2011 Suzuki Kizashi
Identify a niche, and fill it. That works for the Kizashi, in what I like to call the 4-cylinder econo-premium sports sedan market that’s also home to the Subaru Legacy ...and where the Acura TSX used to roost before going upmarket with the current generation. This svelte Suzuki was a pleasant surprise at its 2010 introduction, with its upmarket styling cues and smooth 185-bhp 2.4-liter inline-4 that comes mated to either a 6-speed manual or CVT, the latter transmission required for all-wheel-drive versions. While the range starts at $18,999 for the base S model, the driver’s choice is the 6-speed GTS front-driver at $22,499 with aggressively sized P235/45R-18 Dunlop SP Sport 7000 tires on expensive-looking alloys, a decent Rockford Fosgate sound system, Bluetooth streaming audio capability and voice-command hands-free calling.
For 2011, there are slightly sportier versions called (ingeniously) the Sport GTS and more sybaritic Sport SLS, which supplant the current GTS and SLS models. And while the changes are largely cosmetic (a meaner-looking front fascia, chrome-edged rocker-panel pieces and a trunklid spoiler), the ride height has be lowered by 10 mm, and the Sport-exclusive wheels are a significant 2 lb. lighter apiece for a reduction of both unsprung and rotating mass. No real changes were made to spring rates, damping or even tires. Inside, there’s a new metallic-accented steering wheel covered in perforated leather.
Yet the dynamic changes are detectable, as we found through back-to-back drives on a short autocross course and skidpad that Suzuki provided. The Sport GTS transitions a mite better, and you can steer the tail more with lift-throttle around the skidpad, where both old and new versions can be jockeyed between under- and oversteer with only minor throttle input—a wonderful trait for a front-driver. Suzuki claims 0.93g for the Sport, impressive for the segment.
So the changes are small, but the price hike ought to be commensurately puny, say Suzuki spokespeople. Making a good-handling sedan handle even better underscores the fact that there’s more chassis than engine here. Yet as Volkswagen recently purchased a 20-percent stake in Suzuki, the deficit could easily be addressed with a shared powertrain. The 2014 Kizashi Sport GTS 2.0 T? Hmm... Mere speculation on our part, but wouldn’t that be fun?
Consider, then, a starting price for the base Suzuki Kizashi model of just under $19,000. For that you get a contemporarily styled sedan with a nice list of standard equipment, thus meeting the standard for excellent bang for the buck.
Those who have the budget for a bit more can move up to the tested sport model and add such standard stuff as a 425-watt audio system,10-way adjustable driver’s seat, a “leather appointed interior,” and tilt and telescoping steering wheel, along with a sport-tuned suspension. Good value for the roughly $25,000 asking price, in other words. Not to mention a most pleasant car for racking up big miles on trips.
With growing concern over the price of gasoline, you should know that the test car is EPA rated at 20-29 miles per gallon. I got 25 mpg in mostly interstate and back country road driving. And the Kizashi is happy to run on regular unleaded.
A smooth double-overhead cam inline four sits under the hood banging out 185 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. While a CVT transmission is available, the test sedan came with a neat six-speed manual. It was a joy to use, with a light clutch and stick that was able to wring out everything the little four had to offer. I recommend the stick shift.
A mile a minute can be achieved in 8.5 seconds, a figure I think that will meet the needs of many a SuzukiHandling was good on the sport model that included some minor suspension modifications. Back-country roads can be handled with ease, and drivers really can have some fun. The ride, slightly on the firm side, shouldn’t turn off any potential customers.
Outside, the Kizashi carries a contemporary body style, but one that won’t turn many heads. Inside, there is a welcome absence of complex systems for ventilation and audio controls. The leather-clad seats and overall appearance of the interior in the SLS would cause the typical rider to conclude that the Kizashi sells for more dough than is indicated on the price sticker even some though some materials, such as the roof liner, are below par.
Wind noise is well controlled on the interstate below about 70 mph. Road noise will be part of the equation, but it’s never out of line with the class. With a fine sounding-audio system (425-watt Rockford Fosgate and 10 speakers), it was easy to rack up some serious miles on this car without fatigue.
This is the space where I get into the one big downside to ownership of a Suzuki — the lack of dealers across the country that makes the car hard to find even in some metro areas. I was pondering that matter while cruising along Interstate 70 out of Baltimore, barely keeping up with traffic at an indicated 75 mph, when up ahead in the left lane was a new, black Kizashi. So I will modify that to say it might be hard to find in some metro areas.
For the $25,304 asking price for the tested sport SLS model, you get a long list of standard equipment, plus Suzuki’s 100,000-mile, seven-year limited powertrain warranty, that is fully transferable with no deductible. Given the low volume levels these cars sell at, chances are you just might run across a dealer who’s more than ready to make an attractive offer.
Maybe it was my lukewarm review. Or maybe it was because Suzuki’s most ardent attempt to date to appeal to Americans connected with only 6,138 of them last year. Despite the unintended acceleration media circus, Toyota sold more Camrys in the average week. Whatever the reason, Suzuki revised the Kizashi after just one model year, transforming the two top trim levels into “Sport” models. Substitute a six-speed manual and front-wheel-drive for the previous test’s CVT and all-wheel-drive, and the 2011 Kizashi certainly deserves another look.
The Kizashi’s sheetmetal hasn’t changed, so the exterior styling remains much less distinctive than the car’s name suggests it ought to be. That said, the “Sport” tweaks—a tasteful body kit, thinner-spoked wheels—highlight the car’s tight, athletic proportions and make its exterior almost memorable. I remain thankful that the then-new corporate front end introduced with the 2007 XL7 went no further than that SUV. Still, something about this car should mark it as a Suzuki, aside from the oversized S on the grille.
