February 2011

S is for Super: Suzuki Kizashi

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This Suzuki would have probably been the car of the year if Suzuki had a larger advertising budget. The truth be told that the S is a sleeper. Starting at under $20,000 for a well equipped base model and $26,000 for a loaded Sport version, these sedans are comfortable, fun to drive, and we squeezed out over 32 mpg in our extended stay with the Kisashi (Kee-Zah-Shee). Why extended? Because the horrendous weather that was pelting the area was making testing difficult. Nevertheless, despite the snow and rain the Kizashi always felt sure footed and safe.

 We were hard pressed to tell we weren’t driving an Audi or Accra based on its fit, finish, and handling dynamics. Okay, we exaggerate a little, but if you like to drive, and not be driven, this Suzuki is much more enjoyable than the traditional sedans.

 Mom’s view: The exterior is nice, but it doesn’t shout Suzuki, which could be good or bad. It is enjoyable to drive and the six speed manual transmission shifts effortlessly. However, don’t skip first gear because the 185-horsepower engine bogs until the rpm reaches 2000. The clutch is mellow, the pedals a bit close together for those driving wearing thicker heels, and the ride is quiet.

 The Kizashi is really a surprise. We dearly love its smaller sister, the SX4, that is a nearly perfect cute utility vehicle with all wheel drive, great gas mileage and GPS for $15,000. But the Kizashi is more family oriented. We tested the Sport trim package with a lower grille, body side sill extensions, a trunk mounted spoiler, larger wheels and interior tidbits. It looks more sporty, but I am not sure it is worth it in daily driving.

 Safety wise there is a plethora of standard equipment including standard eight airbags; electronic stability program; an anti-lock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution; and a tire pressure monitoring system among other features. Visibility to the sides and back is limited, but the mirrors are large and easy to adjust.

 Young working woman’s view: A great warranty that offers 100,000-mile/seven-year, is fully transferable, with a zero-deductible powertrain limited warranty anchors this Suzuki and soothes the fears of those afraid to leave the shelter of more popular brands. But it didn’t take me long to be won over by its features, values, and business like virtues. The headroom and legroom make the car feel much larger than it is. On the more upscale GTS and SLS models you get a sunroof as standard equipment. Nice touch. In fact, the Kizashi is full of nice touches, except for a couple it items such a driver’s computer readout that was overly optimistic about the mpg. The gauges use a small font, and why does it have to go to 140 mph? The climate control and stereo controls are a model of usability, but the iPod and USB ports were confusing. A nice car, but a turbo would make this a much more attractive bad boy.

Dad’s view: A car that loves to play best describes the Suzuki. It isn’t very powerful, but the engine is smooth. The 2.4-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine doesn’t get serious until over 5000 rpm so you don’t have to worry about leaving burnout marks on the pavement. But be warned, the highway ride is so pleasant that you seldom know how fast you are really going. We went to Palm Spring and constantly had to slow down. Going to Big Bear yielded a similar concern as the Suzuki bounding up the highway in fourth gear. The brake feel is a bit soft, but the four-wheel disc brakes offer short stops when pushed and the steering is light. An easy car to maneuver, If Suzuki can get people to drive this sedan they are going to be surprised.

Young working male’s view: The Suzuki is filled with little surprises. There is good interior lighting, a soft cloth covered glove box, a storage tray that keeps small items from sliding, and even door pull-straps. Add to that a keyless push start system, and such available goodies as a Bluetooth, a USB port and a very good Rockford Fosgate audio system with 10-speaker system. You have to ask yourself if you are brave enough to say you own a Suzuki and not have people think motorcycle.

Our test car had three-stage heated front seats; rain-sensing windshield wipers; heated mirrors; an automatic day-night mirror; voice-command hands-free calling, a standard sunroof on some versions, and available satellite radio. There is more, but suffice to say that this is the best Suzuki ever. Period.

Family conference: If you need a sedan you need to test drive this Suzuki. It uses unleaded fuel and sips it. You get exceptional safety equipment standard. The warranty is as good as it gets in this price range. The ride is compliant yet playful. If you live in the mountains you can order all wheel drive. After all, S is for super.

