Kizashi Sport AWD - Carpoint


Kizashi Sport AWD: Road Test

 By Jeremy Bass | 5 August 2011


Badge and bling notwithstanding, Suzuki’s top-spec mid-sizer serves up a hard to beat luxury package for the money

Price guide (recommended price before statutory and delivery charges): $39,990?
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): none?
Crash rating: 5 stars ANCAP?
Fuel: 91 RON ULP/E10
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 8.4 combined cycle?CO2 emissions (g/km): 198

First, what some might see as the bad news... Despite the Sport label, the dashing exterior lines and design cues -- like the flush, trapezoidal twin exhausts -- this is NOT a sports car. CVT-only transmission ‘option’ and standard Yokohama rubber that’s built for silence not for speed see to that.

Fortunately, however, the top-spec version of Suzuki’s smart midsizer delivers plenty of good news make up for the naming slip.

The Kizashi cuts a striking figure – like a Lexus IS250 with a bit more swoop. It has more than that in common with the IS. It’s near-Lexus quiet, it’s almost Lexus-ly well screwed together, beautifully presented and it appears to have taken a page from the Lexus value book in tying loads of kit to a pricetag. At $39,990 plus on-roads it is aiming at putting the wind up its competitors.

Which don’t include the IS! Look instead towards the Mazda6, Honda’s Accord Euro and, in the case of the top-shelf AWD, Subaru’s Liberty. In that company it starts to look quite the bargain. The AWD Liberty starts in the mid $30s, closer to the FWD Kizashi XLS, but speccing it up to match the Sport AWD takes the Subie to well over $40K.

Differentiating the Sport AWD from the XLS outdoors is a smarter set of 18-inch alloys, a black chrome mesh grille and a unique lingerie set taking in bigger air dams, side skirts, spoiler and extra chrome trim. The springs have been stiffened and the suspension dropped 10mm.

Indoors, there’s a smarter sports steering wheel with audio controls on it, Bluetooth audio and some minor trim and stitching upgrades. If that doesn’t sound like much for your three grand, put that down to the XLS already being excellently equipped with leather furniture – heated and power adjustable in front – dual zone climate control, height- and reach-adjustable steering, keyless go, rain-sensing wipers, auto xenon headlamps, sunroof and top-notch audio for its segment with nine speakers and USB interface.

The safety package is decent, too. All Kizashi models have seven airbags (a driver’s kneebag in addition to the normal six) and the full panoply of chassis electronics you’d expect in this league.

Most of the extra money, then, is absorbed by the AWD undercarriage and the CVT (in lower spec models the latter is a $2K option in itself).

Unlike the Liberty’s full-time AWD, it’s a part-time system, switchable on the hoof between FWD and AWD via a button on the driver’s right. That activates an electromagnetic coupling in the transfer case up front, connected to the rear diff by a three-link prop shaft. On the go in AWD, it defaults to FWD until it detects slip, at which point it starts shifting torque rearward – up to 100 per cent if it feels the need.

For maximum traction on all but the softest take-offs – anywhere over 10km/h or 10 per cent throttle – the AWD system makes the most of the 2.4-litre four’s 131kW and 230Nm by defaulting to a 50:50 split between front and rear axles until it hits its stride.

While it’s not fast, it’s not painfully slow either at 8.8 seconds for 0-100km/h sprint. Despite this time, in auto mode the CVT feels as if it’s sapping the engine’s strength – something not helped by a 1600kg kerb weight.

The Kizashi has a ‘joke’ manual that allows you to paddle up and down through six virtual gears – set ‘notches’ on the CVT’s otherwise sliding scale -- between which it jumps under orders from the paddles. They at least eliminate the groan normal to CVTs on hard acceleration, but it’s a pretty lame bid at adding excitement. It’s a pity, because I suspect the Sport would be a good thing with the six-cog manual.

Where it starts making up is in its mix of decent ride on urban streets and a handling package noticeably out of its powertrain’s league. Push this car through a few bends and you can feel there’s room under there for more muscle.

Suzuki knows it too. The local operation has been using the prototype shown at this year’s Melbourne and last year’s Sydney motor shows to gauge public interest. I suspect it would help no end if, as local general manager Tony Devers suggested to, they could get it to market at a premium of just $3-5K over the $40K they want for the Sport AWD. If they can swing that, they might have a real competitor to the WRX.

The front MacPherson struts and multi-link rear absorb all but the worst of suburban streets with aplomb – it takes a fair push through the rough stuff before it starts to lose its composure. It’s also well enough insulated underneath to tolerate a decent set of running shoes in place of those standard Yoko velvet slippers.

Inside, it’s surprisingly spacious. The seats are generous and well bolstered; the driver’s is well placed in relation to the height- and reach-adjustable wheel and the pedals for pretty much anyone to find a sweet spot. The cockpit is attractive and the ergonomics are well thought out. It’s hard to fault, although it would be nice to have the handbrake on the driver’s side. It takes no time to navigate your way through functions like trip computing and cruise.

The Kizashi sits well against competitors for rear legroom, but over any distance the AWD’s transmission tunnel makes it a better proposition for two adults and a child than three full-width backsides and six full-length legs.

Tighter truth-in-advertising legislation would see the top-shelf Kizashi rebadged ‘Luxury’. Its athleticism is more potential than actual. Indeed, its considerable appeal lies in its balance of pretty much everything else: great looks, high standard equipment levels, terrific build quality and attention to detail, all of which make it a bargain for $40K.

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