Kizashi flies flag for Suzuki

Suzuki is sporting a new flagship in the Kizashi saloon which doesn't quite live up to the promise of its dynamic styling, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Think about Suzuki's car range and now you will think as much about city cars and superminis as little 4x4s and sport utility vehicles.

And that's why Suzuki is giving its image a boost by taking a new direction with its global flagship Kizashi saloon.

Kizashi – which means 'A sign of great things to come' in Japanese – is a 'halo' model rather than a huge seller, not surprising given its rivals include the bigger Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia as well as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.

From the outside it looks pretty good, coming as standard with Sport aerodynamic package. It's sporty but still subtle, with its deep mesh grille, bold curves, 18in alloys filling out the wheel arches and big, chromed exhaust exits attracting plenty of attention for all the right reasons.

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Only one model is offered with one engine – a four-cylinder 2.4-litre petrol – but despite producing a healthy 178PS it just does not feel that sporty and is rather at odds with the dynamic exterior styling.

It's refined and revs freely but performance is hindered by it being available in the UK only with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). On a light throttle in urban traffic the engine note is muted and the Kizashi relaxing to drive but put your foot down for brisk progress on the open road and the revs rise to an unpleasant drone – a downside of CVT gearboxes. If you want to get a spurt on it's more satifying to change gear manually through six ratios via the lever or paddles on the steering wheel but even when you get the revs up the shift response is still a bit hesitant. Interestingly, pictures of left-hand drive models clearly show it with a six-speed manual gearbox which must be better suited to a car with sporty pretensions.

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The CVT gearbox does not do the Kizashi's figures any favours either – 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds is hardly startling and I never saw more than 32.8mpg overall on a run which will put a lot of people off along with the prospect of �460 road fund tax in the first year, and �250 after that, with CO2 emissions of 191g/km.

It's a great shame because the Kizashi is actually rather rewarding to drive with a flat stance through corners, responsive, well-weighted steering and plenty of grip thanks to the electronic four-wheel drive which puts up to 50pc of the power to the rear wheels and can be selected on the move with a button on the dashboard. Given the big wheels and sports suspension it also boasts a comfortable and supple ride.

The cabin has sufficient all-round legroom to seat four long-legged adults without feeling cramped while the contoured roof lining over the back seats frees up enough headroom for six-footers.

The boot has a wide, deep opening, goes back a long way and, despite some wheel arch intrusion, provides a useful 461 litres of space. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold down to take long items but leave a big step up from the boot floor.

The cabin feels a little dated and there's a lot of hard plastics high up in the areas that get touched and noticed but they're well textured and well screwed together. The recessed instruments and straightforward controls work fine but the whole fascia is functional rather than fancy and is uninteresting compared to the exterior styling.

No complaints about standard equipment though for the �21,995 Kizashi comes fully loaded with electronic driver aids and safety equipment and goodies like dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, leather upholstery, 10-way power driver's seat with memory settings, headlamp washers, electric folding door mirrors and sunroof, keyless entry with engine start button and Bluetooth phone connection.

Suzuki admits the Kizashi is not going to be a big seller but it looks good and creates extra interest in the marque so bringing it to the attention of a wider audience.

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