Since its launch amid the global financial crisis, the medium car segment has begun to slow down. It's no longer the alternative to the large car segment (which has long ago been deserted by private buyers). Nonetheless, in the brief 13 months that the Suzuki Kizashi has been on sale, it has managed to claim third position (private sales) in the segment.
To celebrate the success of the Kizashi and to give something back to a select group of lucky customers, Suzuki Australia organised a driver education and track event at Broadford race course in country Victoria. CarAdvice was invited to see what the company was up to and discuss, in person, what owners thought of their cars.
Customer track days are not too common these days, thanks in part to the growing cost of public liability insurance and the political correctness of "advanced driving". To have the media along with customers is even more rare, as the risk of unhappy owner and journalist communication can be high. Alas, Suzuki Australia is very confident in its products to allow this to happen.
Teaching someone how to control their car at high speed or in a dangerous situation has been deemed inappropriate by many. Their argument goes that it creates 'over-confident' drivers. The State and Federal governments have managed to convince the majority of the general public that in order to be a safe driver, all you have to do is stick to the speed limit. Hence why they've rebranded speed cameras as 'safety cameras'.
Thankfully though, those of us in the industry know how little validity that mentality holds. The old saying that knowledge is power holds true in pretty much every situation, none more than behind the wheel of an automobile. The more you understand the physics of driving, the elements that dictate how your car behaves and most importantly, how your input in a certain situation could be the difference between life and death, the better a driver you will be.
Suzuki Australia called on the folks at John Bowe Driving school to not only showcase the capabilities of the Kizashi in a safe and secure environment, but also teach the attending owners how to become better drivers.
The driver training course covers everything from advanced skid control, high-speed avoidance techniques and car control. If you're still wondering why any of that is actually necessary, think of it this way: If you work in a building long enough, chances are you will have an emergency drill to teach you how to evacuate safely and in a timely fashion. Meanwhile, if you happen to be driving for many years, chances are you've never experienced an emergency brake situation or worked out how to avoid a collision if the situation was to arise (or if you have experienced, it was right before an accident). Sadly, there is more chance of you being hurt in a car accident than in a workplace related fire. So the training is absolutely necessary.
The Suzuki Kizashi AWD Sport, which now accounts for more than 60 percent of Kizashi sales, has been a hit with its target audience. Those looking for something a little sporty and different but not willing to compromise on comfort, reliability, safety or efficiency.
The majority of owners attending the event (who were mostly aged between 40-50) had never been to a race track before (as drivers), nor had they completed any form of advance driver training. So there was a great deal of enthusiasm going into the event to learn as much as they could.
Although most new cars come packed with a variety of safety features that try their hardest to stop you from having an accident (everything from traction and stability control to automatic braking and even lane-departure warning and correction systems), the single biggest cause of vehicle accidents still remains the driver (by a large margin). So if you're relying on your car's six airbags and computer systems to keep you safe, because you're not a confident driver, just remember that prevention (as in, becoming a confident driver) is always the best approach.
With that thought in mind, we began a quick theory session on how to avoid and recover from a skid (both over and understeer). Afterwards we set off for our first exercise. A drive through a series of witches hats to explore the Kizashi's handling capabilities, but also to learn the vehicle's limits.
From there we attended a high-speed avoidance exercise, which had us travelling at speeds of up to 80km/h before braking hard and swerving to avoid an object (in this case, witches hats). The idea was to learn how the Kizashi behaves if someone pulls out infront of you without warning and what you can and can't do to avoid it. Other exercises included a speed run through the track and slalom training.
The whole event took less than six hours (including a lunch break) and resulted in owners walking away with skills that could one day save their lives and a greater knowledge of how their Kizashi will behave in certain uncommon scenarios. Six hours well spent.
Overall, the driver training was an eye opener to nearly all attendees. Apart from understanding many fundamental basics behind car control that are never thought by any learner-driver instructor, they began to realise that their AWD vehicle is capable of enormously more grip than they had imagined. They saw how the Kizashi handled itself in avoiding an object at high speed with little manoeuvring room. They also experienced the point where the vehicle's electronic stability control will jump in and help prevent the driver losing control.
Talking to owners after the event (some of whom had owned their Kizashi for many months), all were thrilled with the day and their cars. Digging in deeper (as car journalist love to do), the only minor complaint I could extract from one owner was that the boot makes use of metal hinges that cut into boot space (although everyone else thought it was a non-issue). Apart from that, there was a unanimous consensus that the Suzuki Kizashi had well and truly exceeded their expectations. Most had bought it because they loved the look and feel, plus the features for the price.
Some wanted something a little different and couldn't look past the Kizashi's sporty nature. Either way, they were a bunch of happy owners.
When CarAdvice first drove the Kizashi, we felt that it was one of the best handling cars in its segment. A vehicle capable of managing significantly higher amounts of power and torque. It also happened to be comfortable, safe and well appointed. Then when we drove the Kizashi AWD Sport, we amplified those sentiments. A car as well built and constructed as the Kizashi was always destined for greater things. Sales are expected to gradually increase over the coming months as the Japanese company plans to further expand its market share next year.
Tony Devers, Suzuki Australia Managing Director, told CarAdvice that Suzuki had under performed in Australia and his mission was to change that. Suzuki outsells many of its Japanese rivals (such as Subaru, Mitsubishi, etc.) in Europe and is either the second or third best selling manufacturer in Japan (depending on when you ask). The road ahead for Suzuki Australia is a bright one, the brand is set to launch the new Suzuki Swift Sport early next year and continue its push to win the hearts and minds of more customers.
The relationship with Volkswagen (which now owns roughly 20 percent of Suzuki) has been cooking for some time as well, so expect to see the first child of that marriage in the near future.
There was another really good reason why CarAdvice attended the event, but unfortunately you will have to wait a few more weeks before we can talk about that!