European tuned Kizashi looks good but is that enough?
The D-segment sedan market is undoubtedly one of the most hotly contested in Malaysia, with major Japanese and Korean players fighting hard to gain class domination. Thing is though, all the cars in this class, from the Toyota Camry to the Hyundai Sonata focus too much in trying to isolate the driver and occupants from their surroundings thus ending up as dull cars to drive. Take the wheel of any one of the current crop of offerings and you'll be left unimpressed by the anodyne steering, woolly body control and the lack of driver involvement.
That's exactly where Suzuki's new large sedan comes in. If you wanted proof of the remarkable ambition of the Japanese carmaker, this is it. Remember, this is a company that told Volkswagen to stick it where the sun don't shine so clearly they love to go against the grain.
The Kizashi marks Suzuki's entrance into the D-segment category and right from the start it's clear that the company has chosen a different path from its established rivals. Designed from the ground up to be marketed across Europe, Suzuki's engineers had been given a different set of priorities where the main target is to cater to those who need the space, but had yet to lose their youth and need for driving excitement.
That bit is clear just by looking at the Kizashi. No other rival has the same design flair and aesthetic appeal the large Suzuki has in abundance. Its European-influenced styling gives off a very athletic and dynamic stance while its organic curves and flamboyant details make it look more premium and exclusive.
We're driving the Sport variant, which gets bigger wheels with sportier, wider tyres, a different set of bumpers, lowered sports suspension and various interior enhancements. Significantly it offers more kit than its poorly equipped Japanese rivals (six airbags, 18-inch wheels, xenon headlamps, auto wipers, cruise control, premium sound system with dedicated subwoofer, keyless entry, powered front seats and leather upholstery are all standard), plus it's priced significantly less than them and lets not forget the Kizashi comes fully imported from Japan. Good value? RM158,188 is still big money for a Suzuki but can it justify it?
Beneath the striking sheetmetal lies an old-school (in the days of engine downsizing at least) 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 176bhp and 230Nm of torque. Its 0-100km/h time of 8.8 seconds betters most of its rivals too, but its CVT gearbox cuts away a little bit of the driving involvement the Kizashi is claimed to deliver.
Even with paddles and a just-about-adequate manual mode, the gearbox lacks the sense of connectedness needed to engage its driver. Ask for maximum urge and what eventually arrives is more than a little underwhelming: the engine spins to 6000rpm, but never really seems to deliver much drive to the wheels.
The steering and chassis though are a shining credit to Suzuki. The car has excellent, natural feel to its steering and suspension and melds control with comfort very cleverly. It feels balanced and responsive when cornering hard, showing off a surprisingly athletic chassis. It has plenty of grip and body control to match a bonafide sports saloon. You can go late, hard and deep into a bend and the Kizashi is still there with you, strongly resisting understeer or body lean, staying resolutely on line. Then there are the brakes: pedal feel and modulation are first rate.
One (minor) dynamic fly in the ointment is Suzuki's insistence on faddish 18-inch wheels. They're fine for grip and roadholding, but the meaty rubber takes the edge off the motorway ride, which is overly firm and knobbly. At low to medium speeds, though, it's sportingly firm but perfectly okay, which makes it a fair trade-off for all that backroad composure.
Despite being prone to the occasional CVT-drone, the Kizashi's engine is well-insulated at low speed, if a little thrashy at higher rpm, where its best work is done. Next to the downsized petrol turbos that its European counterparts offer, it seems noisy, thirsty and short on low-down torque.
Inside, there is just enough interior space to be competitive at the compact end of the Camry class. Standards of both material cabin quality and fit and finish are decent rather than great, which waters down its price and kit advantage.
Realistically though, the Suzuki Kizashi is definitely more dipped toe than big splash. The lack of a default-to-most small engine is only part of the reason why —and when you're taking on cars as established as the Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat, you set targets conservatively.
This however is not a conservative car — in fact it's a bit of mechanical curio. Suzuki is probably not the first company that springs to mind when the call goes out to produce a credible new Camry rival from scratch but on this evidence you'd be surprised.
With sporting styling and a dynamic, purposeful stance, it's close to being one of the best drivers cars in its entire class, and that certainly counts to some of us, if not most car buyers. Those who are bold enough to give the Suzuki a try will not go unimpressed, that's for sure.
Verdict: Dynamic flair impresses, but with hard plastics and thirsty engine the Kizashi is no game changer
Looks like no other
Cheaper than rivals
WE DON"T LIKE
Smallest in class
Hard interior plastics
Top speed: 205km/h
Engine: 4 cyls, 2393cc, petrol
Installation: Front, transverse, FWD
Power: 176bhp at 6500rpm
Torque: 230Nm at 4000rpm
Kerb weight: 1485kg
Brakes (f,r): Ventilated disc, solid disc
Suspension (f): MacPherson strut
Suspension (r): Multi-link
Tyres: 235/45 R18