The Truth About Cars » Suzuki http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Suzuki http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/suzuki/ Bi-Polar Suzuki Not Sure What To Do With VW http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/bi-polar-suzuki-not-sure-what-to-do-with-vw/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/bi-polar-suzuki-not-sure-what-to-do-with-vw/#comments Mon, 29 Jul 2013 15:20:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=497334 Suzuki SX4. Photo courtesy AutoExpress

Suzuki and VW don’t seem ready to officially call it quits just yet. The two companies are still talking, with both sides continuing to see positives in what was to be a partnership on small cars and Suzuki’s domination of emerging markets.

Senior management from both sides, including Osamu Suzuki, are currently in talks to revive the partnership as it could help Suzuki spread their R&D costs over multiple products and give them access to VW technology. Volkswagen wants a greater foothold in India and China, where Suzuki has been wildly successful, a stark contrast to their presence in North America. If talks fail, the courts have some decisions to make.

The situation came to a head two years after the partnership between the two companies was initially formed, with both parties calling the other out for breach of contract. Since then, the matter has been before the courts as Suzuki demanded back VW’s 19.9% share in the Japanese company. Volkswagen is currently Suzuki’s largest shareholder, though the company is controlled by the Suzuki family.

For what it’s worth, talks could go either way. As we reported last year, Osamu Suzuki is a bit of a wild card. When the partnership was active, engineers at the two companies worked quite well with each other. But, Osamu Suzuki and other members of senior management at both companies felt they were getting raw ends of the deal.

A slighted Suzuki went to the press, calling off the partnership before making a phone call to Germany to notify Ferdinand Piech of his decision. The relationship between VW and Suzuki has been rocky ever since.

 

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Suzuki Death Watch 17: This Is The Suzuki That’ll Never Arrive In North America http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/suzuki-death-watch-17-this-is-the-suzuki-thatll-never-arrive-in-north-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/suzuki-death-watch-17-this-is-the-suzuki-thatll-never-arrive-in-north-america/#comments Wed, 06 Feb 2013 16:03:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=476524

It must be Suzuki Day. Fresh off pictures from our resident Chinese spy, Suzuki has released some pictures of the upcoming S-Cross C-segment all-wheel-driver.

The S-Cross, first previewed in Paris last September, looks to feature some LED eyeliner and a new corporate grille up front, similar to the refreshed Grand Vitara. It does stay fairly faithful to the concept, which itself looked almost production ready.

No other details have been provided at this point, but expect the new Suzuki to lull you into a false sense of security before pulling out of the marketplace when it’s released later this year.

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2012 Paris Motor Show: Suzuki S-Cross Concept Embraces Crossover Trend And Ignores History (w/ video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/2012-paris-motor-show-suzuki-s-cross-concept-embraces-crossover-trend-and-ignores-history-w-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/2012-paris-motor-show-suzuki-s-cross-concept-embraces-crossover-trend-and-ignores-history-w-video/#comments Fri, 28 Sep 2012 16:27:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=462147

While not mentioned explicitly, this is Suzuki’s SX4 replacement – the Dodge Caliber S-Cross Concept – which is all but ready for dealer showrooms for 2013.

Suzuki seems to be taking a page out of Chrysler’s handbook from the mid-2000s: throw out a relatively smart, simple, small car and replace it with something that’s between C-segment runabout and SUV. We all know how successful that decision was.

While all other auto manufacturers are wasting their efforts on making smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles for the future, Suzuki is force-feeding hamburgers to the SX4 replacement and butching it up for crossover duty. After all, those millennial will need the extra ride height to clear curbs in front of the knock-off Starbuck’s.

The new S-Cross, confirmed for Europe (where the Suzuki portfolio has more models than one can count with one hand), was shown to the masses for the first time this week at the 2012 Paris Motor Show. A video clip featuring the S-Cross opens with some dubstep style beats ruined by some musical compositions pulled from any number of Sega Saturn video game titles. The mix-mash of environmental imagery makes you wonder if a Suzuki marketing professional spent the weekend watching Tron, Mad Max, and Lord of the Rings in a single sitting. But, we’re talking about the S-Cross, right.

The “concept”, painted in the same green hue which graced the 2005 Mercedes-Benz Bionic “Boxfish” design study (maybe the concept vehicle department went to the recyclers for their paint), is a jacked up C-segment crossover with available 20 inch dubs and updated four-wheel-drive system derived from other models in the stable. It represents the first vehicle in an aggressive push by Suzuki to release a new vehicle every year in Europe – because sales there are red hot! – but has not yet been confirmed for North America. While there has been no official word on what will propel the S-Cross, don’t expect a fancy hybrid or turbo setup, as you can probably bet Suzuki will be keeping costs in check.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 

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Review: 2012 Suzuki Jimny, Philippine Spec, Tested In The Philippines http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-suzuki-jimny-philippine-spec-tested-in-the-philippines/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-suzuki-jimny-philippine-spec-tested-in-the-philippines/#comments Wed, 12 Sep 2012 12:02:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459977

The absolute nadir (Nader?) of Suzuki in America was when Consumer Reports announced to the world that OMG, tall and narrow off-roaders do roll over. The fallout of this scandal would taint the image of the Suzuki Samurai forever in the American market, and ensured that the later, ironically more stable, Suzuki Jimny, never made it across the pond.

It’s a crying shame, because the Jimny is the Mazda Miata of the off-road world.

Launched in 1998, the Jimny is a more modern version of the old Samurai, with coil-sprung live-axles, a stronger ladder frame and a more powerful 1.3 liter engine. This 2012 variant differs very little from the original “wide-body “ Jimny, the main difference being push-button transfer case controls on the dashboard and a slightly less  rural selection of interior plastics.

The looks are timeless. The distinctive grille is two bars short of a Jeep copyright lawsuit, and the only nod to modernity up front is the black eyeliner around the reflector headlamps. The recent facelift also features a front bumper cribbed from the Cayenne Turbo. Otherwise, the Jimny’s square-jawed but cutesy looks give it the kind of charm that makes college girls go ahh.


