2010 Suzuki Kizashi: Can This Flyweight Hold Its Own With the Big Boys?
Suzuki unveiled the company’s very first mid-size sedan this week, and VehicleVoice staff were on hand to witness the car’s global debut. The importance of the car to Suzuki cannot be overstated. The company has long been known for small vehicles, specifically compact cars and SUVs. But, buyers of small vehicles tend to want to move up to larger vehicles next time around and by and large, Suzuki has not had larger vehicles to move owners up into (we’ll ignore the forgettable Verona, a rebadged Daewoo sedan). Thus, the company has not been able to retain its customers as they progress through their lifestages.
It’s really easy to forget that Suzuki automobiles do in fact come from the same company that makes all manner of exciting and memorable motorcycles, ATVs, and watercraft. Suzuki automobiles have been largely forgettable, mostly devoid of the thrilling character present in spades in their two-wheeled and off-highway vehicles.
Kizashi aims to change that by presenting mid-size sedan shoppers with what it says is a much more exciting sports sedan alternative to the bland appliances that the segment is associated with. We wouldn’t necessarily say Kizashi’s styling is groundbreaking, but it certainly looks trim and sporty, with wheels and tires that nicely fill out the wheel openings and a pert rear end that gives the car a proportion not unlike the Alfa Romeo 159.
We won’t be able to drive the car for a few months, but we were able to get up close and personal with it and get overall impressions of the car’s styling, interior package, and overall finish.
I’ll start with the most obvious and potentially challenging point: its size. The Kizashi is, and there is no other way to put it, really small. On the outside, it looks like a big compact car rather than a mid-sizer. The interior, while very nicely styled and finished, is definitely much smaller than what a Camry or Accord offers. It feels narrow from any seat, and rear leg and headroom is more in line with Corolla rather than Camry.
Another challenge is the powertrain. While the Kizashi will have available AWD (with selectable 2WD, a rarity in an AWD sedan), the sole engine at launch is a 2.4L four-cylinder. That’s right, this car will be unique in its segment in not having an available V6. In this age of unstable fuel prices, that might not be completely catastrophic, but as Suzuki is positioning Kizashi as an exciting sports sedan, we have to question the lack of an available high performance motor, especially when the concept version of the Kizashi sedan shown last year featured a 300HP 3.6L V6. Most Kizashis will also be equipped with a CVT transmission, not typically the enthusiast’s choice (a six-speed manual will be standard).
Clearly, prior Japanese mid-size sedan efforts have shown the right way to do a mid-size sedan, right? Prior iterations of the Nissan Altima and Mazda6 and 626 were too small, so they were eventually right-sized and met with greater success. So why not skip the step of starting off in the US with a too-small mid-size car when history clearly shows the right way to do it?
Well, hang on a second. Let’s think about what Suzuki means globally. Suzuki is a small player here in the US. But globally, the brand really does have a significant presence. Suzuki has over 50% market share in India, and the company has long had manufacturing operations in Hungary and is well known in Europe and Asia for making great small cars, like the European Car of the Year-winning Swift.
It is clearly Europe that is the intended market for Kizashi. Its sizing puts it squarely in the European C/D segment against cars like Volkswagen Jetta, Ford Mondeo, and Alfa Romeo 159. The car even looks European and was fine-tuned on the famed Nürburgring in Germany. As Suzuki has a bigger presence in Europe than it does here, one can understand why the company opted to build a Euro-centric sedan rather than an Americanized one. An American-sized Kizashi would be virtually unsaleable there and would likely struggle even in the US without the sort of marketing budget Suzuki would need (and can’t afford right now) to give the car sufficient exposure to go head to head against Camry and Accord.
So, it seems that Kizashi’s mission is to expand the company’s presence in Europe, and any volume they sell here will be gravy. If it succeeds in Europe and makes money for the company, perhaps they’ll have the resources to build a real mid-size sedan for America next time around. In the meantime, Kizashi could make some inroads here by offering sedan shoppers who don’t need a lot of space a little more flair and style than the usual suspects. We might urge Suzuki to rethink making that powerful V6 from the concept car available to give the car the urge to match its looks though!