Friday, May 20, 2011

Autos: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi GTS

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

PRICE AS TESTED: $23,614 (base price: $23,234)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection

Displacement: 146 cu in, 2393 cc
Power (SAE net): 185 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 170 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual

Wheelbase: 106.3 in Length: 183.1 in
Width: 71.7 in Height: 58.3 in
Curb weight: 3337 lb

Zero to 60 mph: 7.5 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 22.3 sec
Zero to 120 mph: 41.8 sec
Street start, 5–60 mph: 8.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.2 sec @ 88 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 126 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 172 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.86 g
EPA city/highway driving: 20/29 mpg
C/D observed: 27 mpg
Unscheduled oil additions: 0 qt

March 2011

Date: March 2011
Months in Fleet: 14 months
Current Mileage: 31,197 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 27 mpg
Range: 448 miles
Service: $556
Normal Wear: $0
Repair: $0

If a great mid-size sedan falls into the showrooms of a small brand that few people know about, will anybody hear it? That’s the question posed by the Suzuki Kizashi, a hidden gem that has been mostly charming the staff as it heads into its home stretch with a swing through our Los Angeles office.
Before it ever leaves its Japanese factory, a Kizashi already has two strikes against it. Size-wise, it’s a neither-nor, wedged between mid-size stalwarts such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry and compacts such as the Mazda 3, which it most closely resembles in personality. Such “tweener” vehicles always struggle to win buyers who, for about the same money, can buy a larger car with fewer amenities or a smaller car with more frills.

The second strike is Suzuki’s paucity of dealers. Suzuki doesn’t have a captive lender such as Ford Motor Credit, so the credit meltdown tore a hole in the company’s U.S. distribution network. Dealers gave up their franchises, owing to a lack of available credit for buyers and floor-plan expenses. In Los Angeles, for example, where imports own the roads, Suzuki has no dealers in the trendier areas west of downtown and only six in the sprawling county, which measures roughly 100 miles by 100 miles and has a population of 10 million. In contrast, Honda has 15 dealers within 17 miles of downtown.

Like an Italian Car in One Way

Ferrari doesn’t have a lot of dealers, either, so a low dealer count isn’t necessarily indicative of product desirability. Our Kizashi has been running squeak-free and mostly without flaws since it arrived 14 months ago. It’s eager and flexible, able to go from a relaxed commuting capsule in the rush-hour stampede to a bratty little hole jumper when the driver’s blood pressure is up. The 185-hp, 2.4-liter four has real urge and puts cars in the rearview quicker than its paper stats or test specs (7.5 seconds to 60) would indicate, and it has returned an average of 27 mpg so far in our driving.

The seats, too, have been getting lots of happy thoughts, wearing like second skins over the long haul. A 900-mile run from L.A. to Reno, Nevada, and on to Monterey, California—a substantial day by anybody’s measure—left us relaxed and ache-free. Why can’t all cars have seats this comfortable? Also surprising is the Kizashi’s paint quality. Recently, we parked our platinum-silver Suzuki next to a similarly silver-hued $90,000-plus Mercedes-Benz S-class and noticed that the Kizashi’s metallic coat (a $130 option) was equally lustrous, with no obvious orange peel.
Drawing Fire
The biggest lightning rod for complaints is the six-speed manual’s shifter, which was never very tight or snick-snickity to begin with. Now it’s even looser and less fulfilling, and the reverse engagement feels as though you’re forcing the stick against a wad of rubber bands. Often we think reverse is engaged, only to hear the nauseating zzzzing! of a not-quite-meshed dog clutch. The start/stop button needs to be pushed twice or held down to stop the engine; that gets old. Finally, the brakes have seen their best days. Although there was still a safe amount of meat on the pads at the 30,000-mile checkup, the pedal is getting softer with time, and some judder makes its way up the steering column during harder stops.

The 22,500-mile service passed with a $105 bill, and the 30,000-mile service landed with a $376 thud, mainly because that is the service in which the coolant and various filters are replaced, including the $114 (!) cabin-air filter. For that kind of money, the air should be bottle-able as a health elixir.