As such, it’s not a car that would appeal to the typical SUV buyer. While there’s enough space inside for Shaquille O’Neal, he’d have to stick an arm out one window and a leg out the other and make everyone else take the bus. The rear seats are about as comfortable as a Geo Metro’s, and to fold them flat, you have to remove the rear squab entirely. ISOFIX LATCH? Keep dreaming. Trunk space is about deep enough for a large suitcase, stood on end, or a really big one with the seats down.

The Jimny I’m driving right now is a basic widebody model. As such, it lacks airbags, power-windows, painted body-cladding and alloy wheels. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a generic Japanese 1DIN stereo last seen on a 1995 Civic. There are no front cup holders. They’re behind the hand brake. I suppose this is to keep flailing arms from spilling hot coffee all over the cabin when you’re rolling over. Important if you’re driving for Consumer Reports.

So it’s not traditional SUV fodder, but for those who actually need one that goes anywhere, few come close to the Jimny. The omnipresent whine from the chain-driven transfer case is a reminder that this car is built for one purpose. To go where man only has walked before. Vacuum-locking hubs and competent low-range gearing allow you to climb steep inclines with ease. The Jimny’s light 2,250 pound curb weight lets it glide over ground that bigger off-roaders sink into. There are no paths too narrow for the Jimny, and obstacles that would rip out a Hummer’s fancy front wishbones are easily skirted.

On off-road trails around Asia and Europe, the Samurai and Jimny are as ubiquitous as ratty Civics at an autocross. Sure, there are more powerful, more capable and more desirable rigs, but none as cheap and cheerful. The Jimny is so popular that there are even aftermarket kits to turn it into a tube-frame rig.

Of course, the Jimny does have its downsides. The steering and gearbox are rubbery, but so’s your mom, so quit complaining. More seriously, losses through the transfer case and the heavy drivetrain limit fuel economy to around 30 mpg on the highway. The disc-and-drum brakes are nothing to write home about and the skinny 205/70R15 tires are vulnerable to de-beading when deflated for hardcore rock-crawling. The jiggly ride is particularly disconcerting. Twin live-axles give the Jimny better articulation than a professional pole-dancer but make the ride lumpier than her motel room mattress. There’s a front anti-roll bar to steady the handling and prevent tip-over, but I’d sacrifice it for even more articulation, safety be damned.

None of this really matters, though. On-road or off, the Jimny is down and dirty fun. I’ve driven cars with five times the power and perhaps ten times the comfort, but very few with half-as-much personality. Compared to the sterile and antiseptic calm of a Land Rover Discovery, the Jimny is a breath of fresh air. While Suzuki is planning to launch a new small crossover with a more modern unibody chassis and transverse engine for the global market, there are still no plans of retiring the Jimny.

Like the Jeep Wrangler or the Land Rover Defender, it’s just one of those cars that’s just too right to kill off.

The test unit used for this evaluation was provided on loan by Rolf of 4x4ph.com, who also provided off-road support on the test drive. This is the writer’s last drive for independent web publications, as he has moved on to one of Top Gear’s Asian web portals.

2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo 2012 Suzuki Jimny - Picture courtesy Niky Tamayo Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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2012 Suzuki S-Cross Concept: This Is The New SX4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/2012-suzuki-s-cross-concept-this-is-the-new-sx4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/2012-suzuki-s-cross-concept-this-is-the-new-sx4/#comments Fri, 10 Aug 2012 11:48:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=456241

What you see above is the S-Cross concept from Suzuki, set to bow at the Paris Auto Show in September. But, this C-segment concept isn’t a new model, instead a replacement for the Suzuki SX4.

The current Suzuki SX4 was a product of a relationship between Suzuki and Fiat. However, this time around, Suzuki has gone it alone, developing the SX4 replacement completely on their own.

Details in addition to the official images are scarce. However, considering Suzuki continues to describe the vehicle as a “C-segment crossover” expect it to have the same all-wheel-drive goodness of the current SX4. Engines will probably vary, as per usual, between Europe, Japan, and the Americas.

The S-Cross is a concept in name only. Whether wearing the S-Cross or SX4 nameplates, the concept will spawn a production model probably for the 2014 model year.

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Suzuki Death Watch 2: Brand Recognition And Spy Shots From Spain http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/suzuki-death-watch-2-brand-recognition-and-spy-shots-from-spain/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/suzuki-death-watch-2-brand-recognition-and-spy-shots-from-spain/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2012 14:22:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453211

Yesterday, a whirlwind of spy shots uncovered what looks to be the SX4 replacement Suzuki will start shipping to lots later this year. So far, observations of the new pint-sized every man rally car look promising, including possible turbo power and a handsome, if unremarkable, interior. But, will it be enough to satiate the appetite of Anglo American tastes? Or does American Suzuki need to focus more on the brand image train?

Up until this point, we were of the belief the SX4 would receive a facelift versus a full model replacement for the 2013 model year. However, as the auto photogs have revealed, there seem to be some major dimensional changes between the camo car and the current model. Underneath the auto burka are some Kizashi like styling features, such as a revised grille and new headlamps, and what might possibly be an intercooler behind the lower grille.

But, if NPR’s Sonari Glinton’s street corner survey is any indication of the market, a new SX4 isn’t going to matter. After asking a few people in Ann Arbor, MI to name all the Japanese brands available in the US, the results were not surprising for the majority of us:

KATHY KENNEDY: OK. Toyota, Honda – that’s all that comes to mind.

JAMES HAMILTON: Oh, pretty much. Yeah. Toyota, Hyundai, Miata, Mazda, Lexus.

EILEEN KNEIPER: Toyota, Nissan, Honda. I think that’s it.

In an industry where reputation and image are everything, American Suzuki is hiding from the camera. Before any new product gives Suzuki the increase in sales it needs in order to sustain business in the United States and Canada, a major overhaul of their marketing is needed (like hiring someone to actually do marketing), focusing on the brand instead of this month’s incentives, so people know that Suzuki still exists.

Hear the lack of outcry? That’s the deafening silence of a brand’s once-loyal customers not caring enough to speak up.

