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Suzuki Kizashi a spicy alternative sport sedan

The Suzuki Kizashi is a sportier alternative to

The Suzuki Kizashi is a sportier alternative to Accord, Malibu, and Fusion.

Trying to move upward in sales volume and price, Suzuki is offering what it claims is a competitor to near-luxury sport sedans like the Acura TSX, but which I suspect most of you will cross shop with midpriced midsize sedans like the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.

The 2010 Kizashi is an interesting alternative to them - sporty and spicy. With a taut suspension and crisp steering, it's fun to drive hard. A nicely trimmed and ergonomically correct interior in my top-of-the-line tester made it a pleasant place to spend time.

But, because of the extra firm ride and engine noise, the Kizashi lacks the elegant feel of most competitors.

And, at least for now, the Kizashi can't match the documented quality of an Accord, a Malibu or a Fusion. A week ago, one could say safely that it couldn't match a Toyota Camry, either, but recent events raise serious questions about Toyota's quality.

For a different reason, Suzuki also is a struggling carmaker these days; its sales fell by more than half last year from 2008, as it discontinued the Reno and Forenza small cars and XL7 SUV.

Suzuki's scores for vehicle quality are mixed - way below average in the most recent JD Power and Associates survey that measures reliability over three years, yet above average in "initial" quality - owners' satisfaction with their vehicles in the first three months of ownership.

A potential drawback for some buyers: The Kizashi is not available with a V-6.

On sale officially since early December, the Kizashi, whose name means "something great is coming" in Japanese, begins at $19,734 with a six-speed stick shift and front wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional.

The engine, rated at 180 hp. with automatic transmission and 185 with a stick, delivers acceleration that feels peppier than is suggested by its zero to 60 time - 9.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver, for the all-wheel version I sampled, two seconds quicker in front drive.

Engine noise is magnified by the optional continuously variable automatic transmission, but the EPA says it improves city fuel economy by 2 mpg. I averaged 25.5 mpg in a mix of highway and local driving.

The Kizashi is a relatively small car, 11 inches shorter than an Accord, for example, and its rear legroom is skimpy.

Neither the federal government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have yet published ratings of Kizashi's crashworthiness.

Neither J.D. Power and Associates nor Consumer Reports yet have reliability data specific to the Kizashi.2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Vehicle Tested:

Engine: 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, 180 hp.

Fuel: Regular

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic, all-wheel drive Safety: Eight air bags, including rear-seat thorax; 4-wheel disc brakes w/anti-lock, stability control and brake assist; fog lamps; tire pressure monitoring; rear obstacle warning; heated outside mirrors, daytime running lamps.

Place of Assembly: Iwata, Japan

Trunk: 13.3 cu. ft.

EPA Fuel Economy Estimates: 22 mpg, city; 29 highway

Price as Driven: $27,484

Bottom line: Sportier alternative to Accord et al., with mixed quality

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