It's not a typical marketing technique. Japanese automaker Suzuki, well known for its motorcycles, is reaching out to its motorcycle owners as it launches its newest car, the 2010 Kizashi.
With exterior styling that is similar to a Volkswagen sedan, an unexpectedly upscale interior for a Suzuki, five-passenger seating and thrifty, four-cylinder fuel mileage, the mid-size Kizashi is Suzuki's competitor to America's long favorite Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
In mailings to Suzuki motorcycle owners, Suzuki says the Kizashi is an affordable, attractive sedan that can be had with all-wheel drive. Indeed, the Kizashi's starting retail prices are slightly below those of the long-popular Camry and Accord sedans, and neither Camry nor Accord is offered with all-wheel drive.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $19,734 for a base, five-passenger, front-wheel drive 2010 Kizashi with 185-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. This price compares with the $20,145 starting retail price for a 2010 Camry with manual transmission and the $21,765 for base, manual transmission Accord sedan.
2010 Suzuki Kizashi SLS FWD
- BASE PRICE: $18,999 for base S with manual transmission; $20,499 for S with CVT; $21,499 for SE FWD; $21,749 for S AWD; $22,499 for GTS FWD with manual; $22,749 for SE AWD; $23,599 for GTS FWD with CVT; $24,399 for SLS FWD with manual; $24,849 for SLS AWD; $25,499 for SLS FWD with CVT.
- AS TESTED: $26,234.
- TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, mid-size sedan.
- ENGINE: 2.4-liter, double overhead cam, inline four cylinder.
- MILEAGE: Estimated 23 mpg (city), 30 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: 124 mph.
- LENGTH: 183.1 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 106.3 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,329 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Japan.
- OPTIONS: None.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $735.
But a Kizashi with continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic transmission has a starting retail price of $21,234 -- slightly higher than the $21,195 for a base Camry with automatic, but less expensive than the $22,565 for a base Accord with automatic.
An all-wheel drive Kizashi starts at $22,484 and comes standard with the CVT.
The close pricing to the popular Camry and Accord might be problematic, given that Toyota and Honda have been at or near the top of various quality surveys for years.
Suzuki still is building a quality reputation for its cars. For example, the brand showed gains in the annual J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study released last summer. This most recent study put Suzuki above average and above other brands such as Nissan and BMW. The study ratings are derived from surveys of new-car owners who report on problems with their recent purchases.
The test Kizashi, an upscale SLS model with CVT and front-wheel drive, had excellent fit and finish inside and out.
Exterior styling was pleasant, even if the Kizashi didn't stand out from the crowd of family sedans already on the roads. No one, for example, took a second look at the Kizashi as I drove it, and no one asked about it.
Inside, the Kizashi didn't feel quite as roomy as its major competitors, and it's not. The Kizashi is nearly a foot shorter than an Accord sedan, so rear legroom of 35.6 inches is less than the 37.2 inches in the back of the Accord.In contrast to the Camry, the Kizashi is about a half foot shorter in length, and where the Camry's trunk has some 15 cubic feet of space, the Kizashi's trunk tops out at 13.3 cubic feet.
The back seat, in particular, feels a bit cramped across its seats and does best with only two adults back there. Hip room in the back seat of the Kizashi is 52.1 compared with nearly 54 inches in the back seat of the Camry.
But the interior looked good in the test Kizashi SLS, where plastic trim panels on the dashboard were nicely styled and not necessarily cheap-looking.
A premium, 425-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system put out strong sounds and helped to cover some of the road noise that came through from the uplevel 18-inch tires. The Kizashi isn't as insulated from road and outside sounds as some family sedan competitors, so I heard semis passing me on the highway and the Kizashi engine during acceleration.
The test car had a sport tuned suspension, so the ride was noticeably firm and bumps came through to passengers.
There's just one engine so far: A 2.4-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder that's also used in Suzuki's Grand Vitara sport utility vehicle.For the Kizashi, the engine develops more horsepower: 185.
I operated the CVT via a regular-looking shifter in the center console when I wanted a regular automatic tranny kind of ride. The power came on smoothly, and the car had a peppy feel when it started up from stops. The engine got a bit buzzy when pushed while passing other cars at highway speeds.
I also had paddle shifters at the steering wheel that allowed manual shifting, which seems weird in a car with a CVT, where a big selling point is letting the transmission find its optimal operation point to deliver great fuel mileage.
Government fuel mileage numbers for the Kizashi haven't been posted yet, but the company estimates 23 miles a gallon in city driving and a noteworthy 30 mpg on the highway with the CVT.
But electronics today allow for all kind of manipulation of car equipment, and Suzuki wants the Kizashi to be a bit sporty, too. I didn't find a lot of sporty character in the car, though. Torque peaks at 170 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm in the Kizashi, which is similar to what the Camry and Accord have.
In fact, the Kizashi's overall performance numbers are right in the ballpark of the four-cylinder-powered Camry, with 169 horses and 167 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm, and Accord, with 177 horsepower and 161 foot-pound at 4,300 rpm.
In addition, the larger-sized Camry and Accord weigh about the same as the Kizashi in its various models: 3,200 pounds to 3,490 pounds.
The tester included nice features, including rain-sensing wipers. But some control knobs on the dashboard could use a better ergonomic feel.
All safety equipment is standard, including electronic stability control, traction control and eight air bags.