Audi Q5: A Luxury Gas Sipper

by The Car Family

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If you relish the challenge of roads such as the Ortega Highway, Rim of the World Drive, Angeles Crest, and Highways 243 and 74, the Audi Q5 could be your best friend. Fun on the run whether carving canyons or battling inclines, this five-seater’s handling is going to remind you of why they came up with the term sport utility vehicle. It also is going to befriend you when you refill with excellent fuel economy combined with a 20 gallon gas tank and you have the ability to easily get to San Francisco without refueling.


The Audi is easily the class of the luxury SUV class if you like sporty handling. For those who want a soft ride stick with the Lexus RX. If you need more cargo room the domestic manufacturers have a multitude of good choices. And, if you can afford the gas try the other German entries. But you aren’t going to find a better combination of handling, safety, and energy efficiency in one, albeit, somewhat expensive, package. We were smitten, but we are pushovers for good mileage, a perky engine, and a sport suspension.

Mom’s view: This is an interesting vehicle. It looks big on the outside, but is a bit tight inside for cargo space. I liked the Q5, but for the price it should have more standard features. What it does have in abundance are safety features. It comes standard with ability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. I always recommend ordering the optional safety equipment. In the Audi’s case that includes must have items such as rear side airbags, a backup camera, a lane departure warning system, xenon headlights and even a braking system that warns the driver of a problem ahead. Crash scores are exceptional.


The Audi’s step-over is a bit high due to the nearly 8 inches of ground clearance and the rear hatch is also very difficult to reach if you are under 5’4”, but everything else from the interior lighting to the leather seats provide reassurance that those payments are worth it. Our first pit stop with the Audi was after four hours of tedium, better known as the Interstate 5. When we stepped out of the Q5 nothing. No stiffness, no fatigue, no dreading another four hours on the road. High praise indeed. Overall, a little too much car for my domestic needs. The A4 is what I crave.

Dad’s view: It cost just $43 for gas to drive from Upland to San Jose and the six hours flew by as it simply squashed the Grapevine. We listened to the free satellite radio, watched the driver’s computer mpg readouts escalate, and let the cruise control do the work. The Q5 got 32 mpg on Interstate 5 while keeping pace with the other bored drivers. The secret is a combination of a smallish, turbocharged 2.0-liter, inline-4 engine creating 211 horsepower and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The transmission does hunt a bit for the right gear, but most of the time is a smooth workaholic. Visibility to the sides is quite good thanks to large mirrors, but there is clearly a need for the optional rearview camera as visibility in that direction is limited. I liked the AudiQ5 due to its just right size, ability to tow more than many other competitors, and the eight-speed transmission. This is as close as you are going to get a a continuous variable transmission and its attendant fuel saving attributes without having to sacrifice the ability to shift for yourself if you feel the need. And, I felt the need a great deal as the turbocharged engine has very little lag and was eager to please.


Young working woman’s view: The steering is interesting. It has an electric assist that adjusts to the situation. When you are parking in a tight spot it is light and when you hit the highway it is heavier. The tight turning radius makes parking in crowded mall lots less dramatic when people are watching.


I did notice that the sun washed out the monitor readings and the dash instrument fonts are quite small. It is a good thing Audi also offers a digital readout for your speed because the analog speedometer is arranged so what looks like 60 is really 80. And, since this is a fairly quiet ride, going well over the limit without noticing is the norm on highways. Like mom, I like the A4 best.

Young working male’s view: Call me practical, well no one ever has, but I think the Audi is more suited for those who need its well proven Quattro all wheel drive and clearance. Sadly, my practical sedan does not get the gas mileage this SUV does and isn’t as easy to park. That bulldog like front catches a lot of wind and our gas mileage went down nearly 30 percent when we were buffeted by a weak Santa Ana. The sound system is good and there were connections for an iPod and other electronic niceties, but you have to order some expensive options to harvest the best tunes in the Audi.

Family conference: The Q5 isn’t for everyone because it is made to be driven.