Admit it. Youve never heard of the Suzuki Kizashi, have you? And, at first glance, who can blame you. Its got a weird gearbox, a whacking-great petrol engine, and only comes as a saloon. Oh, and Suzuki are only selling 500 of them in the UK so they arent exactly a common sight.
However, if youre looking for a four-wheel-drive saloon then its worth a second glance. Its qualities might not be obvious at first glance but they are there and they will appeal to a certain kind of driver.
The exterior is unremarkable, being subdued and anonymous. If one drove past you wouldnt even notice it, much less be able to name the car or even the marque. This is a good thing, or a bad one, depending on your outlook.
For a stealth car it is handsome though, with a lovely Bentley-esque front grille and a pair of enormous exhaust tailpipes. A set of good-looking alloy wheels and tinted rear windows round off the Kizashis spec. The harder you look the better it gets, like falling in love with your next-door neighbour after not noticing her for the last ten years.
The interior has simple, premium feel to it that I wasnt expecting. Suzuki has used plenty of leather on the interior of the Kizashi so the main surfaces are very satisfying to touch. Its loaded with equipment too, and has everything that an executive saloon needs and, best of all, its all fitted as standard.
I found it easy to get comfortable helped by some of the best front seats in the business. The driving position is low, fostering the athleticism that is the defining note of the Kizashis DNA and I particularly liked the steering wheel, which feels great. Its uncluttered and round, two qualities that you would imagine are common but arent.
The Kizashi has been criticised for being too small inside, which is odd because I am six feet three and sat in the back and had plenty of leg and headroom. If you are considerably taller than me and travel regularly in the back then you might want to think about buying something larger, but the rest of us will be fine
While we are talking practicalities the boot is huge and the rear seats fold, allowing bigger items to be carried.
The Kizashi is serene, even when travelling at high speed, a sensation that is consistent with the cars discreet-yet-sporty nature. Its quiet, with little wind noise or tyre roar, and eggs you on to higher speeds than you might normally drive at. Youll need to keep a beady eye on the speedo.
The Kizashis chassis is a fine thing being poised and chuckable at sensible-through-to-insane speeds. It rides well, with no jarring or crashing from the suspension and the levels of grip are prodigious, even in two-wheel-drive.
The weather didnt co-operate during my time with the Suzuki so I couldnt test the four-wheel-drive in low-grip situations, but you can expect it to provide welcome reassurance when its cold, wet, or snowy, something that country dwellers in particular will appreciate.
The 2.4-litre petrol engine is a bit thrashy at the top end but is otherwise unexceptional. As is the performance: 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds and a top speed of 127mph is acceptable, but not stunning. The engine is remarkable only for the fact that it is the only one on offer. Yes, thats right, there is no diesel option something that will limit the cars appeal to the fleet market and high-mileage driver.
So the fact that the Kizashi offers a unique driving experience is due entirely to the CVT gearbox. CVT (or continuously variable transmission to give it its full name) doesnt have set, stepped ratios like a conventional gearbox, it has an infinitely variable number, something that is a Good Thing in theory.
The trouble is that you cant just jump in and drive the Kizashi like a normal car. If you do youll get a wailing, rising engine note that bears little resemblance to the road speed. It feels like the clutch is slipping, and slipping quite badly.
There are, however, two ways to get round this problem: the first is to use the car in manual mode by changing gear using the flappy-paddle thingies behind the steering wheel; the second is to rein in your instinctive method of driving and experiment with CVT. If you get it right and you will, very quickly youll love its ability to waft along at high speeds with only a hint of throttle.
Value for Money
The Kizashi is loaded with goodies. Heated, electric leather front seats, air-con, decent stereo, 18-inch alloys, sunroof, keyless entry, HID lights, parking sensors, etc., etc. If you need it the Kizashi has it. This makes it spectacular value for money.
The Kizashi is the best three-box executive saloon youve never heard of and will appeal to those for whom running with the herd just isnt an option; youll find it slightly odd or highly distinctive, depending on whether you get it or not.
Recognising this Suzuki has limited ambitions for it with just 500 to sell, something that they should be able to do quite easily given its fine chassis and generous equipment. (However, if Suzuki ever released a Kizashi with a manual gearbox and an estate bodyshell theyd have a world-beater on their hands.)
Alternative four-wheel-drive saloons include the Subaru Legacy and Audi A4, both of which cost more but are more mainstream. You pay your money and take your choice