Kizashi boosts Suzuki’s image

Suzuki has moved into the compact premium saloon market with its Kizashi... and it has a few tricks up its sleeve, says Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer.

The compact premium saloon market is dominated by the big German companies. As a nation we put a considerable emphasis on the badge and associated brand image, which is why the mainstream – Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen – are often overlooked even if their cars drive well and are groaning with kit.

With that in mind, Suzuki's decision to pitch its Kizashi compact saloon into this fiercely-competitive market is bold. But it's not really as it doesn't want to compete head-on but provide an alternative choice for buyers not seeking the ultimate driving machine.

And there's no question that the Kizashi is something of a left field choice. For starters it's four-wheel drive, something of a rarity this side of an Audi. Suzuki has also adhered to the Lexus school of marketing and loaded the car with standard kit. And, like Lexus until a few years ago, the Kizashi is petrol-only – in this case a 2.4-litre V6.

With its very un-Germanic specification, Suzuki believes the Kizashi offers the right balance of performance and comfort to appeal to existing Suzuki buyers keen to move on from, say, a similarly-equipped Vitara if off-roading isn't a priority. Plus, there is a sufficient number of buyers new to the brand seeking something compact yet understandably unwilling to give up the trappings of executive motoring.

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Enough of the hypothesising – does the Kizashi perform in the real world? In a roundabout way, yes it does. For a company more familiar to most for producing capable off-roaders and low-cost superminis, the Kizashi's cabin offers a surprising amount of comfort and refinement.

There's no shortage of standard kit. Leather, climate control, a quality audio system, Bluetooth, keyless ignition, cruise control all feature. Compared to something like the company's Swift the Kizashi is positively luxurious. Yet it's not over the top – the cabin includes a lot of high-quality black plastic to compliment the leather, and the trim details are stylish yet sutble.

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Although the interior design is modest the same can't be said for interior space. Up front there's enough of it to embarrass larger and more expensive so-called executive cars, while those in the back don't suffer a lack of legroom. Even the Kizashi's boot offers plenty of storage space for a compact saloon.

Most of this will sound familiar to existing fans of compact saloons, but Suzuki's gone off on a tangent with the driving experience. The choice of a 2.4-litre petrol V6 will raise a few eyebrows, as will the standard CVT automatic gearbox. This combination won't win any medals in CO2 or fuel economy standings, but it does offer a smooth and low-effort way of getting about.

For all the Kizashi's sporty-looking exterior – and it is a handsome car – it's not something to thrash about in. The CVT gearbox delivers smooth and predictable performance and the 178bhp engine is no slouch. Enthusiastic sessions behind the wheel reveal a well-sorted car with a ride that balances supple suspension with keeping pitch and roll in check.

It's a car that's happier to waft along, albeit at a brisk pace if needed. In this situation it really lives up to its premium looks and cabin ambience. Factor in all-wheel drive and it has the potential to be capable all-weather transport.

To an outsider it would appear the odds are stacked against the Kizashi – its unusual name, unusual engine and gearbox combination and unconventional origins are unlikely to endear it to the massed ranks of buyers conditioned to choose the default European models.

Does that make Suzuki's effort worth the effort? Ask anyone seeking an alternative to the traditional booted cars and the answer would be yes. Granted it's a small number, but Suzuki's aspirations are modest – a few hundred cars, not thousands – as it bids to boost its brand image. And for these people the Kizashi will be refreshing alternative choice.

It's refined and accommodating enough to earn the 'compact executive' tag. Plus, if you're not tuned into the macho posturing of rival brands promoting their performance prowess, the four-door Suzuki's relaxed approach to brisk motoring is refreshingly different. An informed choice, then, and one you're unlikely to regret.

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