I’ve never really liked convertibles, and still don’t. It’s just something about the looks, and the fact that it almost always ruins a good coupe. I have had this dislike for a long time; Mustangs should be coupes. The Corvette should be a coupe. The 911 should most definitely be a coupe, and so on and so on. On the other hand, a true roadster or speedster that is born as a topless driving machine, I love. The Shelby Cobra, the Stirling Moss Edition SLR, and cars like the Ariel Atom and Caterham are cars that I have always admired and lusted after. Yes they don’t have a top, much like the convertibles I listed earlier, but the difference is that when you design a car as a coupe then chop the top to please a non-enthusiast buyer, you end up ruining the car in both performance and looks – in my opinion.
In 2001, a company that I knew only for their bikes, and I’m not a bike guy, came out with a true speedster concept that not only looked amazing then, but looking back now it would still be a modern and “out there” concept car. This car was called the GSX-R/4 by a company, you might have guessed by now, called Suzuki. Seeing this amazing little speedster led me to investigate the Suzuki brand as a whole, and man am I glad I did. Here in America, as with many car companies, we don’t always get the best the company has to offer. Suzuki didn’t sell much here in America back in 2001, and nothing worthy of an enthusiasts attention, unless you like 4×4, so my interest quickly dissipated. All the way into 2007 was more of the same with Suzuki. Great cars over seas and slim offerings in the US. Then comes the Suzuki SX4, Suzuki’s attempt to bring a fully Japanese built, sporty car to America. Granted the SX4’s 0-60 was 10 seconds and it looks like an egg, but despite this it had Suzuki’s iAWD (intelligent all-wheel-drive) system and a chassis built for rally racing. The SX4 was Suzuki’s first step in the right direction. T heir second was cutting ties with GM and Daewoo, and now their third big step toward getting an American car enthusiast like myself to buy a Suzuki product is the all new Kizashi.
Suzuki is so confident that the Kizashi will win over American car buyers, that they have put their money where their mouth is. The new campaign from Suzuki marketing is go test drive the Kizashi, then test drive an Audi A4 or Acura TSX. If you end up not buying the Kizashi, then Suzuki will pay you $100. Granted its more of a marketing campaign to announce who Suzuki really has their eyes set on, but it has gotten the enthusiast world buzzing about Suzuki. So what do we think?
Lets start with inside our Vivid Red Kizashi GTS. The only optional add-on in this car are premium floor mats and body side molding accents. This is because the Kizashi is packed full of standard features that would break the bank in cars that Suzuki has its sights set on. What you get as standard equipment on this GTS include things like dual zone auto climate control, 10-way power drivers seat, steering wheel audio controls, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, cruise control, power tilt and slide sunroof, and an amazing car stereo! The 425 watt Rockford Fosgate system has 10 speakers including a trunk mounted sub, iPod and MP3 USB port, Bluetooth hands free calling, wireless audio streaming, and a CD player. Crank this sucker up and you’ll be impressed with this factory stereo. The seats are premium cloth and as far as cloth seats go, these are great. You still get good support and a comfortable seating position. The materials used throughout the interior of the Kizashi feel premium and Suzuki did a great job making sure the touch points were spot on. Obviously, a car like the A4 is going to have a better quality interior, but not by a substantial amount. The trunk in this mid-sized car inevitably surprised everyone we showed it to. Despite the exterior looks, which make this car appear much smaller than it actually is, the interior and trunk are very spacious. Many people were not happy with the exterior looks of the car when it was first introduced, mainly complaining about the difference in design from the last concept to final production. This never bothered me because I never have high hopes with car companies bringing concept design into production. Despite this, the car does look sporty with flared fenders and an integrated trunk spoiler, 18 inch alloy wheels, short overhangs in the front and rear, and even the fake dual exhaust outlets in the rear it all works together and really does it for me.
Our test car came with the six-speed manual transmission hooked up to the 2.4 liter engine pushing 185 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. We test drove the SLS Kizashi a few weeks before with the six-speed CVT (continuously variable transmission) which only gets 180 horsepower out of the same engine. With the CVT setup, I was really disappointed in the performance of the car. It still had a great, if not better, interior with the leather seats, but just didn’t feel like it had any get-up-and-go, even in manual mode shifting with the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Fortunately, all is cured by giving us the transmission we want in any car, the six-speed manual. All of the sudden, the car feels more responsive and quicker. This leads you to taking corners with more passion and enthusiasm, which in turn shows of the great chassis and suspension that Suzuki has developed in this car. Even in the face of a front-wheel-drive setup, the Kizashi kept its composure and never felt like the front wheels couldn’t handle the job of power and turning. There was never a feel of abundant torque steer or understeer to upset our backroad joyrides, although with much more horsepower to the ground, we might not get the same result. Even if you don’t want to drive with the entusiasm that we most often do, this car soars down the highway with ease. Minimal wind noise and road noise make it easy to enjoy the drive, and knowing your getting close to 30 miles per gallon makes it that much better. Even with our driving, city and highway, we averaged just over 23 mpg.
Kizashi is a Japanese word for “Something great is coming” and we agree with one small difference. That something great is here! Stacking the Kizashi up to its competition seems like a no brainer to me. Our test car clocked in at $24,599, loaded, and getting anything close to it would be stretching your pocket into the high $30k range. In fact, the top of the line SLS that we drove with the leather and CVT topped out at just over $28k. You just can’t beat it on price. Unless your into big name recognition and badge prestige, there is no real reason you’d pick an Audi or Acura over the Suzuki. I actually like the fact that Suzuki still isn’t a well known brand and when you tell people what you are driving they look at you with a look of confusion. “You mean that car your racing around in is a Suzuki?” “What’s a Kizashi?” It always leads into my favorite part about owning a car you love, “lets go check it out!” I can’t wait to see what Suzuki has up it’s sleeve next. I know they are bringing the Swift to the United States, but further into the future, if Suzuki keeps on its path, we really will be looking at something great.