By on September 7, 2021

 

The Suzuki Kizashi was not a great car. That said, it certainly wasn’t a bad car – and I don’t think I’ll court controversy by saying that the car, launched nearly in tandem with news that Suzuki was withdrawing from the U.S. market, never really got a fair shake. It was a car that, for a reasonable-ish $27,000, could be had with a manual transmission and all-wheel-drive. That, along with a willing chassis and some “drivers’ car” marketing, makes for a great story. “I coulda been a contender,” and all that.

There was another marketing pitch for the little Suzuki Kizashi that lives rent-free in my brain, though. It’s the one where Suzuki compares the Kizashi to its racy GSX-R sport bikes and all-conquering, big-bore hyperbike, the Hayabusa, and makes the case that the Kizashi might just be a four-wheeled Suzuki motorcycle that you can strap some child seats into.

Would a simple engine swap be enough to make the Kizashi a sports car for the ages? Let’s find out.

KIZASHI MEANS “SOMETHING GREAT IS COMING”

To be clear, the Kizashi may have been many things – but it was not “great”, and it was certainly not great in the high-strung, engaging, buzz-bomb of a motorcycle trapped in the body of a passenger sedan sort of way those ads might lead you to expect. In fact, it was sold as a sort of entry-luxe sport sedan to middle managers, a sort of outside-the-box alternative to an Acura TL. It was a safe play, but it could have been much wilder.

Indeed, all the ingredients were there. The Hayabusa’s 1.3-liter inline-four makes a substantial 187 horsepower at 9,750 rpm and 110 lb-ft of torque at 7000 rpm. That’s not substantially more power and a lot less torque than the Kizashi’s 2.4-liter four made, I’ll grant you that – but that just means the Kizashi’s existing driveline is up to the task of putting the ‘Busa’s power down. What’s more, the 2.4 liter delivers its peak hp at a relatively lazy 6,000 rpm on its way to an indicated 6,500 rpm redline. The Hayabusa? The ones I’ve seen have tachometers that go up to 13,000.

So, the two engines offer similar power levels – but present vastly different experiences. On the one hand, a bigger, torquier four-cylinder and forced “luxury” sport comparisons to high-end Civics and entry-level Acuras. On the other … I mean, I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t think of anything that would have even come close to being called a direct competitor. Even the Type R Integras run out of juice about a thousand rpm under the ‘Busa’s hp peak, and the ‘Busa still has a lot of tach to cover.

Short of a DTM Alfa Romeo 155 from the 90s or a Group B rally car, where else could you experience 11,000+ rpm in a car? Let alone one you could strap some child seats into? Even if, on paper, the mythical Hayabusa Edition Kizashi wouldn’t have been much faster than its 2.4-liter brothers – would that have mattered? Would it be any less of a legendary sports car?

So, the Kizashi obviously could have been much wilder – and maybe it should have been.

SETTING THE STAGE FOR A 13,000 RPM KIZASHI

The enthusiast case for a Hayabusa-powered Suzuki Kizashi makes itself. The real question, then, was whether or not Suzuki could make a business case for something as insane as a 13,000 rpm tach in a mainstream sedan. The clear answer is: No. Of course, not – but I don’t like the question, because the Kizashi was never going to be a mainstream sedan.

After losing nearly 80 percent of their overall sales between 2007 (their best year, with 101,884 units sold) and 2010 (23,994), Suzuki absolutely knew they were in trouble by the time they launched the Kizashi. The trouble was that they didn’t understand why.

See, Suzuki had become successful in the U.S. by offering quirky, off-beat cars and SUVs that traded off the perceived quality of Japanese construction. The two people I knew who bought XL7s talked about how fun the SUVs were. I remember my college roommate’s dad, in particular, telling me that his new ’98 XL7 “does everything I need it to.”

By 2007, though, all that quirkiness was gone. The redesigned XL7 had grown significantly, and had taken conscious, deliberate GM-fueled steps towards the mainstream and, it was thought, a broader audience overall. By the time it cracked the 100,000-sale mark in 2008, the once fun-and-different Suzuki line-up was almost fully populated by rebadged Fiat, Nissan, and GM products. There was nothing lighthearted or fun about a Suzuki Equator that would make it a better option than the Nissan Frontier it was based on. The new XL7, instead of being a lengthened Sidekick with “grandkid seats” in the back had become a restyled Chevy Equinox – so why not buy the Chevy? Or the Nissan? Was the Suzuki Reno really any better than the Daewoo Lacetti, or the SX/4 better than the Fiat Sedici?

