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When anyone thinks they need an affordable and safe all-wheel drive family car they inevitably jump to the conclusion that their only choice is to buy a Subaru. Now, everyone knows that the Snow Belt is downright enamored with Subaru vehicles as their all the time, any weather toughness has been proven over decades spent not skidding across harshly salted asphalt. As such, Subaru has countered sales downturns in the auto industry in recent years which proved that it must have a very loyal and ever expanding group of fans.
But there must be some all-weather alternative that is as affordable as the relatively basic 2012 Impreza sedan and hatchback, right? Or at least something that offers buyers a sensible and viable option to the somewhat off-beat styling sensibility that has been a Subaru brand hallmark for years. Honestly, our road test 2012 Subaru Impreza was the snappier looking hatchback variant but it still managed to look reptilian or insect-like the whole time it was in our care.
As with most Subaru vehicles (at least the non-turbo models), the 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium that we drove for a week was the definition of the word sensible with its impressive 22.5 cubic feet of cargo in the cargo hold. That figure grows to an SUV rivaling 52.4 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down.
The Impreza also boasted quite impressive EPA fuel economy estimates of 25 city/33 highway which is notable because vehicles that constantly turn four driven wheels tend to guzzle gas. So what kind of car can compete with the 2012 Impreza’s all-around excellence and affordability? Allow us to introduce you to the 2012 Suzuki Kizashi GTS i-AWD (intelligent all-wheel drive) sport sedan. If you are wondering why the Suzuki has “intelligent all-wheel drive” we promise to explain that in greater detail shortly.
But first, let’s have a look at how well these two very affordable all-wheel drive vehicles handle life in the real world even on days when it isn’t raining, hailing or snowing. The sun does come out even in places like Wisconsin and Alaska so you need to be prepared to have a car you absolutely love on those days as well.
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Exterior and Interior Design
Now call us shallow if you want for judging a book by its cover but the Subaru just screams “pocket protector wearing dork” from every angle. The 2012 Kizashi GTS, on the other hand, had aggressive body spoilers, a lower ride height and a set of sweet looking alloys to make this four door sedan seem faster and sportier than it truly is. The Suzuki also isn’t too large or too small much like a VW Jetta.
The 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium is definitely not the fanciest trim level available so the interior felt rather spare and unimaginative with absolutely no areas of visual design interest. The Impreza also didn’t really impress by offering plenty of convenient storage spots and cubbies for smart phones, iPods, sunglasses or any of your other junk for that matter. It’s all very well assembled but the Impreza’s interior does not “imprez.”
Now, compared to the Subaru interior, the 2012 Suzuki Kizashi’s cabin appeared to have been endowed with and overabundance of interesting design flourishes like the unique dashboard textures that flow out into the wavy upholstery that moves along the inner door trims. The design of the climate and audio controls in the center stack appears as inspired a design as the Sydney Opera House next to the Impreza’s simple style which in our eyes was so humble that it bordered on being Amish.
The Kizashi boasts a decent sized 13.3 cubic foot trunk and rear seat passengers in both vehicles will be comfortable as long as you don’t try to go on a 12 hour road trip with five people aboard. Four passengers will be much, much happier. Overall, while the Kizashi does not measure up to the Subaru in the cargo hauling stakes but we happen to prefer automobiles that we aren’t embarrassed to be seen in. Therefore it is on those grounds that the 2012 Subaru Impreza hatch loses this round. (Winner: 2012 Suzuki Kizashi GTS AWD)
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Pricing, Value and Features
Both of these unique all-wheel drive vehicles most assuredly have value for money on their side. As we stated earlier, our 2012 Impreza 2.0i Premium stickered just over $20,000 which admittedly just gets you the basic essentials such as air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration, 16-inch alloy wheels, a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD player and the constant security of Subaru’s Symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Do note, however, that this Impreza was equipped with a very agricultural feeling five-speed manual transmission that did nothing but make us believe Subaru initially designed it for use in a tractor. A CVT automatic is also available and highly recommended for $1,100.
