Suzuki Kizashi 2012-2013 review

The Kizashi is to play a significant role in the Suzuki Motor Company’s plan for growth. Unlike the hatchbacks and 4x4s for which the Japanese car maker is known, this is Suzuki’s first family saloon, and is a genuinely fresh and different entrant into Europe’s traditionally crucial Mondeo class. However, Suzuki has a big ask going up against the big guns of Ford and Vauxhall, not to mention alternative offerings to the Mondeo and Insignia that come from Skoda, Volkswagen and Mazda.

The biggest hurdle in the UK for the Suzuki will be that there’s no diesel engine on offer, which at a stroke will rule out the Kizashi for the majority of the class faithful. The only available engine is a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol unit with 176bhp and 170lb ft of torque, mounted crossways under the bonnet and mated to a continuously variable transmission driving all four wheels.

It allows the Kizashi a fairly unique position in the UK market, offering both an automatic gearbox and switchable four-wheel drive for less than £22,000, in a class where the combination can cost more than £30k, but it lumbers the Kizashi with decidedly underwhelming fuel economy and CO2 emissions numbers.

Suzuki’s UK distributor expects to sell just 500 of these compact four-door saloons in its first year – in a segment where the most popular models will hit 50,000 units.

Suzuki Kizashi 2012-2013 design & styling

When you first see a Suzuki Kizashi in the metal, you see straight away that it’s compact by class standards, as you’d predict from a company that’s spent so long making other small cars. At 4650mm long and 1820mm wide, the Suzuki’s footprint is hardly larger than a Volkswagen Jetta’s, and almost 200mm shorter than some D-segment four-doors, such as the Vauxhall Insignia and Skoda Superb. And the car’s compactness is without doubt part of its athletic visual appeal, which is enhanced by wide tracks, 18-inch alloys, jutting sills and valances, twin exhaust pipes and a ducktail bootlid spoiler.

Under those vacuum-packed panels are a reinforced steel bodyshell and all-independent, aluminium-rich suspension consisting of MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear. The brakes are provided by Akebono, the same company that equips Japan’s 275km/h Shinkansen bullet train.

The designers have also been successful in making the Kizashi recognisable as a Suzuki. You can see the family resemblance to the Swift, and the alloys and twin tailpipes help give the car a sporty purposefulness.

Suzuki Kizashi 2012-2013 interior

The cabin of the Suzuki Kizashi holds few surprises. Outright passenger space is limited and headroom in the front is about 100mm shy of the class’s most commodious cars, so it will be restrictive for anyone taller than 6ft 3in, while front legroom is about 50mm tighter than that of many rivals.

Accommodation in the back is more competitive, matching that of the Peugeot 508 and Vauxhall Insignia. But the Kizashi’s boot is quite small, impinged upon by rear axle intrusion and with only a narrow through-loading hatch to take advantage of when the rear seats are folded.

The Kizashi’s driving position is a touch high but otherwise good. The front seats are a little short of squab but comfortable nonetheless, and leather-trimmed primary controls are pleasant and tactile. A textured, soft-touch dashboard rolltop bordered by satin silver accents fosters an impression of understated quality, although it’s hardly a contemporary one. The ancient-looking trip computer and audio displays, meanwhile, might have you wondering if these systems really belong on a new car in 2012.

But unadorned functionality and value for money are what this car is all about. And provided your idea of quality isn’t the sort that can only be satisfied by the ever more expensive-looking trim being deployed by the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz, you should find little cause for complaint.

Less still when you realise the equipment that Suzuki will give you as standard. In the Kizashi’s case, £21,995 buys a car with electrically adjusted, heated leather front seats, an eight-speaker audio system, electric windows all round, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, automatic headlights, privacy glass, USB connectivity, Bluetooth, high-intensity headlights and seven airbags.

Suzuki Kizashi 2012-2013 performance

During routine use through town centres, on busy ring roads and clogged motorways, the Suzuki Kizashi is an effective, easy-driving car. Under part throttle it picks up speed in a gentle, unobtrusive fashion and maintains that speed reasonably well. It is at its best unhurriedly cruising along mixed urban and suburban roads.

But laid-back conveyances don’t need 18-inch wheels, wide tracks or bullet train brakes, which is why it’s so regrettable for Suzuki GB to have chosen a CVT-only powertrain for a car that otherwise has the makings of a sporty saloon.