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Review: 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/review-2011-suzuki-kizashi-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/review-2011-suzuki-kizashi-sport/#comments Wed, 09 Feb 2011 21:15:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=383404

Maybe it was my lukewarm review. Or maybe it was because Suzuki’s most ardent attempt to date to appeal to Americans connected with only 6,138 of them last year. Despite the unintended acceleration media circus, Toyota sold more Camrys in the average week. Whatever the reason, Suzuki revised the Kizashi after just one model year, transforming the two top trim levels into “Sport” models. Substitute a six-speed manual and front-wheel-drive for the previous test’s CVT and all-wheel-drive, and the 2011 Kizashi certainly deserves another look.

The Kizashi’s sheetmetal hasn’t changed, so the exterior styling remains much less distinctive than the car’s name suggests it ought to be. That said, the “Sport” tweaks—a tasteful body kit, thinner-spoked wheels—highlight the car’s tight, athletic proportions and make its exterior almost memorable. I remain thankful that the then-new corporate front end introduced with the 2007 XL7 went no further than that SUV. Still, something about this car should mark it as a Suzuki, aside from the oversized S on the grille.

For a car priced in the mid-20s, the Kizashi continues to have an exceedingly well-appointed interior. Luxuriously upholstered door panels, a woven headliner, switchgear that’s a cut or two above the mid-20s norm, compartment lids that open with a dampened glide, and thorough red backlighting all contribute to a look and feel suitable to a car costing at least $10,000 more. Once the benchmark, the latest Volkswagen sedan interiors aren’t even close. The “Sport” revisions include a mildly restyled steering wheel and white stitching on the black leather seats. The latter serves to lighten up the almost overwhelmingly black interior. Would red stitching have been sportier, or at this point too much of a cliché?

Suzuki similarly aims to impress with the Kizashi’s features list, and generally succeeds. Especially nice to see at a $26,000 price: three-stage heated leather power front seats, memory for the driver’s seat, a 425-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system, keyless access and ignition, rain-sensing wipers, and rear air vents.

Even before this year’s “Sport” revisions, Suzuki pitched the Kizashi as a driver’s car. The firm-yet-comfortable front buckets fit the bill, with side bolsters that (for once) actually provide even better lateral support than their appearance suggests they will. Size-wise, the Kizashi falls between a compact and a midsize, but this didn’t dissuade Suzuki from fitting seats a little larger than most these days, further contributing to the car’s premium feel.

The not-quite-midsize dimensions translate to a rear seat that is just large enough for the average adult. Those six-feet and up will wish for a true midsize. Kids, on the other hand, will wish for a lower beltline. In the Kizashi they struggle to see out. The driver fares a bit better, though the cowl is a bit high, the A-pillars are on the thick side, and the wheel must to tilted up a notch to avoid obstructing the classic white-on-black instruments.

When paired with the six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel-drive, the Kizashi’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine kicks out another 5 horsepower, for a total of 185 at 6,500 rpm, and must motivate about 240 fewer pounds, for a total around 3,250. So with a manual transmission the Kizashi is significantly quicker, and feels it. There’s not much power below the 4,000 rpm torque peak (where 170 foot-pounds can be found), so downshifts are a must for brisk acceleration. But in this powertrain the four sounds and feels smoother, with a pleasant zing, so winding it out is a joy. Even though the manual shifter is easily the least refined part of the car, with a clunky, sometimes even balky action, it’s far more enjoyable than the paddle-shiftable CVT.

Still missing, though much less missed with the stick: a more powerful optional engine.

The EPA rates the manual for 20 MPG city and 29 highway, compared to 23/30 with the CVT. The trip computer was wildly optimistic, reporting high 20s and low 30s in the suburbs and 42.6 on one trip, averaging 55 miles-per-hour with a single complete stop. I used a little over half of the 16.6-gallon tank in 176 miles, so the EPA numbers are probably about right.

Last year I suggested that the Kizashi’s chassis needed another round of tuning. With the “Sport,” it got it. Though the changes aren’t dramatic, the revised car handles more sharply and precisely, if still not quite as intuitively as the best sport sedans. Feedback through the steering wheel is subtle, but it’s there. The steering in a Buick Regal turbo (driven while I had the Kizashi) feels light and numb in comparison. The occasional float noted at highway speeds last year is gone, and the “Sport” generally feels more tied down. Better damping than anything from Korea contributes to very good body control when the pavement diverges from level and smooth. With the possible exception of the first-generation Acura TSX, no Japanese sedan has felt more European. The more I drove the Kizashi Sport SLS, the more I liked it.

One mild reservation: the Dunlop SP Sport 7000s might be rated “all-season” tires, but their traction on snow is marginal. The stability control system doesn’t jump in too soon, and when it does operates unobtrusively. Turn it off and the Kizashi remains easy to control even on slick surfaces.

Even with the “Sport” tuning, the Kizashi’s ride remains quiet and polished. Though it can feel a little bumpy in casual driving on some roads, the motions are restrained and vertical rather than poorly controlled and head-tossing. Push the car more aggressively, and the tuning feels spot-on. Highly effective insulation often makes the car seem like it’s going 20 miles-per-hour slower than it actually is. Though this impacts driving enjoyment a bit, it’s a big plus on the highway.

With metallic paint, floormats, and satellite radio, the Kizashi Sport SLS lists for $26,049. (If you can do without heated leather seats and a few other features, you can save $1,800 with the Sport GTS.) The new Jetta GLI will cost about the same as the Sport SLS, but while it will be quicker it looks and feels like a much cheaper car. An Acura TSX is much closer in terms of size, materials, features, and performance—and lists for $4,421 more than the Suzuki. Adjust for remaining feature differences, and according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool the non-premium-branded car’s advantage actually increases, to over $5,000. Add in the Suzuki’s 7/100 powertrain warranty that, unlike Hyundai’s, is transferable, and the car is clearly a very good value.

“Kizashi” means “something great is coming.” With the “Sport” revisions, greatness might still not have arrived, but it’s certainly closer. The Suzuki’s exterior and interior dimensions resemble those of the B5 Volkswagen Passat and the first-generation Acura TSX, both of which appealed to people who wanted enough room for adults in the back seat without the bulk of a truly midsize sedan. The Kizashi’s features, materials, seats, ride, and overall refinement are all those of a much more expensive car, and not those of a compact sedan. The engine isn’t any more powerful this year, but (as is often the case) the manual transmission is worth about 50 horsepower in terms of driving enjoyment. The “Sport” tweaks subtly yet significantly upgrade the exterior appearance and the handling. Add it all up and, in Sport SLS trim with a manual transmission, the 2011 Kizashi is definitely worthy of consideration by enthusiasts searching for the attributes of a European sport sedan without a European price.

