The compact premium saloon market is dominated by the big German firms. We put a considerable emphasis on the badge and associated brand image, which is why the mainstream — Ford, Kia, Peugeot, Hyundai — are often overlooked even if their cars drive well and are groaning with kit.
With that in mind, Suzuki's decision to pitch its Kizashi compact saloon into this fiercely competitive market is a bold one. Only it's not really, as the firm doesn't want to compete head on but provide an alternative choice for buyers not seeking the ultimate driving machine.
And there's no question that the Kizashi is something of a left-field choice. For starters it's four-wheel drive, which is something of a rarity this side of an Audi. Suzuki has also adhered to the Lexus school of marketing and loaded the car with standard kit. And, like Lexus until a few years ago, the Kizashi is petrol-only — in this case a 2.4-litre V6 motor.
With its very un-Germanic specification, Suzuki believes the Kizashi offers the right balance of performance and comfort to appeal to existing Suzuki buyers keen to move on from, say, a similarly equipped Vitara if off-roading isn't a priority. Plus, there is a sufficient number of buyers new to the brand seeking something compact yet understandably unwilling to give up the trappings of executive motoring life.
Enough of the hypothesising; does the Kizashi perform in the real world? In a roundabout way, yes it does. For a company more familiar to most for producing capable off-roaders and low-cost superminis, the Kizashi's cabin offers a surprising level of comfort and refinement.
For anyone sitting on the fence there's no shortage of standard kit. Leather, climate control, a quality audio system, Bluetooth, keyless ignition, cruise control all feature. Compared to something like the firm's Swift the Kizashi is positively luxurious. Yet none of it feels over the top; the car's cabin includes a lot of high-quality black plastic to complement the leather, and the trim details are stylish yet subtle.
Although the car's interior design is modest the same can't be said for interior space. Up front there's enough of it to embarrass larger and more expensive so-called executive cars, while those in the back don't have to suffer a lack of legroom. Even further back the Kizashi's boot offers plenty of storage space for a compact saloon.
No doubt most of this will sound familiar to existing fans of compact saloons, but Suzuki's gone off on a tangent when it comes to the driving experience. The choice of a 2.4-litre petrol V6 motor will raise a few eyebrows, as will the decision to include a CVT auto gearbox as standard. This combination won't win any medals in the CO2 or fuel economy standings, but it does offer a smooth and low-effort way of getting about.
For all the Kizashi's sporty-looking exterior — and it is a handsome car — it's not something to thrash about in. The CVT delivers smooth and predictable performance and the 178bhp engine is no slouch as its 0-100kph time of 8.8 seconds demonstrates. Enthusiastic sessions behind the wheel reveal a well-sorted car with a ride that successfully balances supple suspension with the need to keep pitch and roll in check.
There's no denying that it's a car that's happier to waft along, albeit at a brisk pace if required. In this situation it really does live up to its premium looks and cabin ambience. Factor in the car's all-wheel drive feature and it has the potential to be a capable all-weather mode of transport.
To an outsider it would appear that the odds are stacked against the Kizashi; its unusual name, unusual engine and gearbox combination and unconventional origins are unlikely to endear it to the massed ranks of buyers conditioned to choose the default European models.
Does that make Suzuki's effort to infiltrate the compact saloon market worth the effort? Ask anyone seeking an alternative to the traditional booted cars out there and the answer would be yes. Granted it's a small number, but Suzuki's aspirations are modest — a few hundred cars, not thousands — as it bids to boost its brand image.
And for these people the Kizashi will be a refreshing alternative choice. It's refined enough and accommodating enough to earn the ‘compact executive' tag. Plus, if you're not tuned into the macho posturing of rival brands promoting the performance prowess of their respective models, the four-door Suzuki's relaxed approach to brisk motoring is refreshingly different.
An informed choice, then, and one you're unlikely to regret.