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Sign of good things to come for Maruti?

S.Muralidhar Feb 2 | Updated on November 10, 2017 Published on February 02, 2011

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

Suzuki Kizashi   -  BUSINESS LINE

For many of us, buying a car from Maruti is a bit like shopping for our daily groceries at the neighbourhood ‘kirana’ store. Just like the latter, the former too is tried, tested, trusted, cost-effective and pretty much like an addiction. Many of us choose both simply by word-of-mouth referrals and are often more than satisfied with our choice despite other options being available.

But, would we also go to the ‘kirana’ store if we wanted to buy gourmet cheese and wine?

Maruti wants to pull off the automotive equivalent of that kind of a retail coup!

After being the driving force and the dominant choice for a generation of Indians seeking affordable personal mobility on four-wheels, Maruti wants to offer a seriously capable luxury sedan for those seeking an upgrade.

The Suzuki Kizashi is Maruti’s first foray into the sporty luxury segment, though it is not the first time that it will be launching an import (completely built unit) in the Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh category. The not so successful Grand Vitara was its first foray in that price category.

Maruti Suzuki is convinced that it has got it right with the Kizashi, with good reason too. Since its introduction in markets like the US, Australia and New Zealand, barely a year ago, the Kizashi has won considerable acclaim and has been rated at the top in terms of safety – a 5-star US NCAP rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Design

The Kizashi is unlike any other Maruti…oops…Suzuki. In terms of design, while Suzuki engineers have drawn inspiration from elements in our everyday lives, there are really no specific design similarities that have been carried forward from any of Suzuki current vehicles. Yes, there are few hints of the SX4 in places, but it is pretty much unique from every angle. Yet, the Kizashi seems to be unmistakably Suzuki.

The Kizashi’s exterior design is aggressive, though it is intrinsically simple. Very European in character, the Suzuki sedan’s swooping curves at the front and rear, and the straight lines on the sides make it attractive from most angles. The wrap around headlamp design with dual-projector lamps and the radiator grille, with its lines dipping to from an over-sized airdam, are clearly the most attractive features of the Kizashi’s front.

At the rear, the aggressive design language continues and the Kizashi gets over-sized tail-lamps with circular inner elements. The bootlid sports an integrated spoiler and dual exhaust ends spout out of the large rear fender. The design of the chrome exhaust ends seem to have been inspired by the Suzuki Hayabusa. But, if you are going to expect a throaty Lambo-like exhaust note, you’ll be disappointed. They are only tail-pipe ends and serve more as aesthetic add-ons.

Interiors

The Kizashi is the sixth world strategic model from Suzuki and together with its predecessors, this new flagship sedan too reflects considerable maturity in the design philosophy of this Japanese company.

The observation is strengthened when I step into the Kizashi’s beige dominated interiors. Bright and airy, the Kizashi’s interiors exude a lot of upmarket aura. Perforated leather seats, which are 10-way power adjustable and also offer three-position memory, smart key entry and a keyless push start system, are all standard. The dashboard design of the Kizashi is simple and symmetric. There are ample storage options provided in the centre console and door panels. Integrated music system with seven speakers and automatic climate control are also standard fitment.

The seats with neatly stitched perforated leather are comfortable and provide considerable thigh and lumbar support. The squabs for the front seats are also adjustable for better lumbar support. Steering wheel with tilt and telescopic adjustment also gets integrated scroll wheels for controlling the music system, receiving incoming calls and the cruise control.

There are a number of luxury elements that the Kizashi has been given. Fine touches like the stitched leather door trim inserts, rear aircon vents, the pollen filter, the soft polished chrome door handles, leather bound steering wheel and the quality of plastic used all around is clearly much better than what you are used to seeing in Maruti cars. There are even steering mounted paddle shifters in the automatic variant, just like the Honda Civic.

However, there are a few features lacking that might pull down the upmarket feel in the Kizashi, especially for buyers who already own a car in the D segment and are looking for a change. For one, a sunroof option could have been given. LED turn indicators, real wood trim and more interior colour themes could be the other features that buyers would miss in the Kizashi.

Performance

I drove the Kizashi in and around Udaipur with a fair mix of city roads and the brilliant highway leading up to Mount Abu. The Kizashi is being offered with a 2.4-litre (2,393cc), four-cylinder, DOHC, petrol engine with variable valve timing. The engine generates a peak power of 178 PS @ 6,500 rpm, which is oodles of power from a Suzuki car that weighs just a shade under 1.5 tonnes.

Stamp on the throttle and the Kizashi accelerates in double quick time. Power delivery is very linear and almost 80 per cent of the peak power is already being routed to the wheels by the time the clock hits 4,000 rpm. During my test drive the car effortlessly hit speeds of upto 180-200 kmph. I drove both the 6-speed manual transmission and the automatic – continuously variable transmission (CVT).

I found the manual to be a delight to use. The short throw, slick-shifting gearbox is enjoyable and has a long range available in each gear with adequate power still on standby in each slot, except at peak speeds. In CVT, there was a tendency for the power to get choked off and taper within a shorter band and the shifts took longer than the more nimble automatics available in the segment. The paddle shifters were handy and the overall drive feel in the automatic is also praiseworthy.

Suzuki engineers have worked a lot on the Kizashi’s NVH package, keeping noise and vibration low. Though they have managed to isolate much of the vibration from the passenger cabin there is a certain amount of noise that did tend to seep through at high speeds. The ride itself is again eye-opening for a Suzuki car. With a rigid steel chassis and a supportive suspension set up, the Kizashi’s ride quality is clearly oriented towards making it a driver’s car.

The Kizashi offers excellent straight line stability and though you may hesitate to throw it around corners at very high speeds, it does offer nimble handling. What it can do with is a little more precise steering control. The suspension set up is reinforced MacPherson-strut at the front and multi-link at the rear.

The Kizashi has won accolades for its safety features and Maruti Suzuki is not skimping on the amount of safety that has been packed into this sedan. You get six airbags, ESP (electronic stability programme) with traction control, ABS with EBD and Hill Hold Control in the CVT variant.

In terms of positioning, the Kizashi is longer and wider than the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic. Its wheelbase is the same as that of the Civic, but longer than the Corolla. Though this does not necessarily translate into more legroom at the rear, the back benchers in the Kizashi will still have a fairly comfy ride. Dimensionally, the Kizashi will be between these two Japanese competitors and the big boys of the luxury car market, including cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Bottomline

Undoubtedly, the Kizashi is going to change Maruti’s image as a car maker and it will also have a considerable rub-off effect on its other cars. Maruti Suzuki may not be able to clock big sales numbers with the Kizashi, but its impact will still be felt both by the company and its competitors.

However, since the Kizashi is an import, Maruti Suzuki is not going to enjoy the benefit of the kind of pricing power it enjoys with its other cars. Unfortunately for Maruti this could mean that it will be forced to either out-price the Kizashi or it could mean that the company will have to deviate from its fundamental principle of offering excellent value for money with its cars.

The Kizashi is due to be launched hours after this issue hits the stands. I expect the Kizashi to be priced in the Rs 12 lakh to Rs 15 lakh price band. At this price band, it will be able to take on the competition in the entry-luxury segment with its feature list and will also be great bang for the buck.

For Maruti, the Kizashi is a good sign, literally (that is what the name means in Japanese), and it could well be the harbinger of more premium cars to come from this brand, which had for years been serving us small cars. A transformation that is akin to going from daily bread to ‘haute cuisine’.

“Hello, is that Ramu kaka? Can you please add two slices of Camembert and a bottle of Chenin Blanc to my grocery list?”

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

Published on February 02, 2011
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