Suzuki provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Kizashi Sport trunk Kizashi Sport front seats Kizashi Sport side Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Kizashi Sport IP front 2010 Kizashi front quarter comparison Kizashi Sport engine Kizashi Sport IP side Cadillac in Kizashi Kizashi Sport rear seat Kizashi Sport front Kizashi Sport side less salt Kizashi Sport rear quarter low Kizashi Sport rear quarter high Kizashi Sport front quarter ]]>
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Review: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/review-2010-suzuki-kizashi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/review-2010-suzuki-kizashi/#comments Mon, 18 Jan 2010 20:34:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=342160 100_5987

The dominant Japanese car companies remain uncomfortable with their nationality, doing their best to seem somehow American lest they provoke a political backlash. Even as unabashedly Japanese products have become prevalent in the intertwined worlds of TV, gaming, and toys, I cannot recall a car with so much as a Japanese name prior to Suzuki’s new Kizashi. Why Suzuki? Well, they’re too small in the U.S. to fear a backlash. And tagging a motorcycle Hayabusa didn’t exactly harm its popularity. Why “Kizashi?” The name means “something great is coming.” Well, is it?

100_5990With a name like “Kizashi,” one might expect Suzuki’s new sedan to look distinctively Japanese, or at least distinctive. It doesn’t. Some of the details are nicely done, such as the Lexus-like exhaust outlets. And the proportions are athletically tight. But if anyone noticed the Kizashi during the week I drove it and wondered “what is that?” they were very discreet about it. I suppose we should be thankful that the new corporate front end introduced with the XL7 went no further than the XL7. But anonymous soap bars are so mid-90s, and something about this car should say Suzuki aside from the oversized S on the grille.

The interior is no more Japanese than the exterior. But, for a car priced in the mid-20s, the Kizashi has an exceedingly well-appointed interior. Door pulls are the first thing you touch inside a car, and you grab them every time you get in. Yet these are rarely fully upholstered, even in premium brand luxury sedans. Well, the Kizashi has them, along with luxuriously upholstered upper door panels.

The premium look and feel continues with a woven 100_5714headliner, switchgear that’s a cut or two above the mid-20s norm, compartment lids that open with a dampened glide, and thorough red backlighting. Everything that could possibly be backlit is backlit, down to the hood release and shift paddles. In the midst of this refinement, the long clunky rod used to adjust the instrument panel’s brightness and the slop with which the glove compartment latches stick out more than they otherwise would. A third oversight, and easily the most annoying: while the brightness of the instruments can be adjusted, the bright green lights that announce that the cruise and AWD are engaged cannot be. I avoided using both on the highway to avoid the green lights.

Suzuki similarly aims to impress with the Kizashi’s features list, and generally succeeds. Especially nice to see at this price: an immersive 425-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system, keyless access and ignition (will anyone who owns a car with it ever go back?), rain-sensing wipers (can’t get them on a Cadillac this year), and rear air vents. Some bits missed in their absence: 8-way instead of 4-way adjustment for the power passenger seat (a common omission at this price) and rear reading lamps. Yes, my well-ventilated kids complained when they could not read at night.

100_5712Suzuki is pitching the Kizashi as a driver’s car. The firm front buckets fit the bill, with side bolsters that (for once) actually provide even better lateral support than their appearance suggests they will. The driving position needs work—I had to telescope the wheel all the way out to comfortably reach it, and tilt it a little higher to avoid obstructing the instruments. Size-wise, the Kizashi falls between a compact and a midsize. This translates to a rear seat that is just large enough for the average adult. Those six-feet and up will wish for a true midsize. Kids, on the other hand, will wish for a lower beltline as they’ll struggle to see out of the Kizashi.

About that driver’s car pitch—it’s not based on the engine. A 180-horsepower 2.4-liter four isn’t ever going to impress in a nearly 3,500-pound sedan. With the six-speed manual and front-wheel-drive it might serve fairly well. With the four-wheel-drive and the CVT it mandates, not even close. GM uses active noise cancellation to make a similarly-sized four sound refined in the new Equinox. The Kizashi needs some of that. As is, the 2.4 has the shakes at idle and sounds more like a diesel than VW’s latest TDI south of 4,000 rpm. Too bad it doesn’t also have the low-end pull of a diesel. Acceleration from zero to 20 is downright sluggish. At that point the engine hits its stride and pulls strongly (well, as strongly as it can) until the CVT decides to reel it in.

In normal around-town driving, the CVT often 100_5998decides “mission accomplished” and quickly transitions from an athletic 4,000+ rpm to an engine-lugging 1,500—even though you’re still accelerating. Or at least trying to. I’m not sure there’s a four-cylinder alive that sounds and feels good under load at 1,500 rpm. This one certainly doesn’t. To prevent this, make frequent use of the shift paddles to hold the transmission in one of six predefined ratios.

The CVT clearly wants to maximize fuel economy. Well, in moderate suburban driving the trip computer reported 20.5. My 300-horsepower V8 Lexus with 110,000 miles approaches 20 on the same routes. On the highway the Kizashi struggled to crack 26 even with the 4WD turned off. Turning off 4WD didn’t seem to improve fuel economy to a noticeable degree, perhaps because the system’s extra mass and much of its extra drag are still along for the ride. Oh, yeah, the trip computer might be optimistic—manual measurement of one highway tank returned 24.6 vs. the 26.2 reported by the computer.

T100_5870he driver’s car pitch is based on the Kizashi’s handling. The in-between size and low-profile 18s (on the two top trim levels) should pay dividends here. In casual driving the Kizashi does have the polished, well-dampened feel of a German sport sedan, if VW more than BMW. And yet, when the chips are down, the (almost) sporty steering and suspension both become vague, failing to provide a sense of precision when it’s needed most. Say, when driving one of the curvier sections of the Pennsylvania turnpike, where the Jersey barrier comes uncomfortably close to the side of the car. No I didn’t scrape it, but the Kizashi doesn’t inspire confidence the way the best sport sedans do. At speed the front end becomes a touch floaty, the steering cuts back on communication, and bumps do some of the steering. The ride similarly lacks that final bit of polish, failing to absorb the occasional impact and at times turning jittery, especially for those in the back seat. On the other hand, when the engine isn’t working too hard the interior is quiet.