Suzuki, in other words, was already gone. It had become a dumping ground for GM’s industry dealings and succeeded on the basis of low prices and easy, sub-prime loan approvals … at least, that’s what the numbers indicate. Those are the loans that disappeared in 2009 when the financial crisis hit. By the time that had shaken out, Suzuki’s quirky quality had been replaced with cynical badge-engineering, and the Kizashi, competent as it was, was always going to be too little, too late.

It’s right here, the instant that Suzuki realizes it’s done for in the U.S., where our auto-industry Sam Beckett comes into play and makes things right … for Suzuki motorcycles.

IT WAS NEVER ABOUT THE CAR

When you lose 80 percent of your overall sales in the space of 24 months and your main source of financing is standing in front of Congress and begging for money, you know shit’s bad – but things were looking slightly better over at Suzuki Cycles.

Yes, sales were down at the two-wheeled division, but not catastrophically so. Add in the fact that a number of dealers were still sitting on 2006 and 2007 inventory when the crash hit and that ’08 and ’09 were actually decent years for motorcycle and scooter sales. Indeed, the then-CEO of Genuine Scooters suspected he might be recession-proof. “When people have money, they buy scooters as toys,” he said (I’m paraphrasing). “And when they don’t have money, they buy scooters because they need cheap transportation.”

Suzuki Cycles was never leaving the US, and the Kizashi would never be enough to turn the tide for Suzuki Auto. A whisper here, a comment there, a convincing PowerPoint to the right guy, and Suzuki Auto might have been convinced to take the last 50 or so Kizashi sedans and stuff a Hayabusa engine under the hood. If I were doing it, I’d ditch the “luxury sport” front seats, too, and replace them with properly gaudy Recaro sport seats, as the Suzuki Swift GTi had in the ‘90s. Add in a wide-open exhaust and sell them all as SCCA or NASA touring specials “for Off-Road Use Only” to avoid certification costs and you’d have sold them all in an instant. More than that, those cars would have been a legendary swan song – a hearty “f- you!” to General Motors and a solid gold “Certificate of Authenticity” that could be pointed to, ever after, as a reminder that Suzuki could have been great.

It would also be an awesome commercial for Suzuki Cycles in the US, sure – but think of what it would have done for Suzuki’s global car sales? Yes, the wildest, sort of affordable sports sedan ever built was a U.S.-only deal, and that was pretty limited, but just imagine how good their new hot hatch is! Look, this one even comes with the same seats as the Hayabusa Edition Kizashi and maybe an $11 plastic spoiler that we can charge you a few million yen for. You – yes, you! — can have a little piece of that magic for just a few dollars on top of that reasonable monthly payment and, maybe, even feel a bit like a super cool Kizashi race car driver.

I think a Suzuki Kizashi Hayabusa Edition would have been the automotive marketing coup of the last decade, but that’s just me. You’re the Best and Brightest, and some of you even hit the track now and then, would a car like that pique your interest? Let us know in the comments.

[Image: Suzuki]

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28 Comments on “Quantum Leaps: Suzuki Kizashi Hayabusa Edition...”


  • avatar
    96redse5sp

    Pretty sure the Kizashi was available with MT -OR- AWD. Take your pick…

    • 0 avatar

      You’re right! I had to go back and look — I was sure I’d seen it as a 6 speed AWD, but that must have been one of the concepts.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      I think the concept for this vehicle had AWD and a GM 3.6 V6 which apparently didnt make it to production. That was the first thing that came to my mind anyway when I saw the story. I recall thinking that it might be a fun car if you could have V6, AWD and manual trans.

      I have never driven one but it looks fairly decent even today. I see one on occasion parked near me in the parking garage.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    As a concept car, that with some strategic leaks could be claimed to have “just narrowly missed going into production”, it would have been brilliant in all the ways you lay out.

    As an actual street vehicle, the experience of motivating 3000 lb from a dead stop with 110 lb-ft at 7000 RPM would not have endeared it to anyone.

    • 0 avatar

      100%, but I still think it would have been awesome fun as a track car, maybe in B Spec.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        I’d love to see something like a modern riff on a 2100 lb MR2 Spyder with an 11,000 RPM literbike engine behind the seats. Something more livable than an Ariel Atom, but more track focused than a Miata.

        The limitations of the front-engine sedan form factor just make this a non-starter for me though. It’d be a cool car to say you owned, but that’s about it.

