2010 Suzuki Kizashi - Click above for high-res image gallery
We've gone to some unusual places for new product unveilings, but today's reveal of a new mid-sized sedan from Suzuki may be one of the most ironic. For some reason, the small automaker of mostly small cars chose a World War II memorial in suburban Detroit for the global reveal of its most aggressive attack yet on the heart of the U.S. car market.
Suzuki has always been a bit of an outlier in this market, although the company has been a strong player in the Japanese mini-car scene. Its most successful entry to date here in the U.S. has been the compact SX4. Now, it's trying to encroach on Camry/Accord/Fusion territory. Learn all about where Suzuki is going and what to expect from the Kizashi after the jump.
Live Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Suzuki quoted for us a Global Insight study that projected a 45% recovery in the U.S. auto market over the next two years. They expect much of that to be in the smaller car segments in which the company competes. Even through the worst of this market, Suzuki has been one of only two Japanese automakers to be profitable. In fact, it's been profitable for 57 consecutive years. The Japanese Domestic Market Wagon R has been the number one selling car in Japan for the last four years.
The company now hopes to build on the success of the SX4 in the U.S. and become more of an "aspirational brand". They want younger buyers who "travel light and live fully" and a promotional video they showed to illustrate this made it sound like Suzuki wants to transform itself into Subaru. So far it seems to be working with residual values after 36 months rising from 34 to 48 percent between 2005 and 2009.
American Suzuki also has a new leadership team that starts with Kevin Saito, the new president of the company. Saito previously led Suzuki's efforts in India where the company now has a 55% market share and is more profitable than ever.
The next big step for Suzuki is the Kizashi sedan, which brings the brand into a segment that few people would have associated with Suzuki cars until now. In part the company wants to bring its car image up to par with its motorcycles. That means a much more sporting image. The Kizashi has been completely engineered and designed in-house at Suzuki to that end. The name apparently means "something great is coming", and that's what the company is hoping for.
Gene Brown, VP of marketing and PR, told the group that the world doesn't need another "soul-less transportation appliance", but does need something with the handling and craftsmanship of a European sports sedan and the value of a Suzuki. A video shown during the presentation said that luxury performance cars are no longer just for old rich guys, alluding to the average age of Lexus buyers (55 years old).
Steve Younan, director of product planning, actually gave us the run-down on the Kizashi. Among the cars Suzuki targeted were the Acura TSX, Volkswagen Passat and Alfa Romeo 159 – certainly a higher benchmark than Suzuki cars have previously aimed for. That meant good steering, responsive handling and entertaining performance while retaining good ride quality. The result was a multi-link rear suspension, high performance dampers, 18-inch wheels and high-end Akebono brakes. We've seen plenty of spy shots over the past year of the Kizashi at the Nurburgring, so hopefully the on-the-road reality will live up to the specs.
Underhood, the sole engine is a 2.4-liter high-output four-cylinder with variable valve timing. Power can be sent through either a manual six-speed or CVT transmission, the latter of which comes standard with paddle shifters. The Kizashi has stability control and eight air bags standard, and also meets the 2014 side impact "pole test". We're told that the stability control has been optimized to provide good performance without being too intrusive, and an all-wheel-drive system that's integrated with the stability control will be optional on the sedan. Suzuki is also working on a hybrid version of the Kizashi that will be unveiled after the gas-powered model goes on sale, and a V6 is also in the cards.
The Kizashi has a 107-inch wheelbase, 183-inch overall length and 72-inch width, making it smaller than class archetypes like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Final power and mileage numbers won't be released until closer to its on-sale date this Fall, but expect somewhere in the 180-200 hp range and 30 mpg on the highway.
Inside the Kizashi gets standard sport seats and a decidedly upscale interior. The design is clean, appears well executed and should feel right at home to buyers of some premium brands. In spite of all this, Suzuki is planning to price the Kizashi in the same range as more mainstream models like the Camry and Mazda6. That means it should run from the high teens to mid-$20k range.
Will the Kizashi be a breakout hit for Suzuki here in the U.S.? That's hard to say, as the mid-size sedan segment is teeming with more established and evolved models, none of which are laurel resters and all of which aspire to give buyers a "premium" feel for pedestrian dollars. Hopefully Suzuki is baking elements into the Kizashi that will set it apart, otherwise this Japanese brand will remain on the outskirts of this market's most contested car segment.