By now you've probably heard the sad news that Suzuki is withdrawing from the American market, though its motorcycles will still be roaring around. As it happens, I had two of the last models, the Kizashi Sport and the all-wheel-drive subcompact SX4, as test cars. They're not bad, and probably a bargain now.
I spoke to Freddie Reiss, who's overseeing Suzuki's U.S. bankruptcy. He was upbeat, pointing out that the company is making a last push with the more than 5,000 cars it still has at 216 dealerships. There are seven models, including two SUVs and two pickup trucks. You can get deals on them, and you don't need to worry too much about their becoming orphan cars, since warranty support will continue. Expect it all to end around March.
The AWD Kizashi is the sportiest of the lot, and can be bought for less than $20,000, including rebates. The SX4, instead of selling for $19,000, might be had for $16,000. The SX4 is available as a sedan, sportback or crossover SUV. The car I tried seemed competent but did not stand out in a crowded — and very competitive — field. The crossover has the advantage of being the cheapest AWD car on the market, and it's even cheaper now (assuming you can find one). "There's a huge clamor for these cars," Reiss said.
Speaking of entry-level Japanese cars, I also had some seat time in a Mazda2. People are always surprised when they ask me what kind of cars I like, and I point to subcompacts. Driving luxury cars all the time (I have a Cadillac ATS now) takes some of the mystique out of it, and subcompacts just make sense.
I like the no-nonsense Mazda2, which is powered by a 100-horsepower four coupled to a four-speed transmission. Upgrade to the Touring model and you get some luxury touches in an otherwise Spartan layout — alloy wheels, leather-wrapped wheel, cruise and a six-speaker stereo. Better, you take home 29 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway. The starting MSRP is $14,270.
The Mazda2 performs better with the five-speed manual gearbox, because it does a better job of pushing those hundred horses to the max.
You won't worry so much about acceleration in the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. I still find the layout weird on this youth-oriented car — there's two doors on the passenger side, one on the driver's. It gets 8.5-second zero to 60 times, while still maintaining 26 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway (better than the Mazda2)!
The second side door looks weird, but it does help you get into the rear seat, which is not big on legroom. At $22,950 it's not hugely priced for that kind of performance.
There you go, three Asian bids for your American dollars.