Unlike the typical all-wheel-drive system, with the Kizashi’s you can lock the car in front-wheel-drive. So, technically speaking, it has a four-wheel-drive system. The only clear benefit: you can find out how much difference driving all four wheels makes. Obviously, there’s more traction on snow-covered roads with the system engaged, enabling the car to be driven more quickly through turns without tripping the traction control system. And you don’t want to trip it—once this system takes power away it’s slow to give it back. But with 4WD engaged the handling is actually less predictable and thus less safe, with a tendency to oversteer not otherwise present. The car’s tail-happiness is easily controlled and even entertaining, but not something for less experienced drivers who simply want to stay out of the ditch. In front-wheel-drive the rear wheels dutifully follow the front ones. On dry roads, 4WD is of limited use until Suzuki offers a more powerful engine. A turbo 2.4 could make a big difference.100_5855

Even after selling cars in the United States for a quarter century, Suzuki remains below the radar. If it wants to be a player here, it needs to offer a car so great that Americans must take notice. Unfortunately, while the Kizashi has definite strengths, most notably the upscale interior and premium feel in casual driving, it’s not that car. The styling is too anonymous, the engine lacks refinement, the CVT could learn a thing or two from Nissan, and the chassis needs another round of tuning. Above all, the Kizashi has far too little personality. There’s a lot to like, but not much to love. Suzuki has been bold with the car’s name. Why not with the car itself? Something great might be coming from Suzuki, but it hasn’t yet arrived.

Vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas provided by Suzuki

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, a source of pricing and reliability data

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Suzuki Aerio Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/05/suzuki-aerio-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/05/suzuki-aerio-review/#comments Wed, 30 May 2007 10:28:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=3844 front.jpg

The Aerio was supposed to be Suzuki’s Corolla-beater. Born in ’01, refreshed in ’04, the Aerio is one of the few cars that can make a Corolla look sexy. While Suzuki’s website assures us “one thing is for sure about the Aerio: it really stands out in a crowd,” one thing’s for sure: it really doesn’t. The Aerio’s sheetmetal is so deeply and completely plain that Top Gear used it as a beast of burden for its ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’ segment. And now it's a lame duck waddling into the history books. How should we remember this entry level captive import?

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The Aerio was supposed to be Suzuki’s Corolla-beater. Born in ’01, refreshed in ’04, the Aerio is one of the few cars that can make a Corolla look sexy. While Suzuki’s website assures us “one thing is for sure about the Aerio: it really stands out in a crowd,” one thing’s for sure: it really doesn’t. The Aerio’s sheetmetal is so deeply and completely plain that Top Gear used it as a beast of burden for its ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’ segment. And now it's a lame duck waddling into the history books. How should we remember this entry level captive import?

Obviously, not as a rice rocket. Even in Premium trim, complete with body skirt, fog lights and some steelies, the Aerio's about as exciting as the Consumer Reports description of same. At best this straight-from-the-factory makeover is classier than a cladding-infested Pontiac of the 2001-era, and a lot less aesthetically-challenged than an Aztek. At worst, it's a Toyota Echo.

aerio_interior_003.jpgThe Aerio’s Spartan interior is a generation behind its fitter, more versatile competition. That said, if you don't mind an endless ride on "It's A Gray World (After All)," or touching materials designed for train stations, the cheap-and-not-so-cheerful Aerio is a feature creep double feature. It comes complete with climate control, power windows, door locks and mirrors; six-speaker MP3/WMA audio, wheel-mounted audio control and… map lights.

Although the Aerio offers plenty of head room, the car still seems optimized for people 5’8” or shorter. Anyone taller than Carmen Electa will discover that the back seat doesn’t slide back far enough to fully accommodate their extremities (keep it clean folks). What’s more, the Aerio’s rear-view mirror is planted at ear level, obscuring most of the windshield’s top-right quadrant. So, if you’re a height challenged claustrophobe with a long torso and three kids, the Aerio’s cabin is ideal. 

japanesehandbag.jpgThe little sedan’s engine bay is filled with a 2.3-liter four-banger producing 155hp and 152 ft-lbs. of torque. The overhead cam, 16-valve, direct ignition mini mill makes the Aerio more brisk than it looks, or numbers would indicate (zero to 60mph in about 10 seconds). There’s enough shove on tap to ensure [merely] adequate progress in both town and country.

A five-speed manual may help boost mileage above mission critical 30mpg highway, but the Aerio’s powertrain is as coarse as kosher salt. Autobox shifts are slam, bam, thank you M'am and the engine noise is endlessly, relentlessly intrusive. The thrashy engine that [just about] could may have made the grade in ’01, back when Cavaliers were wheezing about, but today's small car market offers plenty of smoother-running alternatives.

side1.jpgIf you protect your ears by surrendering to the gods of sloth, the Aerio’s not a bad little city car. Its turning circle rivals the big cog in a Spirograph, and independent front and rear suspension soaks-up bumps well enough– even if never fails to share its tactile triumphs through an endless series of booming thumps.

The Aerio’s high roofline delivers a definite dynamic downside; the vehicle's high center of gravity makes it lean in the bends like a hurricane battered palm tree. The resulting cornering experience can best be described as “disconcerting,” especially when exiting a freeway onto a curvaceous off-ramp. When pushed (or even gently nudged), the Aerio’s chassis serves up copious amounts of understeer. All things considered, that's no bad thing.

aerio_exterior_007.jpgThe Aerio’s optional QuadGrip System is the car’s unique selling point. So equipped, the Aerio is America’s lowest-priced all wheel-drive sedan. Our Premium tester (with heated side mirrors no less) was a front driver. But given this model's demure demeanor, it’s hard to imagine the Aerio's core clientele would need more “security” than its standard front-wheel drive and some good snow tires would provide. But we get it; and there's a grand's difference between need and want.