        • 0 avatar
          PhilMills

          I own an FJR1300AE – roughly 150HP, 90+ ft/lbs of torque.
          …with a shaft drive and push-button electronic shifting.

          I’ve always thought that setup would be perfect to drop into something like a Locost 7 or some other lightweight car.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I assume marijuana is legal in your state.

    The Kizashi was fine, kind of between an A5 generation Jetta and the first Regal/Insignia. What you’re describing is an RX8 sedan that can’t be driven on public roads. I guess it would be “legendary” for esoteric internet weirdos but that’s about it.

    “a hearty “f- you!” to General Motors”

    While there is plenty to hate on GM for, hating them for Saab or Suzuki always generates an eye-roll from me. No one forced those companies to give up their independence and it isn’t like GM wasn’t a known quantity for many decades before.

  • avatar
    stodge

    Except for the CVT, I liked the Kizashi. I almost bought one but the rear space was too tight.

    I don’t want a sports car but the Kizashi handled quite well as stayed quite flat in the corners.

    The engine had a bit of punch once you sound it out. Ok, it’s only a 4 cylinder but for a 4 banger it was good enough for me.

    I liked the interior with its simple center console controls. It wasn’t flashy but it was obvious what everything did.

    I was sad to see it go but it was no surprise, given how little market share Suzuki had an how littlr money they invested in North America.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice piece.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    The South Korean Daewoo-based cars that were sold under the Suzuki name were horribly unreliable and damaged Suzuki’s reputation, though the Japanese Kizashi was a decent, if unspectacular, vehicle. Moreover, the Kizashi was on the small end of the mid-sized car segment and couldn’t really compete it. (Other small mid-sized cars that did not sell well because they were too small included the 2013-15 Chevy Malibu, the Buick Regal, and the Chrysler 200.)

    I really think that if Suzuki had marketed the Kizashi and sold as a “compact” rival to the Corolla and Civic, instead of the larger Camry and Accord, there would have been a much better chance of Suzuki surviving in the U.S. marketplace. There’s still a market for a vehicle like the Vitara and probably for the Jimny (nee Samurai) if they can get it certified.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      I can attest to the horribly unreliable Daewoo-based cars. A friend had a 2005 Reno. That car would break down about twice a year and by the time she let it go it had a slipping transmission. I remember driving it once or twice. Horribly underpowered for a sub 3000 lbs compact HB with a 2L engine.

      The Kizashi was a good effort but a too-little-too-late.

      But hands down the best vehicle Suzuki had in their lineup for the last 5 years in North America was the Grand Vitara. I’d say it was a very competitive and handsome product when debuted for 2006MY. It was RWD, V6, roomy, well equipped and capable off-road. But like all things Suzuki at the time they just let it age until it was no longer competitive with the segment.
      I remember I was going to get a 2006 4WD V6 with the 5 speed manual a few years ago but ended up backing off because the brand was already discontinued and feared for the lack of parts in the mid to long term

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’m not sure how Suzuki conceptualized this car to begin with. It was priced like a Camry/Accord, but was too small inside to compete with them, it was too expensive to compete with a Corolla/Civic. If it had been a stout performer, maybe it could have found a niche, but it wasn’t much to write home about either in that category either.

      And the Suzuki brand had no cred. Then again, would another brand have had more luck with the car as Suzuki marketed it? I don’t think so.

      Not hard to see why this flopped.

    • 0 avatar
      Varezhka

      Yeah, GM forcing Suzuki to sell their newly acquired Daewoo cars did irreparable damage to their reputation in the US. By the time SX4 and Kizashi came around it was already too little, too late.

      That said, it was probably better for Suzuki long term to leave the US (and Chinese market soon after) to focus on their stronger markets. Small, cheap, and cheerful was always where Suzuki’s strengths were, so I’m not sure there was much long term potential for them in the US anyways.

      Leaving GM, escaping the clutches of VW, Suzuki’s now in a much better place financially than they were 10 years ago.

      • 0 avatar
        volks92

        Suzuki used to own a good chunk of GM Daewoo themselves. Daewoos were not great cars but made sense for Suzuki at the time, they did not have the capacity to design unique vehicles for the U.S. since it was a small market for them. Suzuki’s rep before Daewoo was average at best, Swifts and Trackers weren’t exactly stellar vehicles…

    • 0 avatar
      volks92

      The Daewoo cars may have a bad quality record but they tripled Suzuki’s sales and dealer network. Aerio and SX4 were better vehicles but never came close to Forenza and Reno in sales volume.

