2010 Suzuki Kizashi Sport – Click above for high-res image gallery

Miami isn't exactly a driver's town. It's a tangle of perfectly perpendicular secondary streets demarcated by lengthy stoplights and the occasional drawbridge or toll booth. Perched on the very tip of Florida, it's one of the last places we would voluntarily spend time behind the wheel, but despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic, hair-raising lane changes and lawless nature of the traffic patterns, high-end metal is the norm down here.

We're fighting for our right to merge against a Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari F430 and a murdered-out Nissan GT-R as we make our way toward South Beach, contemplating the implications of dinging a car worth more than our mortgage when it dawns on us: The high rollers around us should make way – we're driving one of the most unique cars in the country.

Suzuki was kind enough to hand us the keys to one of the only Kizashi Sport models in existence. In fact, this is the same prototype that took center stage at the New York Auto Show, and while the suits in Japan have demanded that this Sport eventually meet with the Great Crusher in the Sky, the company's PR team have managed to keep the sedan from meeting its untimely fate long enough for us to do battle with traffic.

Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

From the beginning, Suzuki made it clear that the Kizashi is a new take on the economical mid-sizer. The company knows all too well that it's jumped into one of the most vicious segments in the automotive market – one dominated by lethal contenders like the long-time heavyweight Toyota Camry and rife with legitimate newcomers like the 2011 Hyundai Sonata – but the Japanese automaker seems to think it's found an angle that has been largely overlooked by the big players. The premise is simple: Build a European-quality driver with Japanese reliability.

If you haven't read what we think about the base Kizashi, we suggest you brush up by checking out our latest review. When we drove the car last December, we made it clear that while the exterior was pretty good looking, we wished the production version had borrowed a little more heavily from the concepts Suzuki showed off way back when. The Kizashi Sport answers our longing as best as the production car can thanks to a slew of new aesthetic additions inside and out.

First, we have to say that the car you're looking at is a pre-production model, so the end result may vary. However, Suzuki assures us that when the Kizashi Sport goes on sale in July, it will be the spitting image of our prototype tester. That means the front fascia will still boast the same attractive faux canards below the fog lights (Suzuki calls them jowls) and the side skirts will be aggressively flanged to match. Likewise, those 18-inch alloys will also be standard on Sport models. The rollers are not only penned after the ones originally found on the concept, but each is also 2.5-pounds lighter than the standard-issue wheels on the base Kizashi. We don't have to tell you that cutting unsprung weight is a good thing.

Inside, the standard steering wheel has been replaced with a perforated-leather unit, and SLS trim will also net buyers a set of satisfying leather seats, complete with contrasting stitching. Those who prefer cloth can go for GTS trim and still enjoy all the fancy hardware outside. Suzuki says that even with the hide interior, the Kizashi Sport will carry an MSRP of around $25,000 when equipped with the six speed manual. Fully-loaded with the CVT and all-wheel drive, the car will top out at around $28,000.

Now, at this point, you're probably wondering what exactly Suzuki has cooked up under the hood to warrant the Sport moniker. When the Kizashi was still just a rumor swimming around the interwebs, word was that the car would come with a variety of engine choices, including the direct-injection 3.6-liter V6 currently residing in the Cadillac CTS. But that was when the Japanese company was joined at the hip with General Motors. When Detroit took a dive, it withdrew from the majority of its automotive partnerships, including its alliance with Suzuki. That means we won't be finding a V6 on the Kizashi option sheet any time soon.

As a result, the Kizashi Sport gets its power from the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine you'll find behind the headlights of the base version. That's not to say the sedan isn't capable of holding its own in traffic, though. With 185 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, the Suzuki lump will pull all the way up to its 6,500 rpm redline. Like the base Kizashi, the Sport is available with a six-speed manual transmission, though our auto show survivor was equipped with the capable CVT and an excellent all-wheel-drive system.

While GM may no longer be in the picture, Suzuki made it clear that its new sedan is built to handle extra power. In fact, the engineers designed the chassis to rock and roll with up to 300 ponies pushing at all four corners. The good news is now that Suzuki and Volkswagen are getting cozy, we may see a German powerplant working its way into the Kizashi within a couple of years. Currently, Suzuki says both companies are investigating drivetrain options and trying to figure out what would be the best fit. While the turbocharged 2.0-liter found in the current Golf would be an obvious answer, the suits at Suzuki don't really see the benefit given the added cost and minimal horsepower return.

And what about the much-rumored Kizashi Hybrid, you ask? Like the V6, that car was originally a collaboration with The General. When the two parted ways, the fuel-sipping version got shelved. Now that VW is in the picture, development has started up once again. Instead of using the mild system found on the old Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, Suzuki says that the new system will likely resemble the Tiguan Hybrid's drivetrain. Given that the current 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the Kizashi is capable of 30 mpg on the highway, we can't wait to see what the car can do with a little help from a battery or twelve.

For now, buyers will simply have to make do with the peppy little four-cylinder. And that's okay, as the Kizashi Sport has one last set of tricks up its sleeves. The car now rides nearly half an inch lower than the standard version we drove last year, and it boasts slightly revised damping to keep up with the drop. That means, whereas the base car can lay down an already impressive .89 g on the skid pad, the Kizashi Sport can crack .93 g all day long. Just as a point of reference, the 2010 BMW M3 does the same dance at .97g. That's right, we just compared a $25,000 Japanese sedan to Germany's best and brightest.

That's not to say that the Kizashi Sport is M3-besting material by any means, but the sharp suspension helps the Suzuki feel significantly quicker than it is. Couple the new low-slung stance with an Akebono braking system capable of bringing the car down from 60 mph in a shave over 130 feet and you have one very solid driving experience. In reality, it reminds us of what Acura used to be before the brand larded up with sound deadening and unnecessary bulk.

Speaking of Acura, Suzuki is clearly targeting Honda's luxury arm with the Kizashi, though we don't really see consumers cross-shopping the two. Instead, this is a new mid-size with a pulse, which makes it the perfect alternative to rolling comas like the Camcord. Given that the Kizashi Sport carries such a low MSRP and a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, we have a hard time imagining why anyone would vote for the competition – provided tiny Suzuki manages to get on their radar in the first place.

Our time with the Kizashi Sport was admittedly short, and though we spent it swapping glares with the drivers around us, we'd be hard pressed to come up with a better vehicle for fighting rush hour around South Beach. Quick, nimble and capable of handling repeated panic stops from the jokers in front of us, it's easily up to the task of fighting the segment's biggest players, something we'll test for ourselves when it goes on sale in two month's time.

Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

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