Friday, December 23, 2011

2010 Suzuki Kizashi GTS

Unsung Hero: We hope the Kizashi's goodness is writing on the wall.

Given our previous experience with Suzuki Sedans and the giddy hype that accompanied the Kizashi’s launch—“a unique blend of dynamic performance attributes with premium design aesthetics and craftsmanship yet to be experienced in this category”—we were inclined to be skeptical when this car joined our long-term test fleet.
The handoff took place in February 2010 at the Dallas–Fort Worth airport, with 333 miles on the Kizashi’s odo. In the ensuing 42,361 miles, the logbook entries can be summed up as mostly positive, reflecting a range of reactions from pleasant surprise to outright enthusiasm.
Mostly positive. We’ll get back to that.

Tastefully designed inside and out, the Kizashi promises a refined driving experience. It’s a promise this Suzuki largely delivers on.

Let’s start with the totally positive. There were five scheduled service visits over the course of the test, at 7500, 15,000, 22,500, 30,000, and 40,000 miles. All were for routine maintenance and added up to $587.
There was only one unscheduled stop—a recall—just past 10,000 miles, to replace the storage box located at the bottom of the center console. The concern was that a portion of the box might detach in a crash and become a potential source of injury. Pretty unlikely, but in any case it didn’t add to the bottom line. Nor did the replacement of the car’s serpentine drive-belt tensioner, suggested by a tech service bulletin, which was handled at no charge during the 40,000-mile service.
There were other costs: our usual tire swaps—summer to winter to summer, $264—and $1715 of aftermarket hot rodding [see below]. But in terms of dependability and durability, the Kizashi stacked up very well indeed.

When we became bored, we took the Kizashi to Road Race Motorsports in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Fe Springs. The company has a history of making performance mods for the Mitsubishi Evo; more recently, it has built some SEMA hot rods for Suzuki and is also doing a line of parts for the Fiat 500. Road Race has a small parts catalog for the Kizashi, including a thicker rear anti-roll bar ($239), a lightweight crank pulley for faster rev-up ($139), a cold-air intake ($259), a computer “fuel calibrator” that helps pull a few more horsepower out of the Kizashi’s conservative fuel/air map ($429), and a catty cat-back exhaust ($649) that eliminates the rear silencers. We said, “Yes, please” to everything.
With the add-ons, the car ate on-ramps with a little more steering bite and a little less body roll. It also merged with traffic at a quicker pace, although that may have been 9/10ths perception. While the formerly innocuous exhaust note became a chain-saw yowl of rice-burner badness, measured launch time to 60 mph remained the same 7.5 seconds as when we first tested our Kizashi in stock form. We did see some top-end improvement, however, with a 0-to-100-mph time cut by 0.8 second to 21.5 seconds (all aftermarket parts were removed before our final test).
We love the way the exhaust tucked behind the stock bumper diffusers, making the car look entirely innocent. The parts are well-crafted, considering the prices, and installable by any shade-tree mechanic with reasonable skill. A Kizashi owner should be glad somebody has bothered to tool them, considering the car’s relatively low sales volume.
Bemused stares were common, and the exhaust rip had a lot of heads turning at the gas station and subsequent “whatisits?” from the many, many people who had never before seen a Kizashi.

It also stacked up well with long-distance travelers. High marks for comfort (particularly the front buckets), high marks for the quality of its interior appointments, and pretty good marks for fuel economy—25 mpg average for the duration of the test and well above 30 mpg on some open-road stretches.
This Kizashi spent a fair percentage of its career in California, in the care of our man Aaron Robinson, who became the car’s biggest booster.
The paint job is amazing on this car,” he noted. “Every bit as good as the Benz S-class’s that’s also in my driveway.”
Following a 900-mile blitz, Robinson observed that the Suzuki’s “steering is as good or better than a Mazda 3’s, the ride is compliant, and after 12 hours in the saddle, I have no aches or bodily complaints.”
Indeed, most drivers were pleasantly surprised by the Kizashi’s blend of smooth ride and prompt responses; but for all of its trouble-free operation, the Kizashi did draw a few complaints, most of them minor. The keyless ignition, for example, provoked exasperation because it required a determined push on the button to start or stop the engine. “Must push start/stop button two or more times to kill engine,” noted one driver. Another bemoaned the absence of heated seats in a car with a good many comfort/convenience features. How we do suffer, eh?
Several drivers found the speedometer to be optimistic, two whacked their heads on the trunklid (requires awareness when leaning in), and for a time there were notes about a persistent pull to the left in straight-line travel, though this seems to have been cured at about 26,000 miles.

Something that wasn’t cured was the vague action of the six-speed manual transmission. More than one driver reported difficulty getting the car into reverse, often experiencing partial engagement and consequent gear grinding. And the shifting in general became increasingly sloppy as the miles wore on.
We should note here that we haven’t experienced this problem with other Kizashis that have come our way and that the manual gearbox is eminently preferable to the optional CVT automatic. We’ve characterized the function of the latter as “soggy.”
The most persistent lament concerned acceleration, as in lack thereof. There’s an asterisk here: This complaint seemed to occur primarily in connection with highway cruising in the Kizashi’s very tall sixth gear. Tramp on the throttle without a downshift, and the reward is an accumulation of mph that could be timed with a calendar.
But in basic sprints, the Kizashi’s 2.4-liter, DOHC aluminum four—185 horsepower, 170 pound-feet of torque—acquits itself respectably: 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds in our first instrumented test. We recorded 7.5 seconds to 60 in our initial trials (at 1744 miles) with this car, 16.2 at 88 mph in the quarter-mile.

The Kizashi’s poise makes us yearn for more speed. The optimistic speedo apparently wants more, too.

Not bad, but as senior editor Tony Quiroga put it, “There’s nothing here a turbo wouldn’t fix.” Or different gearing, perhaps, even if it would have a deleterious effect on mpg.
Unlike most (though not all) long-term test subjects, our Kizashi’s performance deteriorated slightly as 40,000 miles rolled over: 0 to 60 in 7.8 seconds, though the quarter-mile elapsed time was unchanged. Braking distances lengthened a bit—177 feet from 70 mph versus 172—and skidpad performance slipped from 0.86 g to a still-respectable 0.85.
The only other major complaint had nothing to do with the car, at least not directly. Suzuki has been struggling in the U.S. market, and to improve per-outlet profitability has trimmed its dealer count to just 260 nationwide. That means a Kizashi owner will probably be looking at a fair amount of driving to take in his car for routine service. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for Mini, which has only 110 U.S. dealers. Then again, whatever its virtues, the Kizashi is not a Mini.
Then there’s the question of size. Suzuki markets the Kizashi as a mid-size sedan, but it’s actually a large compact (according to SAE-based EPA measurements), almost exactly the same size as the Chevrolet Cruze and Volkswagen Jetta. Moreover, there’s no V-6 or turbo option. Suzuki does offer all-wheel drive, but it comes only with the CVT automatic.

Numerous practical deterrents. On the other hand, based on our experience, the Kizashi has a surprisingly high fun-to-drive index, it looks good, its level of fit and finish compares favorably with the best in this class, and it should deliver the kind of reliability that’s essential in this or any category.
This is the best Suzuki sedan we’ve seen, bar none. But the truth is we had pretty low expectations going in. We’re hoping for more Suzukis like this one. Continued...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Apple Brand Promises

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