Engine & Transmission

By and large, our Kizashi GTS test car's sportiness ended with its looks, mainly because it was equipped with the optional continuously variable automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The Kizashi's base curb weight and 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder are comparable with competing models, as are the company's claimed zero-to-60-mph times: 7.4 seconds with a six-speed-manual transmission and 8.3 seconds with the CVT — both with front-wheel drive. Add another 154 pounds for the all-wheel drive, and you'll see 9 seconds before your speedometer needle sees the 60 mark. Add three passengers, and you'll take even longer. I'm no leadfoot, and even I thought the car's acceleration was modest. A V-6 isn't offered at this time, though it's not out of the question for the future.

Although car reviewers tend to enjoy manual transmissions (which we didn't test in the Kizashi), more than 90 percent of Americans choose automatics. The reaction to CVTs, however, is mixed. Their operation is most seamless when combined with larger engines. Like regular automatics, CVTs play a greater role in tapping a four-cylinder's high-rev power.

As four-cylinder/CVT combos go, the Kizashi's is a pretty good one overall. If you're already in motion and you nail the accelerator, it might take a second or two before the transmission gets to a ratio low enough to rev the engine high and get the most passing power. This is common among CVTs, and it's a lot easier for me to accept given the growing plague of gear hunting and kickdown lag in recent conventional automatic transmissions. Characteristically, the Kizashi's CVT is at its best when accelerating from a standstill and when it's cruising at a constant speed ... with one exception.

I felt significant engine vibration when trundling along at low to medium speeds, at which the tachometer settles around 1,200 rpm. I was surprised because Suzuki historically has made good small engines. This one feels pretty smooth at high revs and even when the transmission's in Neutral, so I suspect the drivetrain has been programmed for maximum fuel economy, to the extent that cruising puts the engine on the verge of lugging, a condition most often experienced with a stick shift when the gear is too high for the current rpm and the engine struggles and vibrates conspicuously.

Using the transmission's manual-shifting mode via the gear selector or steering-wheel shift paddles, I was able to rev the engine higher and eliminate the bad vibes. (Even though a CVT has no fixed gears, the manual mode jumps among a set of predetermined ratios to emulate a regular transmission.) This practice doesn't really fix the problem, though. Suzuki would be better off to reprogram the drivetrain, even if it costs some mileage. Preliminary EPA ratings are as shown: EPA-Estimated MPG (city/highway) 16-inch wheels 17- or 18-inch wheels Six-speed manual, FWD 21/31 20/29 CVT automatic, FWD 23/31 23/30 CVT automatic, AWD 23/30 22/29

This is the first time I've seen different mpg figures for different wheel sizes, which actually reflects differences in the tires' rolling resistance. This isn't unique to Suzuki; it's just that most mileage ratings reflect an average of such differences. As shown, the CVT delivers higher mileage than the stick shift. If the preliminary estimates are correct, the Kizashi is in line with four-cylinder class leaders, and most impressive is its mileage with all-wheel drive, which comes only with the CVT. Its maximum 23/30 mpg city/highway blows away the all-wheel-drive Ford Fusion's 18/25 mpg — and does so for $21,749, more than $6,000 less than the most affordable all-wheel-drive Fusion.

The base Subaru Legacy with standard all-wheel drive and an optional CVT beats the Kizashi on price at $20,995 — as well as by 1 mpg in highway driving, at 23/31 mpg. Two Legacy trim levels are base-priced below the all-wheel-drive Kizashi, but when equipped with the standard manual transmission, their mileage is way behind at 19/27 mpg.

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