      Had Suzuki learned from the decisions that customers were making inside their own dealerships, they would’ve launched the Kizashi with a 2.0L engine, slashed its price by 5K and pitched it against the Hyundai Elantra.

  • avatar
    mor2bz

    I was given to understand the Kizashi was a genuinely good car and
    the car that they should have built years ago.

    Your wild speculation about what ifs and why nots reminds me of my partner.

    What if we could capture all the energy insects expend flapping their wings?

    Sheesh.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “Would a simple engine swap be enough to make the Kizashi a sports car for the ages? Let’s find out.”

    There are Mini Coopers out there running turbo Hayabusa motors with 300 – 500 hp.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    To me, it has always been an unfathomable mystery how the same company can simultaneously design such a kickass motorcycle and a lame vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @schmitt trigger

      Totally different organizations under the same corporate banner.

      Currently Suzuki motorcycles aren’t much to talk about. The Hayabusa hasn’t seen much in the way of change. I can’t recall the last time I saw a rave review of their sport bikes or motocross bikes. Their adventure bikes are heavy and bland. Their dualsport bikes haven’t been updated since inception.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        The ‘Busa was just updated this year. The GSX-R1000 not long ago. An updated GSX-S1000 just launched as well.

        Suzuki don’t pray at the altar of the “new cleansheet design with every new issue of some motorag” release schedule that the motorags (who can blame them….) prefer. But it’s not as if they don’t update their bikes (At least some of them: The DRZ, and cruiser line, is becoming legitimately ancient. The SV and VStrom 650 is getting long in the tooth.)

        Even more so than their already conservative fellow countrymen, they do adhere very staunchly to the philosophy that it is much more important not to disappoint a customer, than it is to impress non customers (including reviewers). Leading them to focus more on improving the reliability of what was already one of the world’s most reliable bikes (the ‘Busa), than on upping headline specs. Hardly what excites magazine testers, internet specsheet comparers, nor the “the future is, like, Musk” crowd, but it does further reduce potential annoyances for those who actually buy and ride the bikes.

        At least in the US, that focus does not currently seem to result in increased sales of motorcycles. Nor perhaps cars. But it does seem to be paying off in their third market, marine power, where reliability and lack of pointless futz, is arguably more immediately important: At least anecdotally, Suzuki seems to be more of a gold standard than even Honda in that market.

        Once “our” everything-bubble eventually collapses just as thoroughly as the Japanese one did in the early 90s, so that people actually have to pay for stuff from their own earnings, it’s a good bet priorities will change over here as well. Clean-sheet and new-new are both largely synonyms for beta-tester, after all….

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    This writeup may be the dumbest thing I will read all month.

    The stupid ‘Transformer’ style ads (everyone had one) were developed because the animation technology [and processor speed] finally allowed for it and the youutthhs at the ad agencies believed it was cool and the OEMs paying the bills had no concept of what makes for good advertising so they just went along for the ride.

    [Tesla’s advertising is much less stupid – because they don’t do any.]

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I don’t see the point. If you’re talking about a WRX STI/Evo-type setup – a turbo with some serious hp, sophisticated AWD, and a manual – you’ve got something. But swapping in a Hayabusa engine leaves you with a family sedan that needs to have the living p*ss revved out of it just to function in everyday traffic, and the endgame is 187 hp?

    The good news, I suppose, is that the FrankenKizashi will sound mean as hell as it’s getting destroyed by grandpa’s V6 Avalon. But it’s getting destroyed nonetheless.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      The only point of a Hayabusa swap is the fact that it is lightweight and with a turbo can crank out 300 – 500 hp. It makes ZERO sense with a stock Busa engine.

      I wonder how they get around a lack of reverse and the sequential gear box?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    The Truth About Motorcycles:

    “Per vehicle miles traveled, motorcyclists are about 29 times more likely than people in passenger cars to die in a traffic crash.”
    https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/motorcycles

    Bonus:
    “Of special note is the death rate among what the IIHS calls “supersport motorcycles” or what we might term racer replicas, which was pegged at 22.5 deaths per 10,000 registered motorcycles. The next nearest rate was 10.7 among “Sport/unclad sport” all the way down to 5.7 for cruisers and 6.5 for touring motorcycles.”
    https://thekneeslider.com/supersport-motorcycle-death-rates/

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    There is a Mini (real one, not the BMW remake) on YouTube with a ‘busa engine installed.

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