Suzuki Kizashi AWD

THERE’S a small group of mass-produced Rising Sun brands with an enviable reputation and slightly ‘premium’ price tags. Think Mazda, Subaru and Honda.

Suzuki can’t mix in these lofty circles, yet… Best known for its small cars, compact off-roaders and motorcycles, Suzuki hopes the new mid-sized Kizashi will elevate its standing in consumerland and springboard its branding from the mezzanine to the penthouse.

Pitched as a sporty sedan, the front-wheel-drive Kizashi has been well received for its smart styling, amply appointed cabin and decent ride and handling.

Enter the Kizashi Sport AWD variant, with a switchable all-paw system, and CVT. Badging it ‘Sport’ is a bit of a stretch. The running gear is the same as the front-drive Kizashi, and the AWD version is naturally heavier, by 70kg, so perhaps less accelerative.

It’s outdoorsy with an inclination to tackle the slushy roads of the snowfields much in the way Subies do. But sporty it ain’t. Not without more grunt, anyway.

Along with that hopeful Sport nomenclature, the AWD Kizashi is differentiated from its FWD sibling by a bodykit and mesh grille, a 10mm-lower ride height and 18-inch alloys.

The Sport AWD is based on the range-topping Kizashi XLS, meaning the full catalogue of six ’bags, dual-zone air, heated front seats, keyless entry and ignition, driver’s adjustable memory seat, stability control, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear park sensors, terrific dusk-sensing HID lights and 425-Watt Rockford Fosgate audio.

The functional side is obvious too – the excellent, comfortable seats, full-size spare, big and versatile boot and the engine’s 91-octane fuel compatibility. Most soft-roaders and crossover vehicles employ reactive AWD systems that engage all four wheels only after detecting traction loss. The Suzuki i-AWD system is superior.

The Kizashi AWD showed its all-conditions competence during two slippery dirt-road drives to a snow-covered summit near Queenstown, New Zealand. This was the legendary old Race to the Sky hillclimb and taming the slushy, rutted surface was a challenge.

On the twisty asphalt highways, it’s a relaxing drive thanks to its sorted dynamics and comfy cabin. But the many ascents encountered revealed some shortcomings, particularly the lack of engine torque, along with the CVT’s intrusive buzziness.

Paddleshifting the CVT gave the impression of greater control and sportiness. But there’s no doubting a manual would have been more fun and … sportier.

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