Mother Nature Is The Boss After Being Woken

by a 7.1 force quake at 4.35am on September 4 in Christchurch, the old bird has got my respect and fear for as long as she wants. The big shake saw the final day-and-a-half of our 1000km test of the Suzuki Kizashi Sport shelved.

We'd been fortunate enough to be staying in an earthquake-resistant motel (306 on Riccarton, if you're anxious about a visit to the Garden City), but friends and family weren't so lucky, and experienced cracked walls, shattered windows and back lawns that looked like they'd been landscaped by Picasso himself. My best mate Fitzy, who thankfully is an easygoing bloke, got the rudest awaking when his chimney smashed through his roof, bringing the ceiling with it - the whole lot landing at the foot of his bed. To give you an idea of how violent the earthquake was, he was

Helping Fitzy repair the roof post quake oblivious to his house falling down at his feet until well after the shaking had stopped.

Suzuki tells us that Kizashi translates to 'something great is coming', though others say it means 'an omen', but either way the name was playing on my mind as I drove across town to help Fitzy shore up his house in time for the forecast stormy weather. The aftershocks weren't nearly as disconcerting as negotiating a city's grid entirely without traffic lights.

Ten days earlier, I'd been wondering what could top the thrills that marked the beginning of our test, as we slid about on packed snow and ice high above the Cardrona Valley. Mother Nature was on Suzuki's side that day, with perfect conditions for the Australasian launch of the all-wheel-drive version of this ambitious debut into the medium sector. A recent warm spell had turned a bunch of rival car company events, quite literally, to slush.

While skidding about on the snow is stupidly good fun, getting up to the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground (SHPG) was the real introduction to the top-spec Kizashi. The i5km-long access road was made famous by the 'Race to the Sky', which, fittingly, was dominated by Suzuki. The company's motorsport boss, Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima, won eight of the 10 events before red tape helped bring

Helping Fitzy repair the roof post quake

Snow farm is a skid fest wonderland

While skidding about on the snow is stupidly good fun, getting up to the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground was the real introduction to the top-spec fdzashi

The 10-spoke alloys would be right at home on anyRS orAMG

This is one seriously handsome car - and not just for a first-up foray into the D-segment, but full stop. The flashes of chrome, big mesh grille and chopped ride make the Sport look great from every angle.

Though the styling was signed off before the VW-Audi group snapped up 20 per cent of Suzuki, you could easily be forgiven for picking the design as Teutonic. The deep, double-layered grille is straight out of the VW-Audi styling manual, while the look, as I've mentioned, is quite Lexus IS-E yet it has more than a touch of RS4 to its flared arches and cheeky wee boot spoiler. The 10-spoke alloys would be right at home on any RS orAMG.

Reaction during our South Island drive was Jfi? only ever positive. 1 MfcJ i over heard a group fijsjJ! I of Australian jjf i '

blokes in Queenstown discussing the car, and one \\-wl speculated that it was a new Merc.

After discovering its true origins, they simply stood around and stared as I drove away - how often would that happen to a Camry?

I wonder how long it will be before a similar Sport Pack is available on the two-wheel-drive models...

The deep, double-layered grille is straight out of the VW-Audi styling manual

A touch of RS4 to its flared arches and cheeky wee boot spoiler

about the demise of the world-class event. With 137 corners, the 1000-metre vertical climb makes the slippery road up to the SHPG a test in any conditions. Sitting alongside Dr Sideways (a.k.a. Peter Louisson), as he tried to coax some slip out of the Kizashi was wild enough - I can't imagine how terrifying the ride would be as Monster hurtled up the mountain, averaging over i2okm/h.

For the record, Pete struggled to beat Suzuki's new i-AWD system. Even with the stability control turned off, it took some brutal throttle lift to bring on mid-corner antics. Throttle on, the intuitive AWD system works in combination with the car's stability sensors to predict a loss of grip, rather than wait for traction to break. On take-off and cornering, extra drive is sent to the appropriate wheels to avert any slip. Up to 50 per cent of the torque can be sent rearwards; however, most of the time, the Sport remains a pure front-driver. A peculiar addition is a button to turn off the AWD - Suzuki says it's for those that want to save fuel, but I reckon those folk would be better to stick with the non-AWD models and shave 70kg of drivetrain and $6000 off the price.

