Maruti Suzuki Kizashi test drive review…a sign of good things to come?

Posted: March 24, 2011 in Car reviews
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Even after completing 25 long years of operation in India with the largest fleet of cars and producing over a million cars in a year, Maruti Suzuki is at best known as a small car maker in India. With more global automakers establishing their footprint in India and coming up with new small cars in addition to the sedans, the numero uno status enjoyed by Maruti seemed to be at stake. Suzuki had realized it some time back and understood the importance of projecting Maruti as a complete car maker. It had to enter the unknown shores of premium cars away from its mainstay if it had to stay ahead of the competition. After all, it makes no business sense to hand over your home grown loyal customers over the years to the competition due to lack of high end cars in its portfolio. Hence came to the scene the likes of erstwhile Baleno and then the moderately successful SX4, neither of which could turn around the fortunes for Maruti. In between came the most expensive Suzuki, the Grand Vitara, as well whose fate was no different. But Suzuki never gave up. They learnt from the experiences and recently came up with their all new offering-the Kizashi-a sign of good things to come.
The thinking of Suzuki and its expectations is quite evident just from the tagline. Suzuki is betting big on the car, not only in India, but also all around the world, to come out of the small car maker jinx. Is the car capable of doing it by carving out a space for itself in the Indian car market, where in the luxury space, the brand image reigns supreme? Is the Suzuki capable of taking the fight to the likes of Honda and Skoda who dominate this segment and to compete with the upcoming futuristic Hyundai i45? Is the Kizashi really a sign of good things to come for Suzuki in India? Let’s find out.
With its new offering Suzuki has managed to carve out a space for itself in the crowded market space by positioning it between the likes of Corolla and Civic at the lower end and the Accord and Superb at the higher side. It also tried to distinguish itself from the competition by projecting the car as a self driven one, unlike the others which are primarily meant to be chauffeured around. But at a higher price and marginally superior space and better features over the likes of Laura and Corolla, and with far inferior features and space over the likes of Superb, has the car managed to reach a step closer to the customers or has it distanced itself by being in no man’s land? Only time and numbers can tell.
Stroll around the car and it mesmerizes you by its stunning looks which are a rarity in the segment, save the Civic. The car looks proportionate and rests well on the wide tires, and looks well planted to the ground. The front grilles and bumper give a familiar feeling, giving a smiling face appearance similar to the new generation Swift to be launched later this year. Part of Suzuki new design strategy, huh? The wrap around head lamps and the curvy bonnet, though similar to the ones on the SX4, gels well and adds to the styling element of the car, further complemented by the smooth flow lines that run all the way down to the lower grille from the top of the bonnet. Only the small round fog lamps appeared a bit tame, unlike the dashing and dynamic front of the car.
It is from the side that the car looks quite normal unlike its front, with just a line in the lower belly to sweeten an otherwise bland side profile. A bit more of curves or some muscular styling lines similar to Accord would have been welcome, but Suzuki chose to keep it simple and plain, possibly owing to the limited technical capabilities of Suzuki over rivals like Honda and Hyundai in making sharp styling lines. But nevertheless, it is a job well done. Come to the rear, and again you feel disconnected from the side profile seeing the awesome styling cues. The integrated spoiler seamlessly gels with the boot unlike the traditional Maruti cars where the boot seems to be an after market fitment. The bulges at the rear complement the overall body shape of the car very well and does not look odd, like in the case of Ritz. Also the twin triangular exhaust tips add a totally new dimension to the futuristic rear looks. And thanks to the single variant on offer, Suzuki has refrained from cluttering up the rear with all sorts of decals like other cars from its stable. And with the quality of paint and panel gaps everywhere around in the car, it feels hard to believe that the car is really a Suzuki.
Step inside and you will be greeted by a cabin that does not remotely resemble any Maruti car made so far in terms of perfection and quality. The steering looks cool and is easy and comfortable to hold and is a welcome new design from the same old steering that comes all the way from Swift to the Grand Vitara. The double barrel speedometer console also gels with the overall sporty image of the car, but what could have been bettered was the small markings inside, that makes you count every single km/hr of speed gained. The leather on the seats and on the doors look quite up market and makes the car feel special. The interior color combination also looks good and more suited to match Indian customers’ taste, rather than the all black interiors which the car comes with in other markets. May be Suzuki could have at least considered giving an all black interior option considering the sporty image of the car. The centre console looks well laid out with all controls well spaced and easily accessible and which were a delight to operate. The displays looked great too, though they were a touch too simple. Outlining the centre console were two chrome strips and looks like Suzuki is adamant to make the car look like an SX4 some way or the other. Ergonomics of the driver seemed to be a top priority for Suzuki, with all controls on dash and steering easy to reach, save the centre AC blowers were placed a bit too far and can be a pain operating it while driving. The seats are 10 way adjustable and have memory storage too which can be a boon if used by multiple drivers. The seat bolstering also was quite adequate and you would never find a reason to complain even on long drives. Be it at the front of rear, seat profile is well thought of and is versatile enough to suit the requirements of even the worst critic. At the rear too, the seat bolstering is superb and combined with a good backrest angle, being chauffeured around could also be an option worth considering.
In the performance front, the car has got it right every ingredient required to be a sporty car. The car we drove was equipped with a Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT). As usual we expected the performance to be a bit on the lower side like the other automatic cars around. But what we found rather took us by surprise. The CVT seemed quite potent enough, with its brisk acceleration and minimal jerks in the cabin unlike conventional automatics. The pickup never seemed to bother us except on a couple of occasions where brisk overtaking was required, we had to switch over to the manual mode, which could be operated either using the gear lever or the paddle shift buttons behind the steering wheel. Only occasionally the car seemed to struggle a bit, when trying to accelerate after taking the foot off the throttle for some time during highway traffic, when it feels a bit sluggish to come back to normal. The engine noises were nowhere to be heard inside the cabin even at higher speeds and NVH levels were simply outstanding. But we would have preferred if seepage of tire noises into the cabin could have been a bit less, but it would never be a reason for complaint.
The ride comfort of the vehicle was quite pliant and was tackling every other bumps and potholed roads with utmost ease. The suspension a bit on the softer side, made the vehicle to pitch around even on highways a little bit, but was not irritating by any standards. The steering was utmost precise and responsive and was a delight driving it around on the long unending expressways. The feel around centre was top notch and easily the best that could be seen in any vehicle of its class. On lane changes and over takings, the car responds rhythmically to the steering inputs and as a driver you never feel the vehicle going out of control. The tires also offered excellent grip around sharp corners and making it lose its grip was a task in itself. One could literally feel the ESP taking control of the vehicle dynamics once the car reaches its traction limits to prevent turning around while giving high steering inputs and high speeds. Overall, the Kizashi is one such car where you can safely test your vehicle handling skills to the ultimate extent without having the fear of losing control. The braking too seemed to be extremely poised and stopped the car without much of a fuss even from high cruising speeds in no time.
Finally after kilometers of intense driving, we came to a common consensus. The Kizashi is a car which is unique in itself not only by its price and positioning, but also by its superb handling performance. It simply does not make any sense to compare it with the likes of Accord or Superb which are only marginally expensive, simply because you are not supposed to be chauffeured around in a Kizashi. It suits more the young aspiring breed, who wants to enjoy driving to the fullest. But definitely it needs to be seen how big the target audience of Kizashi really is in India…but anyways I count myself in….

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