With a fully-transferable 100k mile/seven-year powertrain warranty with roadside assistance and loaner cars (for three years/36k miles), owning an Aerio isn’t an onerous experience. One caveat: if something does go wrong, the Aerio is not what you’d call a common model. Parts are not plentiful.

aerio_exterior_012.jpgClearly, the Suzuki Aerio failed to meet its mass market ambitions. Which is too bad. The Aerio is a lot of car for the money with one of the most powerful engines in its class and cheap all wheel-drive. But aside from its ironic fame as Top Gear resident beater, the dull-but-worthy Aerio never appeared on econobox shoppers’ radar.

And now the Aerio passes the torch to the SX4, a vehicle that’s better in every way and only marginally more expensive (before end-of-run discounts) than its rapidly ageing sibling. The Aerio will not be missed, but it was a not entirely horrible placeholder for Suzuki's newer, better model. How great is that?

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Suzuki XL7 Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/01/suzuki-xl7/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/01/suzuki-xl7/#comments Fri, 19 Jan 2007 09:30:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=2971 new-image.jpgI’m 31, single and happy. So obviously my mother is constantly nagging me to get hitched and give her grandchildren. Even my sister’s impending marriage has failed to distract her; she’ll never be content until, presumably, I am not. Perhaps she’s right. I’m the only unmarried man at my weekly poker game. My best friend is expecting his first child this summer. If I were honest, I might admit I’m at the age when oat-sowing men settle down, produce offspring and molt. I can, however, offer at least one compelling reason for not introducing my spawn upon the world’s stage: I'd fit the Suzuki XL7's psychographic profile.

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new-image.jpgI’m 31, single and happy. So obviously my mother is constantly nagging me to get hitched and give her grandchildren. Even my sister’s impending marriage has failed to distract her; she’ll never be content until, presumably, I am not. Perhaps she’s right. I’m the only unmarried man at my weekly poker game. My best friend is expecting his first child this summer. If I were honest, I might admit I’m at the age when oat-sowing men settle down, produce offspring and molt. I can, however, offer at least one compelling reason for not introducing my spawn upon the world’s stage: I'd fit the Suzuki XL7's psychographic profile.

The best part of this car reviewing gig is the weekly Xmas gift in the driveway. Sadly, I’ve been busy thinking of excuses not to drive the XL7. Surely the battery on the WRX will drop dead if I don’t take it for a spin. There’s that one twisty bit on the 0.7 mile jaunt to the store; best not to waste it. Suzuki’s all new seven-seater has turned me into a child that hates his toys. If I could bottle boredom, I’d write “XL7” on the label and shove it up the tailpipe.

side.jpgThough you’d never guess the XL7 is a stodgy snore based on exterior appearances. The nose is an ADHD-derived pastiche of at least three separate design tongues, all of which fail fantastically. It has the jut-jawed, approach-angle killing bumper found on Toyota trucks. The three-bar chrome grill is quite literally stolen from Ford. And the sagging lower portions of the headlamps are lamely fashioned after the sharp bend in the Suzuki S. From the side, you’re looking at a fat Saturn Vue with the wheel arches squared off. All three windows have black plastic cheats that try to convince you the greenhouse is shapely. It’s not. The rear isn’t even worth mentioning.

Inside, Suzuki has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact that their SUV is fashioned from the same materials used to make the brightly colored plastic eggs protecting kiddies’ trinkets. The XL7’s brittle gearshift not only sports Sebring-quality fake wood (as does much of the interior), but is quite literally hollow. As are the volume toggles on the wheel. The armrest feels like it melted and all the knobs seem distinctly second-hand. Serendipitously, I’ve discovered a new axiom: as bad as Suzuki seats. Speaking of which, there is a third-row, but I couldn’t imagine how one would get back there. So I didn’t.  At least the sat nav is cute.

int.jpgIf you want to know why Suzuki– or anyone– would put power window switches on either side of the gear selector, the po'boy cabin design owes its not-so- fundamentals to its platform partners: the Chevy Equinox/Pontiac Torrent twins. While this kind of matrix can create a groovy vibe, GM’s seven percent [ownership] solution blessed the ostensibly Japanese automaker with yet another inexpensive opportunity to broaden its lineup with, um, crap.  

front-moving.jpgAt this point, I’m supposed to describe the XL7’s driving dynamics. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any. Yes, yes; it goes, it stops, it turns and when you run out of gas you can refuel. Other than that, I got nothing. Objectively, I put 400 miles on the odometer. Subjectively, I can’t remember one of them. Knowing this, with a deadline looming, I took the XL7 for a final spin around the block. This minivan on stilts goes, stops, turns and you can refuel it– though I'm hard-pressed to figure out why anyone would bother.

There is one caveat, one unexpected find. Ascending a hill I became trapped behind a particularly slow Toyota. I swung left and really buried the throttle. The XL7 simply erupted. The 3.6-liter, 24-valve, double-overhead cam, high-revving mill threw 252hp and 243lbs. ft. of torque at the incline. Imagine a funicular on NOS. Credit God-knows-what, but the XL7 goes much quicker than it should. Most impressive (and odd): it covers the 70 to 90mph sprint with a fury many sports cars can only dream of. I can best describe it as raging full on. Of course, if you were to change course at that speed, the body lean would scrape the rear-view on the pavement. Note to Suzuki: put this engine into a chassis that can exploit its banshee-like power.

back.jpgHang on. It took over four-days of puttering around Los Angeles and a Camry that rode its brakes uphill before I even considered giving this monotonous hippopotamus the cane. That's just dull. And unacceptable. I mean, the recent XL7's TV ads show a biker babe and a cool dude in an XL7 swapping keys, and asks, can you handle it? Yes, and no. My poor mother.

[JL and RF discuss the XL7 below.] 