For a car priced in the mid-20s, the Kizashi continues to have an exceedingly well-appointed interior. Luxuriously upholstered door panels, a woven headliner, switchgear that’s a cut or two above the mid-20s norm, compartment lids that open with a dampened glide, and thorough red backlighting all contribute to a look and feel suitable to a car costing at least $10,000 more. Once the benchmark, the latest Volkswagen sedan interiors aren’t even close. The “Sport” revisions include a mildly restyled steering wheel and white stitching on the black leather seats. The latter serves to lighten up the almost overwhelmingly black interior. Would red stitching have been sportier, or at this point too much of a cliché?
Suzuki similarly aims to impress with the Kizashi’s features list, and generally succeeds. Especially nice to see at a $26,000 price: three-stage heated leather power front seats, memory for the driver’s seat, a 425-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system, keyless access and ignition, rain-sensing wipers, and rear air vents.
Even before this year’s “Sport” revisions, Suzuki pitched the Kizashi as a driver’s car. The firm-yet-comfortable front buckets fit the bill, with side bolsters that (for once) actually provide even better lateral support than their appearance suggests they will. Size-wise, the Kizashi falls between a compact and a midsize, but this didn’t dissuade Suzuki from fitting seats a little larger than most these days, further contributing to the car’s premium feel.
The not-quite-midsize dimensions translate to a rear seat that is just large enough for the average adult. Those six-feet and up will wish for a true midsize. Kids, on the other hand, will wish for a lower beltline. In the Kizashi they struggle to see out. The driver fares a bit better, though the cowl is a bit high, the A-pillars are on the thick side, and the wheel must to tilted up a notch to avoid obstructing the classic white-on-black instruments.
When paired with the six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel-drive, the Kizashi’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine kicks out another 5 horsepower, for a total of 185 at 6,500 rpm, and must motivate about 240 fewer pounds, for a total around 3,250. So with a manual transmission the Kizashi is significantly quicker, and feels it. There’s not much power below the 4,000 rpm torque peak (where 170 foot-pounds can be found), so downshifts are a must for brisk acceleration. But in this powertrain the four sounds and feels smoother, with a pleasant zing, so winding it out is a joy. Even though the manual shifter is easily the least refined part of the car, with a clunky, sometimes even balky action, it’s far more enjoyable than the paddle-shiftable CVT.
Still missing, though much less missed with the stick: a more powerful optional engine.
The EPA rates the manual for 20 MPG city and 29 highway, compared to 23/30 with the CVT. The trip computer was wildly optimistic, reporting high 20s and low 30s in the suburbs and 42.6 on one trip, averaging 55 miles-per-hour with a single complete stop. I used a little over half of the 16.6-gallon tank in 176 miles, so the EPA numbers are probably about right.
Last year I suggested that the Kizashi’s chassis needed another round of tuning. With the “Sport,” it got it. Though the changes aren’t dramatic, the revised car handles more sharply and precisely, if still not quite as intuitively as the best sport sedans. Feedback through the steering wheel is subtle, but it’s there. The steering in a Buick Regal turbo (driven while I had the Kizashi) feels light and numb in comparison. The occasional float noted at highway speeds last year is gone, and the “Sport” generally feels more tied down. Better damping than anything from Korea contributes to very good body control when the pavement diverges from level and smooth. With the possible exception of the first-generation Acura TSX, no Japanese sedan has felt more European. The more I drove the Kizashi Sport SLS, the more I liked it.
One mild reservation: the Dunlop SP Sport 7000s might be rated “all-season” tires, but their traction on snow is marginal. The stability control system doesn’t jump in too soon, and when it does operates unobtrusively. Turn it off and the Kizashi remains easy to control even on slick surfaces.
Even with the “Sport” tuning, the Kizashi’s ride remains quiet and polished. Though it can feel a little bumpy in casual driving on some roads, the motions are restrained and vertical rather than poorly controlled and head-tossing. Push the car more aggressively, and the tuning feels spot-on. Highly effective insulation often makes the car seem like it’s going 20 miles-per-hour slower than it actually is. Though this impacts driving enjoyment a bit, it’s a big plus on the highway.
With metallic paint, floormats, and satellite radio, the Kizashi Sport SLS lists for $26,049. (If you can do without heated leather seats and a few other features, you can save $1,800 with the Sport GTS.) The new Jetta GLI will cost about the same as the Sport SLS, but while it will be quicker it looks and feels like a much cheaper car. An Acura TSX is much closer in terms of size, materials, features, and performance—and lists for $4,421 more than the Suzuki. Adjust for remaining feature differences, and according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool the non-premium-branded car’s advantage actually increases, to over $5,000. Add in the Suzuki’s 7/100 powertrain warranty that, unlike Hyundai’s, is transferable, and the car is clearly a very good value.
“Kizashi” means “something great is coming.” With the “Sport” revisions, greatness might still not have arrived, but it’s certainly closer. The Suzuki’s exterior and interior dimensions resemble those of the B5 Volkswagen Passat and the first-generation Acura TSX, both of which appealed to people who wanted enough room for adults in the back seat without the bulk of a truly midsize sedan. The Kizashi’s features, materials, seats, ride, and overall refinement are all those of a much more expensive car, and not those of a compact sedan. The engine isn’t any more powerful this year, but (as is often the case) the manual transmission is worth about 50 horsepower in terms of driving enjoyment. The “Sport” tweaks subtly yet significantly upgrade the exterior appearance and the handling. Add it all up and, in Sport SLS trim with a manual transmission, the 2011 Kizashi is definitely worthy of consideration by enthusiasts searching for the attributes of a European sport sedan without a European price.