Suzuki Kazashi & Chevrolet Malibu Eco
By Kelly Foss, MyCarData.com
Starting price: about $19,000
The Suzuki Kazashi is one of the coolest cars that you’ve probably never heard of. Though not well known for their cars in North America, Suzuki is one of the dominant automotive brands in Japan. The Kazashi is their very fine and innovative midsize sedan.
The basic design philosophy of the Kazashi is to build a rugged yet refined car that is both efficient and fun to drive. To attain that goal, the Suzuki engineers studied European sedans trying to match their ability to deliver both a comfortable ride and sporty handling. The Kazashi, as it turns out, is a skillful and successful blend of both.
What first caught my attention was the styling on the car. It’s elegant and rich looking in an understated way. For a modestly priced vehicle, it has tremendous presence. The lines are simple but very appealing.
The designers have made the Kazashi more than just an urban people transporter. It has an exceptionally rigid body structure so the car feels different from other vehicles when you drive it. It is very substantial and solid and the doors close with an authoritative thud. Beneath the car are class-exclusive underbody panels to improve aerodynamics. The suspension is highly sophisticated delivering a compliant ride, excellent steering feedback and great grip.
Suzuki even manages the sound inside the car. Most outside unwanted noises are filtered out leaving a pleasant yet muted exhaust note and the excellent 420 watt Rockford Fosgate audio system to fill in the gaps. The interior is pleasantly upscale in an efficient and informative way without being gaudy or overwrought.
The Kazashi demonstrates careful attention to detail. Suzuki dedicated developmental resources to the substance and structure of the car rather than superficial eye candy. The vehicle functions the way that you’d expect a car to work without compromise and tradeoffs. It feels good. It drives well. It performs above expectation. It’s quiet and comfortable.
The car is offered with a 180 horsepower 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine. It’s a rugged unit with a no-maintenance timing chain rather than a belt that will need replacing in about three years. Both a manual and a CVT automatic transmission are offered. front-wheel drive is standard and an integrated all-wheel drive system is optional.
To prove the vehicle’s ruggedness, a national automotive magazine did an endurance trip to Japan, Russia, Alaska and the lower 48 states. If it can stand the back roads of Russia, local roads are a breeze. Bottom line… it handled it all like a champ. Add to that JD Power “highest appeal” ratings and Auto Pacific #1 ranking in owner satisfaction for both 2010 and 2011, plus increasing ALG residual ratings and you’ve got a vehicle on the rise.
Our test model was the mid-trim level SE. That means automatic transmission, leather interior, power driver seat with memory, keyless entry and start, alloy wheels and an upgraded audio system… and a sticker of $23,899 which is astoundingly low.
CHEVROLET MALIBU ECO
Starting price: about $26,000
Starting this year, Chevrolet will be introducing their eighth generation Malibu. The current model bears no resemblance the original but is in fact a far more advanced and a more highly developed vehicle. It battles in the most competitive segment of all, the midsize sedan, and goes head-to-head with the likes of the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. Base model Malibu available later 2012 will have a lower starting price than $26,000.
The styling is simply outstanding. I go back to my historical view: it doesn’t cost any more to produce a good-looking car than a homely one. Chevy got the message and though it looks somewhat smaller than the previous model, in reality it’s a bit bigger.
This Malibu is a world car and this model will sell in over 100 markets worldwide. Though we complain about the high price of fuel, in most other countries, gas is two to three times more expensive than here. In most markets, the Malibu is a very large car, yet it needs to be very fuel efficient. The North American Malibu won’t be offered with a V6 engine. In the ’70s you could get a Chevy Malibu with a 454-cubic inch engine. The largest engine in the new one will be 2.5 liters or about 150 cubic inches. The Eco model which is a light hybrid is rated at 25 city, 37 highway mpg. For a 3,600-pound midsize sedan, those are very good numbers. By comparison, last year’s tiny Chevy Aveo sub-compact had a 35 mpg highway rating.
The Eco technology is quite ingenious. It uses a standard 2.4 liter EcoTech 4 cylinder engine and adds a mild electric motor assist using the simplest, least complex technology possible. It has regenerative braking to harvests much of its electrical energy and a mini lithium ion battery pack to store the energy. It shuts the engine down at red lights to reduce fuel consumption. Rather than a complex and expensive hybrid drive, the GM system uses a standard 6-speed automatic transmission and a modified generator also acts as the electric motor that adds power to the system on demand through a simple accessory belt. Very clever.
The result is a drive that uncannily poised and dignified. The busyness of typical small engine power trains is replaced with a seamless flow of forward thrust thanks to the added torque of the electric drive. The very high fuel economy is added joy.
On the softer side, the Malibu passenger cabin is also a treat. The interior layout is high quality with an engaging interface. No boring flat surfaces here! Chevy has their technology game on and the Malibu offers all that buyers of modern sedans expect. Seating is very comfortable and roomy plus the strategic placement of sound deadening materials make the ride surpisingly quiet.
In all, the new Malibu is a very well thought-out and well executed midsize sedan that is totally competitive in this segment.
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