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Suzuki Kizashi

Click to view picture gallery“With two severe winters under our
  belts, Suzuki
s new 4x4 saloon,
  the Kizashi, has the right USP to
  appeal to UK buyers. But as a one-
  model range, the Kizashi (it means
optimistic in Japanese) could, at
  first glance, be exactly what Suzuki
  is being by launching this car...”

THE KIZASHI IS A LARGE one-version saloon powered by a large-capacity, four-cylinder petrol engine with automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. But at least Suzuki has got the zeitgeist right by installing four-wheel drive.

And two harsh British winters have made buyers acutely aware of the benefits of 4x4. Indeed, this could be the Kizashi's trump card. Certainly it's all but unique — the only other four-cylinder petrol 4x4 saloon on sale is the Audi A4 2.0 quattro, and that costs 29K. When it arrives in the UK early in 2012 (more than two years after it debuted in Japan), the 'zashi will cost under 23,000.

“The Kizashi is certainly
a striking looking beast.
It’s smaller than most
big saloons —
think more VW Jetta
than VW Passat

yet it has a quite
aristocratic air to it
The 4x4 system has been adapted from the Suzuki SX4. When you start up the Kizashi, it's in front-wheel drive. To engage the 4x4 mode, you have to press a button on the dashboard — do so, and then if the going gets tricky (snow, ice, rain, etc) the system sends up to 50% of the torque to the rear wheels.

The Kizashi is certainly a striking looking beast. It's smaller than most big saloons — think more VW Jetta than VW Passat — yet it has a quite aristocratic air to it. I think the rear view is its best aspect, especially those triangular exhaust tail-pipes.

I'm not so sure about the twiddly details, though. Suzuki is only importing the Kizashi complete with a 'sports bodykit' which consists of flared sills and shiny chrome accents that are reminiscent of the strange Japanese tuning movement known as 'VIP'.

I have two major beefs with this car. The first is the transmission: it's a CVT automatic, made especially for this car. Unfortunately, as soon as you accelerate, the revs jump up to the redline and just stay there. And that gets pretty wearing, pretty quickly. But at least you can switch to Manual mode and get the gearbox to behave like a paddle-shift auto, which works loads better. If I was a Kizashi owner, I'd just stick to Manual.

The other beef I have is the ride quality: it's jittery even on billiard-smooth surfaces such as motorways, let alone over bumpy lanes. Considering the likely demographic of buyers — fifty-something males downsizing from a bigger car — that's a mistake.

“It’s quite quick and the
Grand Vitara-based
175bhp 2.4-litre petrol
engine is smooth
and eager to rev.
so long as youre
not hoofing the
the Kizashi
is refined
— its also
a great motorway
Now I've got those issues off my chest, I can praise what the Kizashi does really well. It's quite quick (0-62mph in 8.8 seconds) and, thanks to careful counterbalancing, the Grand Vitara-based 175bhp 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is smooth and eager to rev.

And, so long as you're not hoofing the accelerator, the Kizashi is refined — it's also a great motorway cruiser.

The 4x4 system provides excellent grip through corners. In handling terms it's no Subaru STi; the steering has too much assistance on initial turn-in and at the straight-ahead, which doesn't instil confidence. That's slightly annoying because the steering improves greatly at speed and the Kizashi's handling is actually very accomplished.

There's lots of space inside, both front and rear, and a fair-sized boot. The cabin materials are quite decent, especially by Japanese standards, with brushed metal highlights and a fair swathing of soft-touch plastics. It doesn't take too much stroking, however, to find the inevitable hard plastic. This is no Audi, but at least it's not trying to be something it's not.

The UK Kizashi will have loads of kit including metallic paint, leather upholstery, electric heated front seats (with driver's seat three-position memory function), HID auto headlamps, parking sensors, touchscreen satellite navigation system, electric glass sunroof, cruise control, eight-speaker Radio/CD with Bluetooth and USB port, ESP, seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag) and 18-inch alloy wheels. That will make it a luxurious creature, as well as a virtually unique one. Leftfield? You bet! — Chris Rees

Suzuki Kizashi | 22-23,000 (est)
Maximum speed: 127mph | 0-62mph: 8.8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 34mpg
Power: 175bhp | Torque: 170lb ft | CO2 191g/km