When you want to make a quick departure at a busy roundabout or into a gap in traffic, the Kizashi is slow to step away from a standstill. Whether you just flatten the throttle or try to mitigate the problem by building engine power up against the brakes, cracking 30mph takes four seconds, which is slow for a car like this. A Toyota Prius is three-tenths of a second faster over the same distance.

Acceleration from there on isn’t so bad, but it’s the impression you get of that acceleration that’s the issue. The engine has to rev all the way to its redline to develop a decent chunk of torque with which to feed the continuously variable transmission, and that makes teasing optimum performance out of the Suzuki tiresome. Totally uninvolving, too, thanks to the shortage of control you have over the proportion of engine power that’s delivered to the wheels. Paddle shifters ought to allow more engagement with the driveline, but the manual mode is disappointingly slow to respond and adds very little to any sense of driver reward.

Suzuki Kizashi 2012-2013 ride & handling

Few are likely to discover as much, but Suzuki has blessed the Kizashi with excellent handling. Taut and responsive yet quite refined and compliant with it, it would give this car an entirely convincing selling point as a provider of affordable driver thrills were it not for the shortcomings of the powertrain.

A steering rack with near-perfect weight and an abundance of road feel is among the car’s biggest assets. It communicates the amount of lateral grip available at the front wheels with unerring accuracy, and means you can lean on the outside front wheel as hard as you like while cornering the Kizashi precisely and with commitment.

The car’s chassis serves body control first and comfort as a close second, but it is by no means compromised. Although allowing a little body roll, it generates a commanding hold on the road and attends to surface disturbances with a quiet bump absorption that develops into fine vertical damping as speed increases. The bushed subframes make for an equally quiet low-speed ride that, while slightly fussy, is anything but harsh or unyielding. This is a car you’d be happy to commute in every day, and you’d feel good about driving it home.

The Kizashi has a fine handling balance, too. A grippy front end hardly ever understeers, and the rear axle is responsive enough to make for an engaging, adaptable cornering style.

It’s a shame that the Kizashi’s four-wheel drive system doesn’t add its own layer of involvement into the car’s dynamic mix. Only on very slippery surfaces are you aware of Suzuki’s i-AWD system coming into play as it juggles power towards the rear axle. In the dry, even at the limit of grip, the Kizashi’s throttle-on handling feels classically front-wheel drive.

Suzuki Kizashi 2012-2013 MPG & running costs

The Kizashi’s high specification and low price are compelling motivators for the private buyers who are almost certain to make up the majority of 500 buyers Suzuki forecasts every year. Carbon dioxide emissions of 191g/km and a benefit-in-kind tax liability of 28 per cent (compared with 25 per cent for a like-for-like Mondeo) make it unlikely to find buyers on company car fleets.

With prices just announced, our sources couldn’t supply a residual value forecast for the Kizashi at the time that these words were written, but don’t expect outstanding numbers. Petrol-powered saloons of this size are usually prone to shedding value. Limited used supply may be something of a saving grace but, just as Citroën discovered with its C6, it can’t hold back the tide of depreciation forever.

Economy should be this gearbox’s redeeming characteristic but, mated to a fairly large four-cylinder petrol engine, it struggles towards unexceptional results. We had hoped for better than 37.9mpg from our touring test. Urban fuel efficiency is more likely to meet your expectations but remains, at best, pretty average.

Suzuki Kizashi 2012-2013 verdict

Good: Value proposition: Game handling, Functional, unadorned cabin
Bad: Poor performance, Alienating drivetrain, Limited passenger space

Despite its obvious value and sporting accomplishment, the Suzuki Kizashi won’t alter the pecking order within Europe’s family saloon market. With the wrong kind of engine, coupled to a transmission that does it few favours, this car is not frugal enough for fleets, nor does it quite have the engaging drive that would lure so many private buyers.

While this isn’t the most accommodating four-door, its price and spec should attract enough customers to meet its targets. But on the keen driver’s behalf, we can’t help wishing ‘if only’. Rarely do family cars come along that tick both the ‘affordable’ and ‘entertaining’ boxes as effectively as the Kizashi might have with a better powertrain. Such a version is likely to be offered before long, says Suzuki GB, with a diesel further off. Until then, the Kizashi is certainly good enough to get the ball rolling.

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