Kizashi looks to Swift upgraders
FIVE years ago the better half convinced me the new Suzuki Swift S was the car for us. Stylish, economical, safe and fun to punt along a country road, it fitted our late twenty-something no-kids lifestyle to a tee.
We weren't the only ones who opted for the bargain Swift hatchback either. Soon the things were bloody everywhere on our roads, suggesting the rest of Australia found it to be a great little car too.
So, the Swift was an unprecedented success story for Suzuki both here and overseas, which is why the new Kizashi has been bravely launched into the competitive and crowded mid-size sedan segment.
The Japanese manufacturer is counting on ex-Swift buying 30-somethings like me to be ready for an upgrade, expecting us to now have a couple of kids in tow and a better salary.
Much to my better half's dismay I'm failing on both counts, but that doesn't mean the Kizashi doesn't appeal to us. In fact, after a weekend of putting a range-topping Kizashi XLS through its paces on the Sunshine Coast, our aging Swift looked very much like trade-in fodder.
Brand loyalty is one thing, but as with the Swift, Suzuki understands the importance of aesthetics. The Kizashi has beautiful form, and even though it is a genuine mid-size offering, still manages to look sportily compact with its short overhangs front and rear.
It's priced competitively too. The entry-level XL variant starts at $27,990 before on-roads, but with all the goodies and an auto gearbox as with my XLS version, the retail price for a new one is a more challenging $41,990 driveaway in Queensland. My test car, a 5700km ex-demo model in Prussian blue from Nambour Suzuki, is priced at $37,990 drive away.
With full leather cabin my XLS felt every inch the executive sedan to justify its price. You'll find fabric pews in the cheaper XL model, but all Kizashi interiors come with excellent fit and finishes.
Unlike the harder plastics found in the lesser Swifts, the Kizashis have soft-touch materials throughout with a classy sweeping dashboard and simple, well laid-out controls. No Sat-nav or Bluetooth are disappointing omissions for those buying in this segment, but there is a USB port for your iPod.
The leather seats are as cosseting as they look. It is a wonderfully comfortable place to sit, and its heated seats are electronically adjustable any way you can imagine. Those stepping out of German luxury cars into a Kizashi may well be pleasantly surprised at Suzuki's efforts here.
At speed it's a similar story. The interior is very well insulated so eating up the kilometres on an interstate dash would be a joy in this cabin.
On the road
For a family sedan, the Kizashi surprised me with a true sporting bent to go with its athletic looks. It really is a hoot to drive, and although I expected it to match or exceed the Swift in terms of fun factor, I'd not been prepared for its excellent chassis.
The Kizashi is at its best through the corners, with minimal body roll, superb grip and good heavy steering offering a pleasing amount of feedback to the driver. Its overall poise was superb. This is a Suzuki that can get you from A to B in great comfort, but also a car you'll be pleased to take on the scenic route home.
With a 2.4-litre four-cylinder under its shapely bonnet, it's no sports car in the power department, however. With 131kW and 230Nm it's keen enough, but you've really got to have the revs up to feel you're shifting at any great rate.
I couldn't help feeling how good this car would be with a decent turbo diesel, turbocharged four or bigger six-cylinder doing the pulling.
Its naturally-aspirated four-potter is good enough for most journeys, but the Kizashi would truly enter the sports car leagues with just that bit more low-down shove.
The Continually Variable Transmission – basically a very smart automatic – couldn't be faulted, but I did opt for tiptronic control to keep the revs up in lower gears when on the twisties.
Where to start? It's a fully loaded segment, but take your pick from competitors including the Toyota Camry Sportivo (from $33,990), Honda Accord Euro (from $31,490), Ford Mondeo (from $30,990), Kia Optima ($36,990) and Hyundai i45 (from $29,590).
What do you get?
For your dollars, the Kizashi XLS is very well equipped. You get auto everything, twin-zone air conditioning, front and rear parking sensors, sunroof, push-button start and cruise control.
When new, the range-topper adds a $6000 premium to the XL version, but it seems money well spent. No matter which Kizashi you pick, safety hasn't been compromised with a comprehensive ESP system and front, side and curtain airbags to give a five-star ANCAP rating.
The rear seats fold in a 60-40 configuration for huge cargo space, but the boot alone should suffice for most trips with a healthy 461-litre capacity.
Five adults can travel in impressive comfort, with the rear head-room particularly pleasing.
Body style is both sporty and elegant and suggests a more youthful choice than the likes of a BMW or Audi offering of this size.
At a quoted 7.9 litres per 100km you have a decent performance sedan here without the heavy drinking. I gave the Kizashi a good workout over mainly back roads, so I returned closer to 9 litres/100km – still excellent for a car of its size.
The Kizashi's appealing sporty looks are backed up by superb driving dynamics, if not quite the performance. This shouldn't put the majority of buyers off, however, as Suzuki has succeeded in producing a genuine contender in the mid-size sedan segment, with a style, comfort and finish level that truly impress for the money.
If it only had a choice of engines – including a diesel and true performance option – I've no doubt it would be as ubiquitous on the roads as the little Swift is.
Model: Suzuki Kizashi XLS.
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive mid-size sedan.
Engine: 2.4-litre in-line four-cylinder with variable DOHC generating maximum power of 131kW @ 6500rpm and peak torque of 230Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) automatic.
Consumption: 7.9 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: Dealer demonstrator car with 5700km on the clock provided by Garry Crick's Nambour Suzuki (07 5441 9500, www.cricks.com.au), for sale at $37,990 drive away.
For more motoring check out Drive.com.au.