Mostly known as a motorcycle manufacturer in the US, Suzuki is continuing to diligently work towards equaling its Asian and European automotive successes on American shores. Having made headway with value-focused models like the SX4 and Grand Vitara, Suzuki has recently enhanced its lineup in hopes of gaining new ground. Their Equator truck and all-new, upscale Kizashi have won the brand strong praise for overall quality, style and features, extending purchase consideration beyond that of solely cost-conscious consumers. For those willing to venture beyond well-known mainstream brands, the reward of consistently-improving, quality vehicles can be enjoyed from this company whose roots go back more than 100 years.
Photos courtesy of Suzuki.
Setting the standard for what Suzuki is capable of producing, the Kizashi is genuinely a player in the midsize sedan segment that offers style and handling akin to more expensive European brands. This new vehicle comes packed with standard features like dual automatic climate control, iPod connectivity and keyless entry and ignition -- even in the base S trim. Moving up to the highest SLS trim gains heated leather seats, rear parking sensors and a power passenger seat. Offered in front- or all-wheel drive, the Kizashi delivers sporty handling and fine fit-and-finish that should be enough to drive its value proposition into the hands of many consumers.
Respectable 185-hp engine with CVT and AWD options
Kizashi SLS with leather almost like a VW Jetta or Audi A4
European-tuned suspension offers good handling, some fun
NHTSA 5-star rating for front and side impacts
Small, affordable and fun, the SX4 has been the bread and butter of Suzuki's vehicle lineup since its introduction in 2007. The three main variations are: the SX4 Sedan; the body-kit-clad, sport-suspension-equipped SX4 Sport sedan and new Sportback hatch; and the SX4 Crossover hatch, which is the cheapest way to get all-wheel drive on any new car. The first two models come with front-wheel drive, while the SX4 Crossover can be had with FWD or AWD. Hatchback models have an impressive 54 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats folded. All 2010 models receive a more powerful engine fed through a new 6-speed manual transmission or CVT, a restyled front fascia, a freshened instrument panel and better fuel economy. Add to that sporty handling, a roomy and quiet cabin, and more features for the money, and it's easy to see why the SX4 is giving its competition something to worry about.
More HP and new transmissions add extra pep
More features for less money than Versa or Fit
Navigation upgrades add real-time traffic, weather and flight information
Available all-wheel drive SX4 Crossover is the lowest-priced AWD car on the market
Suzuki Grand Vitara
The longstanding Grand Vitara SUV has always been a budget-friendly alternative to mainstream compact SUV models. All trims come standard with a rear-wheel drive, 4-cylinder configuration. Four-wheel drive becomes available at the Premium trim and above, while a 230-hp V6 can be united with the XSport and Limited trim levels. It was refreshed in 2009, but standard navigation and a broader availability of Bluetooth and auxiliary inputs have been rolled out for 2010. The XSport and Limited's available 4-mode 4-wheel-drive system is unusual in this class, and allows one to actually take the Grand Vitara to off-road locations where its competition would falter.
Thrifty 4-cylinder engine or optional 230-hp V6
New Premium Special Edition adds technology and styling
Ride quality and cabin comfort/convenience not strong points
Six airbags and standard traction and stability control systems
In its second year, the Suzuki Equator remains a sturdy, versatile and nimble pickup, mostly thanks to it being a reskinned Nissan Frontier. Like most pickups, myriad rear- and 4-wheel-drive configurations are available, including Extended (king) Cab with a 6-foot bed and Crew Cab with a 5-foot or 6-foot bed. No standard cab though. For 2010, stability control is now standard on V6 models and a removable Garmin navigation system is available on RMZ trims. Less spacious rear seat room is one of the few drawbacks that can be held against this tough and functional midsize pickup.
MSRP: $17,520 – $30,900
Base Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 152 hp
Base EPA mpg: 19 city/23 hwy/21 cmb
Competition: Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado
Optional 4.0-liter V6 has good acceleration and towing ability
7-year, 100,000-mile Suzuki powertrain warranty on Nissan-based engines
Versatile bed track system with four tie-down cleats
Smaller dealer network a liability when compared to Nissan Frontier
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