journey. It may lack a little bit of the leg room offered by some of its rivals, but not all of us have six-foot children.
There is only one AWD variant on offer and for $39,990 you do get a fair bit for your money. It's based on the top of the range Prestige CVT which is $3000 cheaper. The pricing structure makes you wonder why you'd bother with the Prestige when the AWD gives much more for a little extra. Apart from the AWD system, the extra $3000 will get you unique 10-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, a modified sports mesh lower grille and front bumper, sports side skirts plus chrome bodyside garnishes and fog lamp bezels.
Move inside and there is an upgraded steering wheel plus Bluetooth audio streaming for your music, in addition to Bluetooth phone support. The AWD retains the same leather-wrapped seats, handbrake and gear lever as Prestige but differentiates its styling with unique silver stitching.
The 10-speaker (including Subwoofer) Rockford Fosgate audio system is pretty impressive with excellent bass and clarity. The Bluetooth audio streaming (which allows wireless transmission of music from your iPhone/smartphone) means there is seamless connectivity between your music library and the Kizashi. It would benefit from an option for a large full-colour LCD screen with satellite navigation.
To the average person, the Kizashi and Kizashi AWD don't look all that different, the badges and the details are there for the enthusiast to spot but it's not overdone.
All Kizashis are powered by the same J24B 2.4-litre DOHC in-line four cylinder engine, with 131kW (at 6000rpm) and 230 Nm of torque (at 4000rpm). So in reality, the AWD version (which has a 70kg kerb weight disadvantage over its FWD siblings) is no faster than the rest of the range.
Herein then, lies my only real criticism of the Suzuki Kizashi Sport AWD. On one hand it's in contention with the Subaru Liberty turbo for the best handling car in its segment, on the other hand it really needs more grunt to make the most of its impressive chassis.
Additionally, it's only offered with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is a surprise given that the sporty nature of the car would have well suited Suzuki's impressive six-speed manual gearbox.
As part of the test, I took the Kizashi Sport AWD up the twisty mountain roads of Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious in Brisbane. After a few dashes up and down the mountain it became pretty obvious that the Kizashi's AWD system is designed for the enthusiast. It offers excellent power delivery in and out of corners while maintaining that confidence-inspiring feeling. It can be turned on/off with a button (right of the steering wheel) and when on, it tends to put most of the power to the front-wheels until the rear needs it. This is beneficial as it helps save fuel (8.4L/100km), but the transition of power is done so seamlessly that you'd be hard pressed to figure out that it's not running in AWD mode at all times.
Handling wise, the Kizashi Sport AWD is hard to beat. It feels agile and begs to be driven hard. The AWD variant sits 10mm lower than the FWD models and that further helps its already excellent ride and handling characteristics. Around the city it absorbs bumps with ease but you can tell it's the sort of car better suited to a buyer that appreciates its sporty nature.
The steering can be a little light at first and there is a sense that it's slightly over-assisted, but that feeling will last for no more than a day or two as you'll get used to it pretty quickly. The CVT transmission is well suited to the engine and acceleration from 0-100km/h is quoted at around 8.8 seconds. Using the standard steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters made little to no difference in acceleration times or feel, the car's onboard computer can probably do a better job of gear selection in most cases (technically speaking, a CVT has no actual gears, but an infinitely variable transmission system that adjusts for optimum engine output). No matter how you look at it, it's begging for a turbo.
Speaking of which, Suzuki did showcase a turbocharged Kizashi FWD at last year's Australian International Motor Show in Sydney, which had 179kW and 330Nm of torque. The sort of figures which would make you think it's likely for production.
The Kizashi also happens to own a land-speed record of 327.85km/h at Bonneville Speed Week. That was done in a modified Kizashi that manages 383kW and 698Nm of torque – more than a Porsche 911 Turbo. So when I keep saying the chassis can easily handle more power, you can see what I mean.
Whether or not a turbocharged variant will come is still unknown. Suzuki Australia communication manager, Andrew Ellis, told CarAdvice (09/05/2011) that there has been no further development for bringing a Kizashi Turbo to Australia since the Motor Show.
Turbo talk aside, the supplied 235/45/R18 Yokohama E70 tyres behave well in the dry and help keep noise to a minimum. Given how quiet the Kizashi is anyway, I'd personally sacrifice a bit more road noise for a more grippy set of rubbers.
Suzuki has nailed the ride and handling for the Kizashi Sport AWD. It's fun and very enjoyable to drive both around town and on a curvy stretch of road. In comparison with the Liberty, the Kizashi feels more nimble and less likely to understeer when pushed to its limits. That's possibly because it's 40mm wider than the Liberty as well. However, it's no comparison in performance for the turbocharged Subaru (although the Suzuki is much cheaper).
Safety is top notch with with a five-star safety rating thanks to a well constructed chassis, all the usual nanny-controls to keep you in line and seven airbags. Suzuki offers a three-year/100,000km warranty with recommended service intervals of 15,000km or 12 months.
Overall, the Suzuki Kizashi Sport AWD is brilliant in many ways. It's well priced and offers a comfortable and quiet interior, generous equipment levels, excellent chassis and dynamics as well as modern and aggressive styling. Regardless of how you look at it, it's hard to argue against the Kizashi. If it had a bit more power and a manual transmission, its rating would go from excellent to perfect.