2011 Suzuki Kizashi SE AWD Review

If only Suzuki built more cars like the Kizashi

2011 Suzuki Kizashi SE AWD Review
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What was the last “memorable” Suzuki? And why was it memorable? Maybe the mid-late 80’s Sidekick? Which developed a following, but was more memorable for its ability to roll-over on command like a Labrador? Or maybe it could be the X-90, memorable for proving how utterly out of touch Suzuki was with what people wanted from a car.

FAST FACTS

1. The Kizashi is a mid-size car competing with major players like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

2. AWD is optional, a rarity in this segment.

3. Just one engine is offered in the new Kizashi, a 2.4L 4-cyl that makes 185-hp with a 6-speed manual transmission and 180-hp when paired with the CVT.

4. Pricing starts at $18,999 but jumps $3,000 for a model with a CVT automatic.

After many years of producing mediocre-at-best vehicles, car companies either take drastic measures to improve their quality (Hyundai) or simply die out (Saturn). Fortunately, it seems Suzuki falls into the former category, and thanks to the Kizashi, will live to fight another day.

The Kizashi is certainly entering a tough segment in the market, competing against such staples as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry; two cars that even non-car people will tell you are great values. And with the new Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima here and the Ford Fusion now a compelling domestic alternative, the market only keeps getting tougher.

IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

Some people like to use the phrase “It looks like no other car on the road” to describe a unique vehicle, such as a BMW X6 or Porsche 911. Well, the Kizashi looks like every other car on the road, all at once.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than Volkswagen, Infiniti, BMW, Lexus, and Hyundai should be flattered. The nose is pure VW, The tail light treatment is Infiniti all the way, from the side profile it looks like a shrunken Genesis Sedan, credit the Lexus LS460 for those exhaust tips and it even has a BMW Bangle Butt. Despite flattering just about every luxury carmaker out there, the whole package comes together as surprisingly coherent and stylish. We very much like how the car looks, and found ourselves looking back at it as we walked away on more than a few occasions.

KIZASHI FEELS QUICKER THAN ITS 185-HP WOULD SUGGEST

Our Kizashi SE AWD test vehicle logged over 500 miles during the week-long loan, during which time we developed quite a fondness for it. The 2.4-liter inline-4 makes 185-hp in 6-speed manual form, and the CVT, an option in our car, only robs the engine of 5 horsepower, for an even 180.

The sprint to 60 comes in about 8.5 seconds, but the Kizashi feels much quicker than that, especially at around-town speeds. We actually said out loud when first driving it, “Man, this thing is really, really smooth.” At anything less than full throttle, you barely hear the engine at all and the CVT does a fantastic job of keeping the engine in the desired powerband.

If you’re feeling in a “gear” mood, slide the shift lever over and the CVT will simulate a 6-speed sequential transmission. Nice gimmick, but you’re better off learning how to work the power with your foot. The AWD system is absolutely seamless, and, though we didn’t go off-roading, works to help throttle-steer through fast corners.

The Kizashi is a fun car, especially at this price point, with this level of practicality. The chassis is as rigid as you would ever want it, the suspension keeps the car planted through corners and still manages to soak up most bumps, and the steering is direct, although a bit heavy at low speeds (still imitating BMW, are we?). Simply increasing the diameter of the steering wheel in the mid-model refresh could solve that problem, as the wheel feels small to begin with, and increased leverage is a two-for-one.

Although the Kizashi looks like its shoulders are too high and head too low, visibility is quite good in all directions; the short overhangs and relatively thin A-pillars make it easy to maneuver in tight spaces.

HUGE STRIDE FORWARD IN INTERIOR QUALITY

Open the door. It’s immediately apparent that Suzuki has taken great strides to improve interior quality. The cloth seats of our tester were of high quality with moderate bolstering and good overall comfort, and particular attention has been paid to the driver touch points, with the steering wheel, parking brake, shifter, and door pulls wrapped in tight-stitched leather. The lower portions of the dash and center console are still hard, textured plastic, but at least it’s screwed together tightly.

Rear seat room is perfectly adequate for a car of this size, and four American adults will have no problem spending a few hours together in there. This author (6’3”and 245 lbs) spent an hour in the back seat, with nothing to complain about. The rear overhangs are short, but the trunk is deceptively large, and 60/40 fold-down rear seats make taking the Kizashi on a ski trip a real option.

For $22,000 (as tested), the Kizashi comes with a host of good features, like All-Wheel-Drive, iPod interface, Bluetooth connectivity, Keyless Go, and dual-zone climate control. However, some of these features, (iPod and Bluetooth specifically) are quite difficult to use, mainly due to the rudimentary LCD display. For an extra $1,000, we’d love to see a real screen in the dash, as it would make these processes much easier and add about $5,000 worth of perceived value.

As for the all-important fuel economy numbers, Suzuki projects a best of 23/31-mpg (city/highway) for a front-drive model with the CVT and a low of 20/29-mpg for the GTS model with the stick-shift, with lots of variations between those numbers depending on transmission choice and trim level. Over our week, we averaged 24.3 mpg, in “very mixed” (meaning we drove the snot out of it) conditions. Your grandmother would get over 28-mpg, easy.

THE VERDICT

So is the Kizashi the best Suzuki passenger car ever? Yes, unequivocally, yes. Is it the best car you can buy for the price? Possibly, depending on your specific tastes. It’s important to point out that the Kizashi is rather unique in the mid-size sedan segment thanks to its optional AWD setup.

Is it the kind of car that Suzuki needs to keep building in order to become the next Hyundai? Absolutely.

LOVE IT
  • One of the best CVT transmissions we've used
  • Huge leap forward for interior fit and finish
  • Fantastic steering feel
  • AWD in a mid-size sedan
LEAVE IT
  • Copycat styling
  • Big price increase just to get an automatic
  • Bluetooth and iPod features not very user-friendly

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