Now, the 2012 Subaru Impreza can be loaded with most of the options that would bring it in line with the 2012 Suzuki Kizashi GTS at a similar $25,749 as tested MSRP. In addition to including the aforementioned 18-inchs sport alloy wheels, the Kizashi GTS AWD comes standard with dual zone climate control, push button start, a power driver’s seat, power moonroof, a uniquely tuned sport suspension as well as a thumping 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system with USB connectivity that well and truly put the Subaru’s tinny sounding system to shame. Our Kizashi GTS also came equipped as standard with a CVT automatic that reminded us not once of what it must be like to work on a farm. (Winner: 2012 Suzuki Kizashi GTS AWD)
The winner here is not the one with the more impressive EPA fuel economy numbers as we rarely, if ever, see them in real world conditions. But to reiterate, the 2012 Subaru Impreza with the manual transmission returns 25 city/33 highway whereas the Kizashi GTS AWD gets a still decent sounding 22 city/29 highway rating with a CVT automatic. So what were our one week averages? The Kizashi returned a 24.3 fuel economy figure and the Subaru held its lead by averaging 27 miles per gallon most of the week. (Winner: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium)
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All-Wheel Drive Systems and Safety
First off, we can safely say that both Suzuki and Subaru value the need for extremely rigid passenger safety cells for all of the cars they make as is evidenced by the stellar crash test rankings they both receive historically from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and the Government sponsored NHTSA. Not surprisingly, both the 2012 Kizashi and Impreza were named “Top Safety Picks” by the IIHS meaning they make excellent first cars for first time drivers.
Now, here is where the Kizashi with its intelligent all-wheel drive and the Impreza with its Symmetrical all-wheel drive veer into separate philosophical directions about automotive traction. First off let’s look at Subaru’s long standing all-wheel drive system which apportions an even 50/50 torque split to the front and rear wheels which does offer the benefit fewer complex parts meaning better long term durability of the hardware. The Subaru Impreza may use a simpler system than the Suzuki but there is no question it works in snow and ice and is historically quite reliable.
The 2012 Suzuki Kizashi AWD on the other hand offers a fully on-demand, state of the art system that lets the driver select front or all-wheel drive via a dash mounted knob to the left of the steering wheel. This way the owner of the Kizashi can keep the system in front wheel drive mode on sunny days meaning less wasted gas. The second setting lets the Kizashi’s intelligent all-wheel drive brain apportion the proper amounts of torque to whichever wheel is slipping at any given time.
Last but not least, this little Suzuki also offers a locked full-time all-wheel drive setting for those scary drives where you wish your tires could dig its claws into the black ice all around you. The increased usability that the Kizashi’s system offers means that buying this vehicle would just be a more clever answer to your winter weather problems. (Winner: 2012 Suzuki Kizashi GTS AWD)
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We previously mentioned the 2012 Subaru Impreza’s standard five speed manual which manages to ruin any and all fun there we may have found in revving the all-new standard 2.0 liter 148 horsepower boxer flat 4-cylinder engine. This motor may sound underpowered but thanks to Subaru’s continued use of horizontally opposed cylinders (hence the “boxer” label) which not only help these engines make gorgeous wailing noises at high revs but also stay inherently smooth during such shenanigans.
We also found that the level of steering feel and the cornering composure afforded to this new Impreza hatch speaks volumes about how well upcoming WRX or WRX STi variants will turn out on this new platform. Thankfully, this Impreza has good bones so it felt prepared to handle aggressive cornering maneuvers even though this particular model with the non-turbo 2.0 liter engine had a rather hard time getting up to speed. Again, the five speed manual in the 2012 Impreza is a device not even hardcore three pedal driving enthusiasts will want to order. Yes, we usually hate CVT automatics but we hate this stick shift more.
The Kizashi GTS, on the other hand, never disappointed us at all since it had never ending reserves of zippy compact sport sedan verve up its adorable sleeve. The 2.4 liter 180 horsepower/170 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder worked well in tandem with the Suzuki CVT automatic which went about its business quietly and felt much like any normal automatic transmission. Non all-wheel drive Kizashi models can be ordered with a 6-speed manual but in a previous test we found that our ankle would tire after long drives due to an oddly placed clutch pedal. So we say stick with the CVT with any Kizashi model.
As for twisting roads and operating as a smooth and refined commuter we had no complaints about the Kizashi. The Impreza let far too much tire and road noise into the cabin when driving on the freeway. Far worse than that, however, is the fact that the Subaru’s audio system is not well equipped to drown out that ruckus and roar so if you are considering a new Impreza please take it for a nice long drive on your local freeway.
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And the Winner is…
Now, unless you have a very serious personal beef with the leadership of OPEC then its pretty clear which all-wheel drive vehicle we think you should buy. Now, the 2012 Suzuki Kizashi GTS AWD may not have the long and distinguished history or heritage that Subaru has in this country but because of that they clearly didn’t rest on their laurels when designing this vehicle.
We do wonder if Subaru sometimes intentionally styles its vehicles to look frumpy and visually misunderstood just to appeal to its assumed buyer demographic. People buy Subaru’s because they are superior from a build and engineering perspective which holds true with this Impreza up to the moment you attempt to shift the hopeless five speed manual. So now it appears that your Suzuki dealer is the place to go if you need a wallet friendly all-wheel drive compact runabout that will help you survive the storm yet still make you smile in the sun. What more do you want?
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