Suzuki Kizashi, 2012: Worthy midsize sedan has a name but no identity

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Now in its third model year, the Suzuki Kizashi is the Japanese manufacturer's most expensive vehicle. The midsize sedan has only a few minor changes in 2012 from last year's offering, with the uniquely named car still hoping to find a larger niche in the near-luxury category.

Kizashi (pronounced KEY-ZAH-SHEE) means “something great is coming.”

Suzuki promoted the Kizashi with industry buzz in mind. And it attracted attention for a while when the car debuted in 2009 as a less expensive alternative to an Audi 4. But the Kizashi is still largely unheralded and under publicized.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

The Kizashi may not be the great car Suzuki is seeking, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, it's the best car the manufacturer offers. This year's edition is available in four trims: S, SE, Sport GTS and Sport SLS.

The Kizashi S includes 16-inch steel wheels, keyless ignition/entry, full power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.

The SE includes all of S model's features, plus 17-inch alloy wheels, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and an eight-way power driver seat with memory settings and power lumbar adjustment.

When equipped with its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the SE gains cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a seven-speaker stereo with USB port/iPod interface.

I drove the SE trim (185 horsepower) on an extended weekly test, about 1,000 miles from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles and then home to Sacramento.

Just like with the debut edition, several passersby momentarily thought the car might be Audi A4. But then they noticed the insignia Suzuki “S" and tried to pronounce the car’s name. Even when the phonetic pronunciation is said slowly, the name isn’t easy to pronounce and it likely won’t be easy to remember.

Beyond its badge and sluggish efforts to destinations at high elevation, Big Bear Lake and Mount Baldy in Southern California, the comparison to the A4 is still good. The Kizashi has a slick European look.

The interior features a straightforward instrument panel with white letters. It'a an attractive look against a black background.

All four doors have cupholders and two additional cupholders in the center console don’t infringe with shifting.

The Kizashi also has one sturdy front windshield. While driving on the mess known as the Los Angeles freeway system, a softball-sized rock from a nearby dump truck smacked the middle of the windshield hard. It could have been a disaster, but there was no damage to the windshield and consequently no damage to the car's two occupants.

Likes:

Keyless ignition.

Overall quietness, almost hybrid-like quiet while idling.

Nimble feel in parking lots, heavy traffic and other tight circumstances.

Comfortable (optional) leather seats.

Good overall interior space for a mid-size sedan.

Dislikes:

Sluggish on mountain roads.

Rear window wiper would be a plus.

No navigation system.

Facts & Figures, 2012 Suzuki Kizashi

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 9.1 seconds.
Airbags: Dual front, front and rear side, front and rear head curtain airbags.
Antilock brakes: Standard.
First aid kit: N/A.
Fuel economy: 21 mpg (city), 31 mpg (highway)
Government Safety Ratings: Rollover, 4 stars; Front and side crash, not tested.
Horsepower: 185.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price range: $18,999-27,699
Price As tested: 25,515.00
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:

"Suzuki has a television advertising campaign, but while driving the car about 1,000 miles in a week, lots of folks still asked, "What's that?" They weren't disparaging comments, but the Kizashi just hasn't yet caught on. It lacks the spirited driving experience of its far more expensive competitors, but overall it's a good alternative with a large question mark on its resale value."

Text and images © James Raia/2012

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