The nearest dealer to our L.A. bureau raises the distribution-network issue. It is more than 30 miles away, and it’s hardly the gleaming retail center you find selling Hondas or Toyotas. It appears to be a former used-car lot, with a ratty little showroom and a service department located down a weedy back alley. It could be the best dealer in all of cardom, but in an era of dealerships seemingly made of chrome and stainless steel with klieg lights blazing in the night, this kind of brand representation won’t lift Suzuki’s image.

Date: August 2010
Months in Fleet: 7 months
Current Mileage: 12,192 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 25 mpg
Range: 415 miles
Service: $45
Normal Wear: $0
Repair: $0

Seven months in, and our Kizashi is short on miles. But don’t blame the Suzuki, which has a logbook full of praise. It’s merely the result of having high-dollar rides like a BMW 750Li xDrive and Infiniti M56 S in our long-term fleet.

If the Kizashi is underdriven, however, it is not unloved. Our previous main complaint was that the Kizashi is slow, which is still true. Yet we’ve otherwise been pleased with the Kizashi’s quiet ride and comfortable driver’s seat. The clutch pedal is relatively soft, which makes for easy driving in stop-and-go traffic.

The Kizashi has also been problem-free. Our only mishaps have been cupholder-related. First, we broke off one of the spring-loaded tabs that keep smaller beverages in place. Then the foam-rubber liner at the bottom of the cupholder was sucked up by an errant vacuum nozzle. Both items have yet to be repaired. (We like living on the edge.) We had a recall service performed at no cost to fix the glove box, which could open in a crash. Overall, our only expense has been $45 for an oil and filter change, tire rotation, and multipoint inspection at 7500 miles.

Our goal in the coming months is to get more people behind the wheel of the Kizashi for longer trips. Despite the car’s charms, it has yet to establish itself as a long-haul favorite. Given the positive comments in the logbook, we think it will do just fine, but it might need enticements like an aftermarket satellite-radio system (or a turbocharger) to lure the staff away from other cars with more bling.

Date: May 2010
Months in Fleet: 3 months
Current Mileage: 5163 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 25 mpg
Range: 415 Miles
Service: $0
Normal Wear: $0
Repair: $0

Suzuki wants you to know it makes cars in addition to its widely recognized motorcycles, which perhaps explains the massiveness of the “S” on the grille of the Kizashi. Although fully enclosed and riding on four wheels, the Kizashi does retain one characteristic from Suzuki’s other business: diminutiveness. Instead of going head to head with big family sedans like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the Kizashi is smaller by half a size.

In lieu of a cavernous interior, the Kizashi hopes to lure buyers with a little more refinement and luxury than the larger competition. A base Kizashi is $19,734, with standard power windows, power locks, keyless start, two-zone automatic climate control, and a six-speed manual gearbox. Our GTS-trim test car starts at $23,234. One step below the loaded SLS trim, the GTS adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, 18-inch wheels and tires, a power sunroof, a power driver’s seat, and a 425-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo. To that, we added metallic paint, floor mats, and body-side moldings, for a total price of $23,614.

A Slow Start
The Kizashi comes with but one engine, a 185-hp, 2.4-liter inline-four that is respectable in its output, if not thrilling. The 0-to-60-mph time of 7.5 seconds is decent. The engine, however, gets no respect in our logbook comments. Our biggest complaint is a lack of power, which precludes any urgency in the 3337-pound Kizashi. Although the Kizashi’s quarter-mile time of 16.2 seconds at 88 mph betters that of the rest of the four-cylinder family-sedan market, the fact that there’s no other engine option is at odds with the affordable-luxury, sport-sedan perception Suzuki’s marketing pushes.

There are few other initial complaints about the Kizashi aside from its lack of grunt. To quote senior editor Tony Quiroga, “There’s nothing here a turbocharger wouldn’t fix.” The interior is comfortable and feels high quality. The car is very quiet, by our own ears and by the 69 decibels we measured at a steady 70-mph cruise. One minor complaint that has surfaced: The trunklid doesn’t open up very high. It swings up to head level, which means knocked noggins if we reach into the trunk without paying attention.

Head wounds aside, the little Suzuki hasn’t caused us any problems since its arrival and has yet to visit the local dealer for any service. It might not be as exciting as a superbike, but as a family sedan, it doesn’t really need to be.


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