The build quality and impressive spec levels of the Kizashi were well showcased in last month's comparison with the Mazda6. The Sport takes the

Limited we tested and adds a more aggressive double-story mesh grille, chrome flashes and AWD. Even better is what it loses: 10mm of ride height, which along with some suspension tweaks to the McPherson strut-and-multilink setup, drops the car's centre of gravity by 15mm. The result is super-flat cornering and a remarkable level of grip. It is a lively and responsive chassis, which deserves every part of the Sport badge.

On tarmac, turn-in is rapid, but unfortunately not always precise. A distinct lack of feel from the electrically assisted steering is the culprit here. All natural weighting is absent, meaning you can't feel the front end bite, and it is easy to give too much lock going into a tighter corner. A car this pointy needs to communicate its ability to the driver.

Monster's all-conquering Suzuki boasted 72ikW, courtesy of a twin-turbocharged version of the Vitara's 2.7-litre V6. Despite its Sport status, our Suzuki makes do with the same powerplant as the rest of the Kizashi range. What I would have given for the V6, or just one of those turbos, to give the chassis the power it deserves! Though the 2.4-litre produces a solid i3ikW and 23oNm, it is combined in the Sport with a performance-sapping CVT transmission and the added weight of the AWD, creating the slowest car in the Kizashi range.

What it lacks off the line, the Kizashi more than makes up for once underway. The journey north from Queenstown via Southland was comfortable and quiet. The ¡Pod and Bluetooth (phone plus music) interface and Rockford Fosgate sound system rival or better anything in the class. Only the fuel economy disappointed; our average of io.8L/iookm (10.1 according to the trip computer) was based on mostly open-road driving, which is a long way off the quoted 8.4.

Economy aside, the extended drive only cemented my initial impressions of the Kizashi: it's a great-looking car and great value. Despite being closer in size to a Mazda3 than the Mazda6, it coped just fine with the detritus that two young children generate. Keyless entry was a particular bonus; no matter how prepared you think you are, the car key always seems to be pocketed on the same side as the baby you're holding. The Kizashi's system means you can unlock the car with any hand, elbow, knee or even a toddler's foot. Brilliant.

The Sport trim is perfectly executed; the double-story grille has more than a little touch of Golf GTI, while the overall look is neither blocky nor organic, if anything, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Lexus IS-F, including those seemingly splendid but useless exhaust outlets. In my opinion, it is the best-looking car in its class.

The big shake-up meant we didn't take the planned trip to photograph the Kizashi on the magnificent Otira Viaduct, which, as it happens, is built right on top of a fault line. But the day before, we drove over one of my favourite stretches of tarmac, the Summit Road. As its name suggests, it winds across the top of a range, the Port Hills above Christchurch. The route darts around rocky outcrops, yet another reminder of Earth's power, but this time a volcano was the cause.

The last time I piloted a Suzuki over these hills, I was lucky to make it back down. Keen to exploit every 'cc' of a learner's motorcycle licence, I had bought myself a GSX-R 250, which had a i7,ooorpm redline that made it sound like an Fi car. But a screaming engine doesn't mix well with a screaming idiot - and I ended up in a screaming heap after sliding down a 15-metre drop. This time, I used a touch more nous and had the security of a clever AWD system, and we stayed clear of the cliffs, let's leave the wild ride to Mother Nature. PC

performance

8.4 L/100km engine inline 4/transverse

131 [email protected] dohc/16v/vvt transmission

AWD on demand suspension

Mac strut/sway bar multilink/sway bar brakes ventilated disc ventilated disc

ABS/EBD/ESP/TC

235/45R18

Yokohama dimensions

4650 mm/1820 mm/1480 mm

1565 mm/1565 mm

With full tank

* THE NORTH ISLAND'S

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