When the light dimmed I was half expecting ninjato wielding Ninjas to drop down on the stage amidst billowings of smoke. I thought a lot of slicing and dicing, things flying in all directions in sort of a vintage Kurosawa meets hothead Gordon Ramsay way and the stage would be cut down to the size of a hatchback.
But what emerged was nothing short of rib-busting hilarity, Sandeep Soparkar and Jesse Randhawa doing the salsa. Only this wasn't like any salsa we've seen in the movies, Patrick Swayze must be cringing in his grave. There were more hands swaying than hips, music louder than Sunny Deol screaming in your ear and costumes grander, brighter and more colourful than Sanjay Leela Bhansali's period dramas.
Thankfully this wasn't a prelude to what the Kizashi is capable of. Maruti's attempt at the D-segment certainly has a sharper, more subtle and subdued edge than Soparkar's fluff. It isn't as sharp as a Ninja's shurikens and katanas, though the Kizashi promises to cut up whatever the competition has to offer.
But what the Kizashi is going to find itself up against is a bit of a conundrum right now. Maruti hopes that the Kizashi will pioneer an all-new segment. It hopes it will straddle the huge gap between cars such as the Laura, Civic, Cruze and Corolla to the Accord, Sonata and Passat. You see, the Kizashi at 4.65 metres is longer than all of the cars in the entry D segment and as per SIAM's rules, the Kizashi should be positioned as an entry D segment sedan. But it provides all the features and comfort available only in cars such as the Accord and its ilk, features such as hill climb assist, cruise control, ESP and airbags all around. It's safe to assume then that Maruti will play the game in the way it knows best by creating segments where none existed and enjoying first mover status.
Now the Kizashi isn't something developed specifically for India. It was developed to cater to the North American market where smaller sedans with small efficient engines are making a strong statement. Maruti however has seen the tremendous opportunity a car like the Kizashi has in India but not without having changed a few bits to adapt to Indian conditions. Those changes aren't cosmetic mind you. Be it in the USA or in India, the Kizashi looks the same from the outside and it's a very imposing car. Interestingly, before the Kizashi became production ready it had three conceptual stages, all of which were shown to the public at various motor shows. However the closest to reality has been the Kizashi 3, which we were hoping would actually make it to production. It was a show-stopper but Suzuki saw fit to change certain elements to make it more viable for production, so out went the fancy LED headlamps and tail lamps, the jazzy interiors, the 20-inch alloy wheels etc, and in came what you see now.
As it turns out the Kizashi is a striking car with an European flair that grants it immortality rather than a dainty Japanese car with some very sporty touches. The Kizashi stands out in a crowd and not just because of that Suzuki badge on the grille on this large a car. No, the front end has immense character and carries forward the Suzuki new age design language first seen on the Swift. You'll notice the family resemblance in the honeycomb grille with the wide band separating it from the lower air dam and those chunky flanks. The side profile provides a clear idea of just how long this car is though the tall roof makes it look substantial and spacious.
The Kizashi's sporty stance is also due to the wide track, and the 17-inch alloys, but unlike its American or European counterparts Maruti has re-tuned the suspension to increase ground clearance by 15mm to 155mm. At the rear the Kizashi is sensational, especially with the twin exhausts housed inside two large covers flanking the car. It is by far the most dynamic rear end and clearly broadcasts its sporty disposition though it would have been nicer still if Suzuki were to insert a sporty soundtrack.
Further indicators of the Kizashi's dynamic nature emerge once you step inside the cabin. Unlike typical Japanese cars, the Kizashi does not have any quirky gimmicky bits that grab attention. This simple, uncluttered and very inviting cabin reminds me of just how impressive the Swift was all those years ago. The most attention grabbing detail on the dashboard is the steering wheel with a massive shield as the centre boss with the Suzuki logo displayed prominently. The three-spoke steering houses the controls for the audio and cruise control which is standard equipment, and its simplicity and classiness is extended to the centre console and the rest of the two-tone dashboard. Incidentally the two-tone dashboard is one of the few elements specified to cater to Indian tastes, otherwise the American version gets a black dashboard.
There's a luxurious creaminess to the interiors thanks to the leather that swathes the rest of the cabin. The seats (10-way adjustable for the driver, 4-way for the passenger) are supple and comforting with enough lumbar support no matter the distance. Since we presume most cars will be chauffeured, the owners at the back have ample space to stretch out in comfort. And given the width there is space for a third passenger though the protruding transmission tunnel with the air-con vents will not make it a very comfortable journey.
