In the Great Race to bring a full-fledged electric vehicle to market, Suzuki is refusing to fall behind. And with a minimal R&D budget and a tenuous relationship with its partners at Volkswagen, a rag-tag band of engineers are out to prove that Suzuki can hang with the big boys of the automotive universe. And here is their star.
Like every other EV under development, Suzuki's vehicle is a balance of compromises. But the engineers from its North American arm won't let comfort be trumped by silly modern niceties like a windshield. Or headlamps. Or airbags. Or any kind of weather protection. No, this is among the purest EV experiencse ever crafted by the hand of man. We've driven it. And you can too.
Suzuki's rolling roadshow wandered into Pittsburgh, PA this past weekend as part of its Kizashi Kicks campaign. With the majority of its sales centralized on the East Coast and Midwest, Suzuki is focused on showing off its wares to the right people in the right locales. After a four-day stretch at the Meadowlands Fair in New Jersey, the Kizashi Kicks campaign landed at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix before packing up for the Tour of Elkgrove in Illinois and continuing on to Musikfest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Altamont Fair in New York and finishing off at the Camplain Valley Fair in Vermont.
We caught up with the Kicks crew in Pittsburgh to get a taste of what the brand has to offer, and for a chance to get behind the wheel of Suzuki's first-ever electric vehicle.
Taking a cue from other automakers' efforts, Suzuki has chosen to use an existing platform for its first EV. The shape may look familiar to those who've seen the marque's "Kizashi versus A4" commercial or attendees of the 2011 Chicago Auto Show, but what's underneath is all-new and a testament to Suzuki's engineering prowess.
The showpiece's anemic six-horsepower, Robin SB170 gasoline engine and friction wheel transmission has been ditched in favor of a 48-volt Club Car motor pulling electrons from eight, six-volt heavy-duty deep cycle batteries. But you couldn't tell from the outside.
Its dimensions are unchanged, coming in at 80-inches wide, 36.5-inches deep and 36-inches high, with a wheelbase of around 25 inches – perfect for maneuvering in tight urban areas. In keeping with Suzuki's affordable all-wheel-drive mantra introduced with the SX4 and Kizashi, all four wheels are electrically driven up to an undisclosed top speed. And that's not the only thing Suzuki isn't revealing.
To keep the competition guessing, Suzuki isn't releasing performance or range data, but considering the aforementioned ad spot and the amount of wheelspin we experienced while tearing up the grounds of the Schenley Park golf course, it's got the juice. But does it have the go?
As is typical of all electric vehicles, torque is plentiful as soon as you mash the Pep Boys-spec aluminum accelerator pedal. But forward thrust is quickly overcome by... silence. The only noises you'll hear are the subtle whir of the electric motor and loose change sliding slowly into the back of the seat cushions. Braking comes on strong, but you'll need to work out your left leg to fully actuate the single-disc hydraulic brake mounted on the rear axle. And while the steering wheel placement – front and center, just like the McLaren F1 – leaves a bit to be desired for the offset driver, directional commands are executed swiftly through the rack-and-pinion steering, though a lack of communication leaves your palms aching for information.
No, this isn't a performance machine, but what Suzuki left on the table in the driver's department it swiftly picked up from the Kings of Comfort.
The vintage bench is designed to seat three (complete with lap-belts) and could take four in a pinch, and Suzuki has succeeded in its task to create the most comfortable fairway cruiser on the planet. While suspension travel is non-existent, the couch's ample cushioning makes up for any dynamic shortcomings, particularly for the passengers who enjoy acres of legroom and an Ikea-sourced dash that's perfectly placed for kicking your feet up. Interior lighting is handled by an overhead lamp, but the obvious lack of a cooling apparatus to keep your beverages chilled is an unacceptable oversight. Thankfully, Suzuki's team assured us that this may be rectified in the future.
While it might not be as refined as a Nissan Leaf or as engaging as a Tesla Roadster, Suzuki's EV wins on charisma, comfort and charm. And while it's not slated for serial production, you can get some seat time when the Kizashi Kicks campaign rolls through your town. We'll be waiting, and we wouldn't be surprised to find a few competing automaker engineers joining us for the ride.