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/01/suzuki-xl7/feed/ 59 I’m 31, single and happy. So obviously my mother is constantly nagging me to get hitched and give her grandchildren. Even my sister’s impending marriage has failed to distract her; she’ll never be content until, presumably, I am not. Perhaps she’s right. I’m 31, single and happy. So obviously my mother is constantly nagging me to get hitched and give her grandchildren. Even my sister’s impending marriage has failed to distract her; she’ll never be content until, presumably, I am not. Perhaps she’s right. I’m the only unmarried man at my weekly poker game. My best friend is expecting his first child this summer. If I were honest, I might admit I’m at the age when oat-sowing men settle down, produce offspring and molt. I can, however, offer at least one compelling reason for not introducing my spawn upon the world’s stage: I'd fit the Suzuki XL7's psychographic profile. The Truth About Cars no
Review: 2007 Suzuki SX4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/01/suzuki-sx4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/01/suzuki-sx4/#comments Wed, 10 Jan 2007 12:07:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=2901 front2.jpg

What the Hell’s a Suzuki’s SX4? I know it’s my job to know about these things, but I swear the test car greeting me upon my return from Old Blighty was the first one I’ve ever seen. If first impressions last, this tall, decidedly Japanese runabout says Subaru Forrester meets Scion xA on the suburban side of town. (In keeping with the parlance of our times, Suzuki shuns the “w” word and calls the SX4 a crossover.) A quick walk around revealed four big wheels, four big disc brakes, a Prius style double A-pillar and an AWD badge. Hmmm…? Could this sub-radar Suzuki be a sleeper?]]>
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What the Hell’s a Suzuki’s SX4? I know it’s my job to know about these things, but I swear the test car greeting me upon my return from Old Blighty was the first one I’ve ever seen. If first impressions last, this tall, decidedly Japanese runabout says Subaru Forrester meets Scion xA on the suburban side of town. (In keeping with the parlance of our times, Suzuki shuns the “w” word and calls the SX4 a crossover.) A quick walk around revealed four big wheels, four big disc brakes, a Prius style double A-pillar and an AWD badge. Hmmm…? Could this sub-radar Suzuki be a sleeper?

Every other passenger vehicle in Suzuki’s domestic lineup dorkidly screams nerd; the Reno, Aerio and Forenza all look pasty, awkward and four-eyed. The almost-but-not-quite butch SX4 offers a clear break from its geeky brothers, and a much appreciated change of direction for the otherwise bland brand. The SX4’s sharp proboscis confidently displays the samurai-slash family logo. The handsomely sculpted hood is reminiscent of Audi’s latest TT. Despite its lack of an intercooler, the lower-level air intake is quite EVO-ish. Not bad at all.

side1.jpgFrom the side, the SX4’s profile offers a strange amalgamation of standard issue sedan sheetmetal and seductive designs cues lifted from a certain retro-British roadster. Clock the SX4’s blistered black plastic wheel arches and the rear wheels pushed out to the corners. From the back, black plastic wraps around the faux-chrome lower-bumper. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there’s a MINI blushing somewhere.

The SX4’s interior is resolutely lower-middle class; no effort was made to hide or disguise its inexpensive materials. And? The SX4’s designers used their plastic palette to create a cabin that’s a model of clarity and ergonomic ease. From a handsome, common sense radio head unit to funky air vents to a right-sized steering wheel, the SX4 proves that cost constriction is no barrier to good design. Sure, the helm and stick-shift are Rubbermaid, and the seats offer meager support or comfort. But this $15k vehicle is no penalty box.

int3.jpgSuch modest money buys gadgets and gizmos aplenty: AC, six-disc in dash CD, daytime running lights, intermittent wipers, rear wiper, power locks with remote entry, power windows with driver auto-down, a exterior thermometer, four-mode trip computer, 60/40 split folding rear seat, ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), six airbags and driver selectable AWD. An old S-Class sold less for more.

The SX4’s on-demand AWD system is a particularly pukka party trick, reminiscent of Subarus of yore. For daily duty, the SX4 is a front-driver. Flip a switch near the handbrake and i-AWD kicks in. In this mode, 95% of the SX4’s torque is routed to the front wheels. Should either of the fronts lose purchase, up to 50% of the power is sent to the back wheels. If you get stuck in sand (posing for the requisite PR lifestyle surfer dude pictures), you can switch to full-time four wheel-drive and lock up the transfer case for an even split.

And if you have to split in a hurry, the SX4 is a corner carver par excellence. The base model’s blessed with fat 205 tires (the same size as a BMW 328i’s hoops) and a smartly-tuned chassis; the Sport version gains stability control (unique to this class). Surprisingly, body roll and grip are never an issue. Even better, the SX4’s rack and pinion steering is a revelation; the tiniest tiller inputs deliver an instant change of direction. Running in i-AWD I tackled my favorite corners as fast as I could in my (gulp) Subaru WRX.

rear1.jpgAnd the hits keep happening. With a 2.0-liter DOHC I4 harnessing 143 scrappy little fillies, this little Suzy has some guts. To gain access to the mill’s 136 pound-feet of torque, your hand never leaves the stick shift knob but A) you’re only fighting against 2800lbs. and B) it’s fun. Short gearing ensures that the engine is constantly on the boil, while the user friendly clutch makes downshifting a breeze. OK, you can’t call a zero to sixty in 8.3 seconds car fast, but it ain’t slow neither.

There are downsides. The SX4’s ride, especially on the highway, is rocky and worrisome (blame the torture beam rear suspension). Though the Suzuki’s engine note isn’t especially dissonant, wind and engine noise are intrusive at speed. The high-pitched squeaks that tells you to buckle up, close the door and turn off the damn headlights are skull-splittingly awful. And 80mph puts over 4000rpm on the clock; no car is more in need of a sixth-gear.

For roughly the same money as a Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit or Nissan Versa, the Suzuki SX4 provides a larger, more powerful wagon — “crossover” with AWD, distinctive styling and hoonery. If Suzuki creates more driver friendly vehicles like the SX4, they’ll finally be building a brand worth remembering.

[Suzuki provided the vehicle, insurance and a tank of gas.]

