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Suzuki Kizashi, 2011: The Weekly Driver Car Review

Now in its second model year as Suzuki’s most expensive vehicle, the Kizashi is a value-priced sedan trying to find a niche in the crowded mid-sized segment. Its name in Japanese means “something great is coming.”

What’s great about the Kizashi is that Suzuki is offering the vehicle in the near-luxury category with a top-of-the-line price ($25,000) that’s still about $5,000 less than the average price of a new car in the United States.

Suzuki attracted a buzz when the car debuted a year as a cheap (but not cheaply built) alternative to an Audi 4. With a few exterior changes and amended sport packages, the second edition remains the same good value as the 2010 version.

The Kizashi may not be the great car Suzuki seeks, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, it’s arguably the best deal in its segment.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

For the second straight year, I test drove the top-of-the-line SLS model for a week. It includes a surprisingly long list of standard features: leather seats, power passenger seat, heated front seats, auto dimming rear view mirror with Homelink Universal garage door opener, heated outside mirrors, automatic rain sensing wipers, automatic headlamps and rear proximity sensors with audible warning and graphic display.

Just like the debut edition, passersby momentarily think it’s an Audi until they see the insignia Suzuki “S.” And then they try to pronounce the car’s name. Even with the phonetic spelling (KEY-ZAH-SEE) available, the name isn’t easy to pronounce and it likely won’t be easy to remember.

Suzuki Kizashi Exterior

One friend stood in front of the car, looked down at the Suzuki “S” and said, “If you took that off and put on the Audi rings, it would like the A4.”

That’s a good comparison in general terms. The Kizashi has a slick European look, thanks in part to the redesigned grille with triple-chrome accents, and a slightly lowered ride from 2010.

My test vehicle included a Suzuki brand single bike rack. I didn’t use the rack, but an avid cycling friend commented the set-up looked fine with the exception that the parts likely weren’t interchangeable with other bike rack companies’ equipment.

Suzuki Kizashi Interior

The black leather seats and black console plastic matched the gray exterior paint and silver-colored interior trim perfectly, with the combined color pattern providing an overall dignified appearance.

Headroom and legroom are satisfactory for four adults, and the front driver and passenger seats have excellent lower lumbar supports and seat adjustment functions easy to use.

The instrument panel has simple, straightforward white letters, another attractive look against a black background.

All four doors have cup holders and there are two additional cup holders in the center console that don’t infringe with the gearbox.

Suzuki Kizashi Performance

The 185-horsepower, six-speed manual is a blast to drive, particularly considering its short shift box and nimble maneuvering. Driving the Kizashi doesn’t lose any of its appeal on the open road.

Some reviewers have given the Kizashi low marks for acceleration. I’ve driven slower sedans. But the new, lower ride and smooth shifting may give the feeling the car’s accelerating faster than it is.

Likes:

Short, crisp shifting. The “pull-up” reverse gear.

Keyless ignition.

Overall quietness, almost hybrid-like quiet while in idling.

Nimble feel in tight spots, like in parking lots or heavy traffic.

Comfortable leather seats.

Dislikes:

Rear window wiper would be a plus.

2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS: Facts & Figures

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 8.0 seconds.
Airbags: Dual front, front and rear side, front and rear head curtain airbags.
Antilock brakes: Standard.
First aid kit: N/A.
Fuel economy: 20 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway)
Government Safety Ratings: Rollover, 4 stars; Front and side crash, not tested.
Horsepower: 185.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: 24,699.00.
Price As tested: $25,304.00.
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 7 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 3 years/unlimited miles; Roadside assistance, 3 years/36,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“Suzuki positions Kizashi as a penny pincher’s premium sport sedan. The car is aimed at shoppers who aspire to upscale sporty sedans such as the Acura TSX or Audi A4, but may not have the budget. In terms of engine performance and overall refinement, Kizashi comes up a bit short of its goal. However, it delivers nimble, sports-sedan-worthy handling while maintaining a composed and relatively pleasant ride.” —- Consumer Guide.

“Kizashi is a sporty sedan that offers more nimbleness and spunk than most of its competitors, in a well-priced package with an impressive list of features.” —- About.com

“The Kizashi is the best car yet to come to the United States wearing a Suzuki badge. The exterior is round and solid in homage to European small-car design.” —- Washington Post

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“Like a few other unheralded cars in different classes that readily come to mind — Hyundai Accent, Nissan Rogue and Volkswagen Eos — the Suzuki Kizashi deserves more attention. It’s a fun-to-drive, sporty sedan. But a name change would do wonders.”

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