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Suzuki's introduction of an all-new midsize sedan may come as a surprise, but even more surprising is how much Suzuki is waving the performance flag around the 2010 Kizashi. Suzuki included a modified Road Race version of it at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show, even the high trim versions come standard with a six-speed manual, and the body design screams aggression.
Few midsize sedans appeal to driving enthusiasts, as the market is dominated by the Toyota Camry, setting the pace for the segment with comfortable, economical cars built as everyday commuters. As such, these cars show their best virtues in getting superior fuel economy and providing the kind of cabin tech that lets drivers avoid serious traffic jams while making hands-free phone calls to spouses to see if a grocery stop is necessary on the way home.
The 2010 Kizashi meets some of these requirements with the SLS trim level, comfortable and power-adjustable leather seats, a standard Bluetooth phone system, and a 2.4-liter engine that easily got mileage in the mid-20s during our testing.
An aggressive edge
But the Kizashi asserts a more rambunctious character. One clue is the six-speed manual in a market dominated by automatics. You can bring it back in line with the majority by opting for a continuously variable transmission.
Six-speed manuals are not common among midsize sedans.
Another clue is the 425-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, standard in the two top trim levels. This audio system makes big sound, with enough bass pumped out of a subwoofer on the rear deck to make the whole car shake and rumble.
Suzuki also gives the Kizashi a tech edge by making a smart key and USB port, which also offers iPod integration, standard at all trim levels. In the SLS trim, it also gets Bluetooth streaming to the audio system. There is an optional navigation system, as well, but it wasn't included in our test car so we can't comment on its features.
We took the Kizashi's sport notes as a challenge to test it on the kind of roads we normally reserve for dedicated sports cars, winding mountain tracks with hard corners that test grip and handling. Right out of the garage we put the engine to the test with a few jackrabbit starts.
As noted above, the Kizashi comes with a 2.4-liter four cylinder, a run-of-the-mill mill with an output of 185 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. These are not impressive numbers, but Suzuki publishes a zero to 60 mph time for the car of 7.4 seconds. That is not crazy fast, either, but just the fact that Suzuki publishes the number shows that the company expects driving enthusiasts to be interested in the car.
The exhaust pipes are integrated into the bumper, a stylistic performance touch.
We got the Kizashi's revs up and dropped the clutch, producing front-wheel spin and traction control warnings flickering on the instrument cluster before the car moved smartly forward. The fast start wasn't bad, but we could have gotten the same performance out of the Mazda6 we tested earlier. The six-speed manual adds a bit of fun to the car, and encourages this type of behavior.
Hard in the turns
With nothing exceptionally noteworthy under the hood, we set out to see if Suzuki gave it a big handling advantage. On the freeway, we noted the somewhat close gear ratios, with sixth gear letting the engine run at 2,500rpm. Dropping down to fifth only produced a 500rpm difference. We would have expected a taller top gear, but the car's mileage was still looking good, running up toward 25 mpg.
Once in the fun stuff, taking the car through the first set of curves showed that it could be pushed, but again nothing dramatic, with handling no better than the Mazda6 or the Nissan Altima, as another example. The Kizashi leaned as inertia pulled it out on the turns, and we gave it some throttle, letting the front wheels dig in and pull the car through.
A big Rockford Fosgate subwoofer mounted on the rear deck shakes and rattles the car.
The steering feels nice and tight, but successive curves produced plenty of understeer. Getting onto damper roads, the front end showed a tendency to wash around as the traction control tried to give it some grip while fighting the turns. The rear wheels were no particular help, although the Kizashi can be had in all-wheel-drive.
After a while, we realized that the Kizashi is more bluster than bite, and started to drive it as transportation. The ride was comfortable and the cabin roomy enough for a car in this class, and that Rockford Fosgate audio system let us terrorize urban streets by setting off car alarms up and down the street.
The iPod interface is standard, but requires a lot of scrolling for music selection.
Feeding the sound system music from an iPod, we found the music interface usable, but mediocre. The radio display includes two big lines of text in monochrome glory. We quickly figured out how to push the buttons and turn dials to select artists and albums, but it is a tedious process, requiring you to scroll through lists with hundreds of items. The MP3 CD interface was worse, as the display only shows track or folder number, not name, when you use the scroll function, although it does revert to ID3 tag display when you stop on a song.
Bluetooth audio streaming is also available, which, as in other cars, works like a wireless auxiliary input. The Bluetooth phone system is fairly typical, using voice command for its interface. It does offer a phonebook function, but you have to push contacts from phone to car; it won't automatically import anything.
Although sporting an aggressively good-looking body, the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi's running gear is pretty average, using an engine similar to that in many midsize sedans. The availability of a six-speed manual is a nice touch for driving enthusiasts. Cabin tech is modern, if not particularly cutting edge. Drivers will find iPod integration and Bluetooth phone support convenient, and the Rockford Fosgate audio system will shake the doors off.
|Model||2010 Suzuki Kizashi|
|Power train||2.4-liter inline four|
|EPA fuel economy||21 mpg city/31 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||24.1 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible CD player|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming, satellite radio, USB drive|
|Audio system||Rockford Fosgate 10 speaker 425 watts|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera|
|Price as tested||$25,184|