Listen to JL and RF discuss the SX4 below.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/01/suzuki-sx4/feed/ 118 What the Hell’s a Suzuki’s SX4? I know it’s my job to know about these things, but I swear the test car greeting me upon my return from Old Blighty was the first one I’ve ever seen. If first impressions last, this tall, What the Hell’s a Suzuki’s SX4? I know it’s my job to know about these things, but I swear the test car greeting me upon my return from Old Blighty was the first one I’ve ever seen. If first impressions last, this tall, decidedly Japanese runabout says Subaru Forrester meets Scion xA on the suburban side of town. (In keeping with the parlance of our times, Suzuki shuns the “w” word and calls the SX4 a crossover.) A quick walk around revealed four big wheels, four big disc brakes, a Prius style double A-pillar and an AWD badge. Hmmm…? Could this sub-radar Suzuki be a sleeper? The Truth About Cars no
2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/suzuki-grand-vitara/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/suzuki-grand-vitara/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=279 The new Suzuki Grand Vitara: does practice make perfect? Novice violin students using the "Suzuki method" aren't allowed to touch their instruments for months. Aspiring musicians who aren't driven insane by repeatedly fingering cardboard cutouts often go on to make beautiful music, once allowed. Too bad Suzuki doesn't practice Suzuki; we could have all avoided the underpowered and funny-looking last gen Grand Vitara in favor of the infinitely more accomplished 2006 model. Despite obvious improvements since the Vitara's dress rehearsal, the question remains: is the new Grand Vitara finally ready for Avery Fisher Hall?

To make the Grand Vitara a headliner, Suzuki's engineers stripped their mid-sized ute to the frame and started afresh. While the new Grand's exterior is a radical departure from the old two-toned, plastic-clad and dimpled Subaru wannabe, it's still a deeply conservative design. Super-spy stealth touches -- sleek rails that rise ever so slightly from the roof, black-trimmed wheel wells, black side gills on the hood -- add a welcome touch of aggression. Sure, some clunkiness remains. The side mirrors are a dress size too big for the cute ute, and the huge tail lights give the rear end a decidedly dated demeanor. But they're the only flat notes in an otherwise harmonious composition.

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The new Suzuki Grand Vitara: does practice make perfect? Novice violin students using the "Suzuki method" aren't allowed to touch their instruments for months. Aspiring musicians who aren't driven insane by repeatedly fingering cardboard cutouts often go on to make beautiful music, once allowed. Too bad Suzuki doesn't practice Suzuki; we could have all avoided the underpowered and funny-looking last gen Grand Vitara in favor of the infinitely more accomplished 2006 model. Despite obvious improvements since the Vitara's dress rehearsal, the question remains: is the new Grand Vitara finally ready for Avery Fisher Hall?

To make the Grand Vitara a headliner, Suzuki's engineers stripped their mid-sized ute to the frame and started afresh. While the new Grand's exterior is a radical departure from the old two-toned, plastic-clad and dimpled Subaru wannabe, it's still a deeply conservative design. Super-spy stealth touches — sleek rails that rise ever so slightly from the roof, black-trimmed wheel wells, black side gills on the hood — add a welcome touch of aggression. Sure, some clunkiness remains. The side mirrors are a dress size too big for the cute ute, and the huge tail lights give the rear end a decidedly dated demeanor. But they're the only flat notes in an otherwise harmonious composition.

The new interior design is a definite turn for the better. Inside, Suzuki added a bit more stylistic flourish, like the circular design motif and seriously grippy Speed Racer seats. The clever, honeycomb-esque pattern inside the Vitara's round heating vents almost makes you forget the cheap-looking plastic surrounding the shifter. The audio controls are as easy to play as Ed Grimley's triangle, and the silver sound source buttons are as inviting as a major seventh on a sunny spring day. For Suzuki, the aesthetic exuberance marks a welcome change from its penchant for Seattle weather interiors. For some reason, the Vitara's turn signal indicators are sotto voce; at least the same holds true for the cabin at speed.

A slim three-panel display (set back at the top of the dash) sings silent volumes about a subject dear to the hearts of many an SUV owner: fossil fuel. The first two panels show the time and outside temperature, the third, instantaneous fuel economy. The lack of an average fuel economy calculation is annoying, but not surprising. The never sluggish Vitara's 2.7L V6 drank about a gallon of refinery juice every 18 miles. Compared to its mates in the small SUV class, the Vitara doesn't have a Jared pre-Subway size appetite, but it's still not the kind of noise Suzuki wants its drivers to put into heavy rotation.

An ideal ride for people who like to check-in at the mayo clinic. For truly anemic gas mileage, just fill-up Vitara with stuff. The skimpy tailgate opening is a bit mean, but the the 60-40 split rear seats help facilitate a proper CostCo expedition. Should you and five mates decide to relieve the store of it mayo supply, a trailer might be in order. The Grand Vitara can tow 300 ten-pound jars of salad gloop– a figure that tops Honda's CRV by a good 50 jars. While this factoid might be irrelevant (not to mention disgusting) to the vast majority of Vitara lifestylers, props to Suzuki for keeping it macho real in the cute ute set.

Rev the Grand Vitara's V6 sharp and firm and it growls like a prone-to-grumpiness cat being woken up after its fourth nap of the day. Once rousted, the Vitara's autobox is a bullish conductor: the five-speed shifter arpeggiates the gears upward like a fleet-fingered prodigy. Bringing the Vitara down from contralto is another matter. The engine occasionally palpitated, with the transmission slipping into an awkward stutter. It might have had something to do with our test model's 7k mileage (press car's odometer readings should be calculated in dog years). This may also account for the fact that the first time I used the brakes I thought I'd stepped on SpongeBob SquarePants.

Suzuki's symphony is close enough for rock and roll.In general, my ute cornering expectations hover somewhere just above my interest level in Kenny G's latest release. Despite the ladder-framed Vitara's high center of gravity, it negotiated the turns with admirable panache. Winding through the twisties, the Vitara's tip factor was subdued enough for reasonably spirited progress. Sensibly, Suzuki trumpets the Grand Vitara's off-road prowess rather than its cornering capability. I gave the Vitara as thorough an off-road test as contractual obligations allowed and found the SUV to be a stalwart performer. During a winter rainstorm, it hit multiple high notes on pockmarked, winding dirt roads, without once losing its place. Bravo maestro!

With the small SUV segment more crowded than the Englebert Humperdinck section at a Phoenix Wal-Mart, Suzuki needed to orchestrate a Ninth-caliber performance to reach the top of the pops. And so it does — more or less. The new Grand Vitara stays in tune on classical stretches of highway and baroque patches of dirt. Sadly for its Japanese maestro, the truck still needs a bit more polish before it's ready for Radio City. Each passage in the Grand Vitara's three-movement symphony — styling, performance, and handling — has a few conspicuous sour notes, which ultimately render Suzuki's Grand Vitara more Salieri than Mozart.

[Photos: Copyright 2006 Bryan Haeffele]

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