For many observers, the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi represents the automaker's last, best hope for survival in the U.S. market'”at least until/unless the VW-Suzuki partnership has an impact here. But in the meantime, the company continues to showcase its new midsize sedan in places one wouldn't normally expect to see a Suzuki. The latest effort? A highly modified Suzuki Kizashi will be looking for a new land-speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats beginning August 14.
The remains of an ancient lake in Utah that dried up millions of years ago, the Salt Flats have been ground zero for land-speed records since 1914, culminating in Gary Gabelich's 1970 run of 622.407 mph in his rocket-powered "Blue Flame." More recently, Andy Green set a record for diesel-powered vehicles there, reaching more than 350 mph in the JCB Dieselmax in 2006.
The Bonneville-bound Kizashi isn't aiming quite that high, however. Suzuki is targeting the 200 mph barrier and hoping to set a new benchmark for the "Blown Gas Coupe" class. Extensive changes have been made to the vehicle to try to meet the challenge, with the most significant being the addition of a powerful turbocharger that, combined with other engine modifications, boosts the car's power ratings to 500 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
Whether that will be enough to boost the car's sales remains an open question. Lauded as a true breakthrough product when it launched earlier this year, the Kizashi has earned plenty of critical kudos and third-party awards, but not too many new customers. Sales of the Suzuki Kizashi hit 717 units in June, but monthly volumes have generally been in the 400-unit range before that, while July saw 592 buyers choose the Kizashi.
That makes the decision to take the car to Bonneville a bit of a surprise. Consider that Suzuki has had a fair amount of success in other unique U.S. motorsports competitions, most notably at the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Modified Suzukis have won that race a number of times in recent years, including this one, and Nobuhiro Taijima set the overall track record in a Suzuki in 2007. But those kinds of results haven't done much to improve Suzuki's standing in the marketplace, and I don't see how the automaker's Bonneville campaign, even if successful, will be any different.
Unless, that is, it's a hint that we'll see Suzuki drop a turbo into the production Kizashi. The upcoming turbocharged Hyundai Sonata stands to be a game-changer in the segment, and forced induction doesn't look to be in the cards for any of its mainstream competitors. That's a window of opportunity just waiting for some automakers to jump through. And If Suzuki's assault on the salt leads to a Kizashi packing one of VW's 2.0-liter FSI turbos, that automaker could easily be Suzuki.