Kizashi: Funny to Say, Fun to Drive
Suzuki and Mitsubishi have both been involved in rumors about each automaker backing out of the North American car market, and while Mitsubishi’s line-up is aging quickly, Suzuki has actually come up with some great cars in recent years. Building off the affordable and versatile SX4 line-up, the new-for-2010 Suzuki Kizashi is a refreshing addition to Suzuki’s product mix not only in terms of its athletic design but also in the fact that it competes in the popular mid-size sedan segment. Now in its second year on the market, this sedan adds a new Sport model as the top trim level, and Suzuki recently dropped off the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS for this weeklong review. Aside from motorcycles, Suzuki has built a name for itself with affordable small cars, but the mid-size 2011 Kizashi Sport proves that there are still a few tricks left up the automaker’s sleeve.
Assembled in Sagara, Japan, the Suzuki Kizashi has a starting MSRP of $18,999 and comes in four trim levels (S, SE, GTS and SLS) with all offering the option of front- or all-wheel drive. The 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport is only available on the top two trim levels starting at $22,899, but even with options and accessories factored in, the Kizashi Sport SLS FWD used for this review still had an affordable as-tested price of $26,300; opting for the top-of-the-line Kizashi Sport SLS CVT AWD raises the starting price to $27,299. Considering some mid-size competitors can easily creep into the $30,000 range, the well-equipped Kizashi Sport represents a significant savings.
The 2011 Suzuki Kizashi is positioned in the highly competitive mid-size sedan segment, and if the fact that the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are perennial sales leaders among cars wasn’t an indication of how hot this market is, the new breed of mid-sizers is stirring up the pot even more. Since the Kizashi’s launch for 2010, the mid-size sedan segment has heated up even more with new models like the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, 2012 Volkswagen Passat and the upcoming 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. While the sales of the Suzuki Kizashi last month totaled just 4,407 units (compared to more than 18,000 Accords sold in the same time period), this car is definitely a step in the right direction for Suzuki’s survival in the United States.
Although the styling of the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi remains the same as the 2010 model year, the addition of a new Sport model brings with it a revised front fascia, sportier side sills, decklid spoiler and exclusive wheels. These wheels feature an 18-inch, 20-spoke design inspired by the 2008 Suzuki Kizashi 3 Concept design, and the Kizashi Sport is finished off with a stance that has been lowered by almost half an inch. From the front, the new fascia gives the Kizashi Sport a very Audi-like appearance with the pronounced chin spoiler, while the side sill extensions and decklid spoiler are subtle but effective in delivering the “sport” message. All Kizashi models come with chrome-trimmed dual exhaust outlets integrated into the rear fascia and projector beam headlights, but the the easiest ways to tell the difference between a standard Kizashi and the Sport model are the standard fog lights and the chrome trim accents on the front fascia and the lower side sills. While the differences between the Kizashi and Kizashi Sport are minimal, one aspect Suzuki should be commended on is in showing great restraint by not slapping “Sport” badges on every side of this new model.
The best part about the interior of the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport is that if it weren’t for the Suzuki logo on the steering wheel, some drivers might think they were in a much more expensive luxury sedan. As it turns out, there is little that separates the Kizashi Sport’s cabin from other trim levels, but the Sport does add a unique steering wheel that features perforated leather and metallic accents to match the instrument panel. From the driver’s seat, Suzuki nailed the design in terms of ergonomics, layout and use of materials with all of the controls being easy to use both on the steering wheel and the center stack and soft leather covered the shifter, center console cover and door panel padding. In terms of overall size, the Kizashi isn’t a “full-size car in a mid-size market” like the Honda Accord, so its interior is noticeably smaller than some larger competitors, but there is still plenty of room for five adults with generous cargo space in the trunk. The cabin of the Kizashi is a little less flashy than its exterior, its list of standard equipment – even in base form – reads like an option list for most of its mid-size competitors.
Inside, the cabin of the 2011 Kizashi Sport may be less flashy than its exterior, but its standard equipment list reads like an option list for most of its mid-size competitors. Keyless entry and push button start, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, dual-size automatic climate control and the manual tilt and telescoping steering wheel are all standard even on the base Kizashi S. Stepping up to the Kizashi Sport SLS, Suzuki adds even more standard equipment like integrated Bluetooth with mobile phone connectivity and audio streaming, leather seats, automatic rain-sensing windshield wipers, rear sonar parking system and the 10-speaker, 425-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system. On the outside, this test model was equipped with the optional ($259.95) roof crossbars that can be used to mount bikes and snowboards or skis to the roof although these attachments are sold separately. This test model was finished in Platinum Silver Metallic exterior color which added an additional $130 to the total price.
While the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport gets some visual cues to differentiate it from other models, there is nothing sporty added under the hood. The Kizashi Sport is still powered by the same engine introduced in the Kizashi last year which is the 2.4-liter DOHC inline-four that produces up to 185 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque; choosing the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) will shave 5 hp from the overall output. Although it is somewhat of a disappointment that Suzuki does not offer a V-6 in the Kizashi, at least this 2.4-liter engine produces more horsepower in the sedan than in the Grand Vitara. One of the contributing factors to this lacking six-cylinder engine is the fact that the only V-6 that Suzuki currently offers is found in the Suzuki Equator which is a Suzuki-branded Nissan Frontier. Suzuki’s four-cylinder focus does seem to be catching on with other automakers as well with Kia, Hyundai and now Chevrolet dropping a V-6 option in their mid-size sedans. For Suzuki, the payoff for no V-6 is decent fuel economy with this test vehicle (equipped with the six-speed manual transmission) having EPA estimates of 20 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.
Entry-level, mid-size sedans aren’t known for their handling abilities, but Suzuki did give the Kizashi Sport a unique suspension tuning for better handling. While Suzuki claims that the Kizashi Sport has improved skidpad numbers of 0.93g, the majority of owners will appreciate the car’s easiness to drive on road trips or daily commutes. The most impressive thing about the Kizashi’s ride quality is just how easy it is to drive. From the electric power steering to the buttery smooth six-speed manual, the Kizashi would make a great car for first-time buyers although experienced shifters will still enjoy the car’s responsive steering and shift points. I’ve yet to drive a CVT-equipped Suzuki Kizashi, which also brings with it steering wheel paddle shifters, but it would be hard to bet against the car’s manual gearbox.
Not only is the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi fun and comfortable, it also comes with plenty of safety features. All 2011 Kizashi models include eight airbags, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), daytime running lights (DRL), traction control and stability control. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to rate the 2011 Kizashi for passenger protection (but did give it a four-star rollover rating), and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has only given it “Good” ratings in frontal-, side- and rear-impact protection, while the new roof strength test returned an “Acceptable” rating.
Little has changed for the Kizashi’s sophomore year, but the addition of the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport is pretty important. With Suzuki being almost synonymous with high-powered motorcycles here in theU.S., the Suzuki Kizashi is a step in the right direction for the company’s automotive division especially in the lucrative mid-size sedan segment. After only a year on the market, the Kizashi is still helping spark Suzuki’s sales growth that has been up 17 percent through July compared to last year, and the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport is likely to draw more attention to this impressive sedan. Filling a niche for a practical, enjoyable and stylish family sedan, there aren’t that many new cars on the market offering the driving dynamic, sporty styling and value as the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport.
Suzuki provided the vehicle for this review Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross