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The Globe and Mail

Buying used: Sport sedan doesn’t live up to its name

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Ted Laturnus/The Globe and Mail

The word "Kizashi" is Japanese for "something great is coming."

And, given the market it was up against, the Suzuki Kizashi needed all the greatness it could muster. Launched in Canada in 2010, it had to duke it out with well-entrenched mid-size sedans such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Mazda6 and Nissan Altima. This was – and still is – one of the most hotly contested segments of the market in Canada.

So, to make the Kizashi stand out in the crowd, Suzuki included all-wheel-drive. When it hit Canadian showrooms in the spring of 2010, all models offered AWD, accessed via a dashboard-mounted button, located to the left of the steering wheel. Press the button and, presto, you got AWD. Although fuel economy was slightly inferior with all four wheels churning, handling and traction were dramatically enhanced. Suzuki called this its i-AWD system, and it was a treat.

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Power was delivered via a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that developed 180 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Essentially the same engine found in the best-selling Grand Vitara SUV, it was initially mated to a CVT only, in Canada. A manual gearbox came later, in 2011. The CVT was probably the car's weakest point, especially when you considered that Suzuki was pitching the Kizashi as a sports sedan, with a high fun-to-drive factor.

According to the company, the Kizashi was styled in part by Giorgetto Guigiaro's ItalDesign studios, but completed in-house. Suzuki has used ItalDesign's services before, with the Verona sedan, and the result this time was a muscular-looking, compact body style with the same approximate dimensions as the Honda Accord. The car was also put through its paces on the Nurburgring track in Germany and on back roads in the U.K. during the research and development process, and Suzuki's benchmarks were comparable sedans from Alfa Romeo and Volkswagen. The CVT may have been its weakest point, but its styling was its strongest.

Still, it was the most upscale sedan Suzuki had put forward, with air conditioning, one-touch-up/down front power windows, keyless entry, push-button start, four-wheel disc brakes, ABS and 18-inch wheels and tires coming standard. Available extras included leather interior, climate control, power driver's seat, heated front seats, rear park assist, a vehicle dynamics control system, Rockford-Fosgate stereo and Bluetooth integration.

So did it live up to its advertised greatness? Depends who you talk to.

There is one safety recall from Transport Canada and it's a minor one involving a possibly loose instrument panel centre box door that may not remain closed during an accident. Easily fixed by dealers.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has this recall, plus some complaints from owners. These include: "The engine's belt pulley tensioner came off and tore apart" and "The display, including speedometer, tachometer, blinker and multifunction display shut down" and "Tires went bad on this car very fast." NHTSA also has three technical service bulletins for the 2010 Kizashi. Two of these deal with the faulty alternator belt tension pulley and the third concerns a "voluntary emission campaign" from Suzuki regarding the CVT transmission. The short version: stay away from the CVT and check your alternator belt.

Mixed reviews from Consumer Reports. "Not quite the bargain sedan Suzuki hyped," says this organization, adding, "fuel economy is pretty good but acceleration is leisurely." Comments from owners include: "Acceleration….not!," "My car is black, but I've decided painting it green – green for LEMON," "The best car you have never heard of" and "Fun to drive."

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Market research firm J.D. Power has a love/hate thing going on with the Kizashi. While it likes its overall performance and design, and awards it top marks in this area, with a "Performance Award" designation, it gets a "below average" grade for predicted reliability.

Surprisingly perhaps, prices have held up reasonably well. From a base price of less than $26,000, the Kizashi is going for $17,000 to $24,000, depending upon the model and trim level. The upmarket SX is fetching $3,000-$4,000 more than the base S.

Tech specs

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Original Base Price: $25,995; Black Book: $20,775-$24,000; Red Book: $16,900-$19,975

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder

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Horsepower/Torque: 180 hp/170 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 city/6.3 highway; regular gas

Alternatives:Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata

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