What is it?
An entrance into the UK’s sizeable family car market for Japanese car-maker Suzuki. But in that regard, the Suzuki Kizashi is definitely more dipped toe than big splash. After a market introduction in January 2012, Suzuki’s UK distributor expects to sell just 500 of these compact four-door saloons next year – in a segment where the most popular models will hit 50,000 units.
The lack of a default-to-fleet diesel engine is only part of the reason why – because the Kizashi is the first family three-box that Suzuki has ever made. And when you’re taking on cars as established as the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat, you set targets conservatively.
What’s it like?
Well it’s no conservative car – in fact it’s a bit of mechanical curio. With sporting styling and a dynamic, purposeful stance, the Kizashi is powered by a 2.4-litre petrol engine driving all four wheels through a paddle-operated continuously variable transmission.
It has been configured to offer lots for less: close to 180 horsepower, winter-proof all-wheel drive, an automatic gearbox, a leather interior, heated electric seats and more besides. And all for around £23,000. When the cheapest all-wheel drive Vauxhall Insignia costs not a lot less than £30k. The Kizashi emits 191g/km of CO2, which isn’t going to make it cheap to tax (band J) – but for a private buyer, given the price of the car, that wouldn’t be a huge problem.
A drive in a development version of this car last autumn uncovered a drive with plenty of poise and verve – but that was a front-driven manual. The all-paw CVT car trades a big chunk of the six-speed’s involvement for everyday ease of use.
Even with paddles and a just-about-adequate manual mode, the gearbox lacks the sense of connectedness needed to engage its driver. It’s also mated to an engine that’s quite short on torque and therefore a reluctant partner for a CVT. Ask for maximum urge in the Kizashi and what eventually arrives is more than a little underwhelming: the engine spins to 6000rpm, but never really seems to deliver much force to the wheels.
The Kizashi’s steering and chassis are a shining credit to Suzuki, by contrast. The car has excellent, natural feeling steering and suspension that melds control with comfort very cleverly. The Kizashi feels balanced and responsive when cornering hard.
Should I buy one?
In all honesty, not until Suzuki GB can give it a powertrain that makes sense in the real world, not just in a Powerpoint presentation. In years to come, they say, that engine and gearbox will be offered – once there’s some kind of precedent of UK demand for the car, and bigger sales volumes can be expected.
For the time being, however, this car remains exactly what it was when last we drove it - a bit of a work in progress. It appeals a great deal on paper, and more when you realize what you get for the money. But better to wait and buy one that’s really configured with European tastes in mind.
Suzuki Kizashi 2.4 CVT 4WD
Price: £23,000 (tbc); Top speed: 127mph; 0-62mph: 8.8sec; Economy: 34.0mpg; Co2: 191g/km; Kerbweight: 1625kg; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls, 2393cc, petrol; Power: 176bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 170lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox: continuously variable transmission