Suzuki Kizashi, with its sporty drive and attractive profile, gears up for a year-end India entry.

Thinking of a place in the U.S. that replicates Mumbai-like driving conditions? It's New York. The Big Apple has the same ‘ruffian' drivers, similar levels of start/stop congestion and even the cabbies drive like the guys back home. Then, to add to this feeling of familiarity, the car I'm driving has a large stylised ‘S' on the steering boss.

Suddenly a thought pops into my head, is this really a Suzuki? The car feels all grown up. All my ideas of what a Suzuki should feel like to drive have soon been flown out the window.

First there's the hush. A refined calm that is as yet quite alien to most of the brand's cars. The cabin is quite successful at shutting out road noise and the Kizashi glides silently on its sophisticated suspension. The ride quality over the sometimes patchy and broken roads of New York is fairly good, and there is very little thudding or drumming. Still, the Kizashi will definitely have far more intense tests to pass once it reaches India. The Maruti is likely to soften the blows with its own tuning as well.

There is another pleasant surprise in the build strength. This is a robust car that offers more rigidity and strength than you would expect it to.

The Kizashi is pretty good at managing hectic city traffic. The 2.4-litre motor under the hood has a responsive bottom end and you can drive this car with the lightest touch on the accelerator pedal. Responses are pretty good in the mid-range too.

As traffic thins on the elevated expressway out of New York, I get a chance to really stretch the Kizashi's legs. From 4500rpm onwards, the motor delivers a satisfyingly strong burst of power, accompanied by a sporty snarl from the exhaust. The performance is strong and you get to use a lot of the 185bhp on tap. As you get close to 5000rpm, the motor does begin to feel strained. It doesn't feel quick , but it isn't slow either.

Driving pleasure

The Kizashi's speedometer needle easily swings past 180kph on a quiet stretch of road and there's still more performance available if you press on further.

What detracts slightly from overall driving pleasure is the CVT automatic. This type of gearbox, where gearsets are replaced by variable pulleys and belts, works best with small engines. There is a bit of ‘rubber-band' effect as you accelerate and although there is a manual mode, where the gears are artificially chopped up into fixed gear ratios, a traditional automatic would have worked better in this car. What is clear, however, is that this Suzuki is much more of a driver's car. The version I'm driving also comes with a push-button-operated four-wheel-drive system.

The independent suspension is as sophisticated as anything you would find on a European car with even tech-like embedded aluminium bits.

Suzuki has also positioned the steering system for optimal control. Though light and effort-free at city speeds, the steering delivers plenty of feel as soon as you go faster. And the harder you go, the more connected and well-balanced the Kizashi feels.

The brakes have a very solid and strong bite, the feel from the pedal is good. Switching on the car's wide-footed stance inspires confidence and the Kizashi settles comfortably in the corner, allowing you to introduce a degree of power. Uniquely for a saloon, the driver can uncouple the four-wheel-drive system, turning the Suzuki into a front-wheel-drive car, which increases efficiency but at the cost of grip. That said the Kizashi still drives very well in front wheel drive mode. In fact, there is no apparent difference until you reach high speeds.

What is sacrificed due to the relatively compact dimensions and a sporty feel is legroom. Yes, at 2700mm, the Kizashi's wheelbase is in the same region as its rivals, but in terms of internal space, it cannot compete. Legroom is similar to that of a smaller car, but rear seat comfort is good, with the well-bolstered seat supporting you in the right places. And the legroom isn't really missed unless there is someone tall in the front seat.

Cabin design

The bold design of the cabin stands out, there are plenty of well built high-quality bits and Suzuki has even thrown in some European understatement. Maybe there's a bit too much of it, the dash could do with a little bit of extra colour and separation.

Features such as the black-and-white dials and plenty of grey do it no favours either. But this can all be addressed when the Kizashi comes to India. Some plastic parts aren't of the standard you would expect from a car in this class and they detract from the overall feel of the cabin. More impressive is the driver's seat which is large, supportive and has plenty of travel. But for a car that is intentionally driver-focused, the steering strangely does not adjust for reach. Build and quality aren't up to the highest European standards, but if it wasn't for the badge, you would never guess that this was a Suzuki cabin.

The same can't be said about the exterior. Suzuki has used familiar cues to establish the Kizashi's identity; particularly the headlights and grille. The treatment of the grille is actually very similar to the Swift's and the Kizashi's nose, as a result, looks familiar.

Overall, the car has a very compact and sporty stance. Tipped forward, broad shouldered and with just the right amount of muscles, the Kizashi oozes attitude. However, while the Kizashi's profile looks attractive, it's the rear that really stands out. The wraparound tail-lights chromed rectangular exhaust vents and the multiple surfaces make it a truly unique design.

With the Kizashi, Suzuki is attempting to place the car slightly above similar cars in terms of price. For the extra money, customers get better performance and more driving pleasure. The Kizashi certainly lives up to its billing as a sporty drive. The handling is tack-sharp, the car entices you into going harder, and the motor puts out plenty of power too. Like the Swift, the Kizashi is a car that's more European than Japanese in its outlook. However, the Kizashi faces multiple challenges in India.

Will customers want more legroom and space at the rear at an estimated Rs.16 to Rs.17 lakh price tag?

A lot of this is dependant on how Suzuki finally decides to price and specify the Kizashi at its launch in India around Diwali this year. One thing's for sure though — purely as a car, the Kizashi is more than up to the challenge.

Keywords: Suzuki Kizashi