Road war­rior

Im­pres­sive, re­fined, en­joy­able and even bril­liant. Paul Gover heaps the su­perla­tives on a mid-size mar­vel

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

TWENTY kilo­me­tres on the worst bi­tu­men road I have driven in 20 years has won me on the Suzuki Kiza­shi. Un­til we hit the horror strip on the haul to War­wick in Queens­land, I’m us­ing words such as cute, nice, safe, sen­si­ble and re­fined to de­scribe the Kiza­shi. With a spe­cial men­tion for a $27,990 start­ing price.

As we emerge from the nas­ti­ness, and a road that would run an Audi A4 ragged, my Kiza­shi vo­cab­u­lary has switched to com­posed, re­fined, im­pres­sive, en­joy­able and— wait for it— bril­liant.

The turn­around hap­pens as quickly as one evil, nasty corner that would turn most cars into a buck­ing bronco.

The Kiza­shi crushes it and even though the rear sus­pen­sion bot­toms heav­ily, there is no last­ing dam­age of any sort.

My pas­sen­ger and I are both smil­ing — and things get bet­ter with ev­ery kilo­me­tre.

This is a big sur­prise be­cause Suzuki is mov­ing into un­known and un­charted ter­ri­tory with the Kiza­shi, its first mid-sized car and one that must com­pete with the Honda Euro, Mazda6 and per­haps even the Audi A4.

Suzuki made its name with grotty lit­tle 660cc city run­abouts.

It pro­duces them in vast num­bers, even badg­ing them for Mazda and Nis­san.

Suzuki be­gan its move up­mar­ket with the im­pres­sive Swift, a cars­Guide Car of the Year win­ner, and con­tin­ued with the lat­est Grand Vi­tara. The SX4 is OK, but not in the same class.

Now it has the Kiza­shi, a safe but smooth de­sign with im­pres­sive qual­ity in ev­ery area.

And, as I dis­cover on the track to War­wick, world-class steer­ing, sus­pen­sion and noise con­trol.

The car has been de­vel­oped for more than four years and, de­spite los­ing some of the sen­sa­tional styling of Kiza­shi con­cept cars, it’s an im­pres­sive job.

But it needs to be good be­cause Kiza­shi is up against tough ri­vals and has no his­tory or rep­u­ta­tion to help it.

Tak Hayasaki, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Suzuki Aus­tralia, says: ‘‘Kiza­shi is a car we have all been look­ing for­ward to since the Frank­furt Show in 2007. It is a car that is im­mensely im­por­tant for Aus­tralia. We are con­fi­dent it will re­de­fine the Suzuki brand here in Aus­tralia.’’

The ba­sics for the Kiza­shi are the medium-class body, a 2.4-litre four-cylin­der en­gine, six-speed

man­ual and six-speed CVT au­to­matic trans­mis­sions, and plenty of stan­dard equip­ment. There are only two mod­els, the XL and XLS. The ba­sic car is well equipped, with key­less en­try and start, six airbags, elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol, anti-skid brakes, 17-inch al­loys and du­al­zone air­con­di­tion­ing.

The XLS picks up ev­ery­thing in­clud­ing leather seats and a sun­roof.

Pric­ing is $27,990 and $30,490 for the XL or $34,990 and $37,990 for the XLS.

Driv­ing

THE Kiza­shi is a good-look­ing car and the qual­ity is first-rate, but I won­der at first about the size.

Looks are deceiving with such short over­hangs, but the boot is good and there is Euro­sized space for four adults in the cabin.

It’s easy to find a com­fort­able driv­ing po­si­tion but taller driv­ers — and those not much over 180cm— re­port re­stricted head­room in the XLS. Suzuki is in­ves­ti­gat­ing mak­ing the sun­roof an op­tion, not stan­dard.

The car is quiet, the six-speed man­ual gearshift is slick and the CVT does not pro­duce the an­noy­ing en­gine roar of some ri­vals. And it will do good econ­omy num­bers.

The 2.4-litre en­gine is smooth but lack­ing any real mid-range punch, which is a short­com­ing when you have a few peo­ple on board.

But a V6, a fu­ture en­gine choice, would prob­a­bly make the car heavy in the nose and up­set the ride and han­dling.

And that’s where the Kiza­shi is a real win­ner, cash­ing in on the devel­op­ment work done at the Nur­bur­gring.

The steer­ing is sharp and re­spon­sive, the car is neu­tral at all speeds in all types of cor­ners and the way the sus­pen­sion ab­sorbs bumps is noth­ing short of — that word again — bril­liant.

When you look at the car’s value and the qual­ity of the en­gi­neer­ing, the only short­com­ing is the Suzuki badge. It’s not that a Suzuki is bad, just that no one will ex­pect a car like the Kiza­shi in the mid-sized ruck.

If the lat­est Honda Euro or Mazda6 were as ca­pa­ble as the Kiza­shi they would re­write the rules for mid-sized mo­tor­ing, just as they did when they hit as the first Euro-Ja­panese mid­sized con­tenders.

Win­ning ways: the im­pres­sive Kiza­shi is Suzuki’s first mid-sized car.

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