The Kizashi will be available in two variants, neither of which will be decided by the levels of trim but by their transmissions. There is a manual or a CVT both with six forward ratios. The CVT also has a paddle shift system with gear selector paddles behind the steering wheel. I was quite impressed with the CVT gearbox though it is noisy, a characteristic trait of all CVT gearboxes. Nevertheless the shifts were seamless and quick. What I wasn't impressed with was the manual; for the first time I found the shifter wasn't as slick or precise or possessing the flickability that is almost run-of-the-mill in every other Maruti. The manual in fact does not complement the engine as much as the CVT does.
Coming to the engine, this 2.4-litre in-line 4 petrol is also shared by the Grand Vitara. So inherently it is incredibly torquey given its purpose in an SUV. That torquey nature despite the engine being tuned to accept Indian fuel quality hasn't changed, if anything at all it has increased to 230Nm at 4000rpm. The torque spread is phenomenally linear and its abilities can be appreciated fully only with the manual transmission. Even in sixth gear the Kizashi feels absolutely relaxed to drive at speeds less than 50kmph, accelerating smoothly and without any hiccups. This amazing driveability can only result in low fuel consumption figures and we expect it to be amongst the top order. This variable valve timing DOHC engine makes a 178PS of max power which is also higher than the Vitara. On paper the power ratings are certainly enthusiast pleasing but like all Suzuki engines this too needs to be spanked hard because the max power is only available at a rather high 6500rpm, right where the engine hits its redline. Nonetheless the drive-by-wire throttle ensures the engine responds instantly, biting into the meatiest part of the torque curve early enough to make it a surprisingly quick car.
Maruti claims the changes to the engine have reduced the performance by a bit. Driving the car on a closed test loop near Udaipur I saw the Kizashi easily hit its peak 190kmph on the speedometer. Acceleration is brisk and though it's a long wait till the needle hits the redline, the Kizashi is entirely satisfying to drive spiritedly. The enthusiastic engine however is not matched step to step by its suspension. I'm sure if Maruti was not forced to retune the suspension to provide more ground clearance for Indian road conditions, the Kizashi would have been scintillating, given that Suzuki's development ground for the Kizashi was the famed Nurburgring racetrack. Now I'm not entirely sure how much improvement a 15mm ride height increase would have made to avoiding obstacles, but I'm willing to bet it's not much. To add to it Maruti softened the suspension a bit to increase comfort. We'd have preferred if the suspension had stayed stiff as this would have kept the body roll under tight control.
That's not to say the Kizashi is unstable. It is planted and composed at all speeds but the razor sharp dynamic aspirations it has and which Maruti intends to portray in their communications are dulled. It will track round corners safely but not without a fair amount of body roll and understeer.
The steering is precise and direct though thankfully the electronic assist isn't anything like in Maruti's hatchbacks. This allows the Kizashi to provide enough and more feedback to make adequate split second corrections without upsetting the balance of the car. On the other hand, the desensitised electronic assistance makes this steering a little heavy in the city and that could make driving the Kizashi for hours in urban traffic a bit exhausting. On the tests loop's long sweeping corners the Kizashi was impressive but I'm sure given a tighter course the dynamics would reveal an altogether different character.But where handling underachieves, the Kizashi's ride shines. Thanks to the enhanced damping the Kizashi steamrolls every pothole and every bump. Only speed-breakers and especially the short nasty ones in Rajasthan created a slight flutter in the cabin. That makes this more of a comfort specialist rather than a performance sedan.
As a purveyor of comfort and luxury the Kizashi is a very capable sedan. There is a hint of sportiness, especially with that fantastic engine but it's not supported with as capable dynamics. And while the gearbox is also well suited to the engine, the shift quality is certainly not in the league of Maruti's smaller cars such as the Swift, Ritz or even the SX4.
The Kizashi is packed with every feature and more than what you see in the upper D-segment cars though we are hoping it would be priced to compete against those in the entry D. That however is wishful thinking since the Kizashi is a CBU and will include the relevant duty costs which would easily hike its price. Makes it a very interesting situation because though Maruti has never been present in this segment, who's to say the Kizashi does not mean 'a sign of good things to come'? If there's one manufacturer who can turn newbies into stars it is Maruti - see what it made of the Alto.