Suzuki's automotive division is in the midst of a makeover. The transformation began in 2007 with the introduction of the compact and compelling SX4 sedan and crossover. Next, the company jettisoned its rebadged Daewoo-made Forenza, Reno, and Verona, as well as its General Motors-based XL-7 SUV. Its next and latest move might be its best: The introduction of the 2010 Kizashi sports sedan.
The Kizashi, available in four trim levels and with optional AWD, is a jack-of-all-trades that's ready to do battle against a number of cars simultaneously: Front-drive sedan staples, such as the Mazda6, Nissan Altima, and Honda Accord; all-wheel drivers like the Subaru Legacy; even luxury likes including the Acura TSX and Audi A4 are in Kizashi's cross hairs. Suzuki needs to hit the targets, too—sales have been down significantly lately as the company tries to figure out its lineup and maintain its relatively small dealer network.
However, what Suzuki has done with the Kizashi is very impressive. They've created a sports sedan with world-class driving dynamics, given it unexpectedly high-end features, and priced it on the low end of the spectrum. With the right marketing, this should be a segment buster.
My review model is a mid-level Kizashi SE with AWD mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission). FYI, this model happens to be very similar in size, fuel economy, power, and price to the 2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i.
I like the Kizashi's appearance. It's not over the top, but it's not vanilla. Rather, it's a classy blend of sport and sophistication, and nearly everyone I showed the car to liked its looks. One thing is for certain: Cover up the badges and most people wouldn't guess this is a Suzuki.
Of note are the car's signature dual exhaust cutouts, which provide a clean, edgy look to the rear fascia. Also of not is the car' size. It's longer than a VW Jetta by 3.8 inches, but shorter than a Subaru Legacy by 3.3 inches.
The Kizashi's interior is very impressive and feels, sounds, and looks like it came out of a much more expensive vehicle. The interior is finished in black and tan with silver accents. The dash's black finish is slightly rubberized, and although not quite as nice as some of its luxury competitors, it's not plasticy, either. All Kizashi's also include push-button start/stop and SmartPass keyless entry.
The comfortable, moderately bolstered power driver's seat (with two memory buttons) allows for a good driving position. The thick leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good in the hands, and it tilts and telescopes. Steering wheel controls include cruise, audio, and trip computer. Two gripes: The driving position I liked made the steering wheel block the top of the speedometer and tachometer, although not enough so I couldn't read the gauges, but enough that I noticed. Secondly, there was a slight rattle somewhere in the dash.
Rear seating consists of a 60/40 folding bench with center arm rest, cupholders, and pass-through to the trunk. Rear leg room is ample, the trunk is sizable, and overall interior space is on par with the competition.
The SE's audio fare consists of a seven-speaker stereo with CD player, XM reediness, and USB input; sound quality is commendable. A 10-speaker 425 watt Rockford-Fosgate system, as well as Bluetooth, are available on the upper end GTS and SLS models.
The Kizashi comes with a responsive, free-revving 2.4-liter four cylinder engine making 185 horsepower and 170 ft./lbs. of torque. This puts it above all four-cylinders in its class, sans the Acura TSX and Audi A4. The 16-valve, DOHC mill is smooth all the way up to its 6,660 RPM redline, although it does make a bit of noise in the upper range. It is, however, very quiet at cruising speeds.
This Kizashi features Suzuki's optional i-AWD system, allowing the car to be operated in FWD or AWD. I kept the car in AWD 90% of the time, and it performed seamlessly. All AWD Kizashis come with a CVT that includes the ability to select five speeds manually by moving the gear shifter up or down. The system was surprisingly responsive, and less clunky that some “manumatic” shifters I've used. FYI, the six-speed manual transmission is only available on FWD models.
Fuel economy for AWD versions is rated at an EPA-estimated 22 city, 29 highway; I got 26 MPG with about 70% highway driving.
When it comes down to it, the Kizashi simply out-drives many of its competitors. Its chassis feels like a car costing thousands more than it does.
A fully independent suspension with front and rear swaybars and KYB shock absorbers creates a nicely tuned sport suspension, and the electric-assist steering is quick. The SE models get upsized 17-inch alloy wheels shod in 215/55/17 Dunlop tires.
On the highway, the ride is supple and controlled. However, it's in the curves where the Kizashi's chassis comes alive. When driven spiritedly, the car feels planted and solid with minimal body roll. The suspension, engine, and drivetrain work well together, and the car never feels unsettled. I also found this car more fun to drive than the Subaru Legacy 2.5i; it simply feels sportier in just about every aspect. Frankly, the Kizashi is a hoot to drive. Another FYI: Buyers looking to add even more sport to this sports sedan may prefer to upgrade to the GTS or SLS with the larger 18-inch wheels and meaty 235/45/18 tires.
When it comes time to stop, braking is handled by four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, EBD, and brake assist. The Kizashi also has traction control, skid control, eight airbags, and a five-star government crash safety rating.
A TRUE COMPETITOR
Make no mistake: Suzuki has created a very competitive and affordable sports sedan with the Kizashi. My SE AWD stickers for $23,004, the only additional features being $125 worth of floor mats and $130 for metallic paint. It's a great price for a car with such wonderful driving dynamics, not to mention plentiful amenities. To top it off, Suzuki backs the powertrain with a 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty.
Suzuki needs the Kizashi to be a success, and luckily, it's built a world-class car. Now, they'll need some world-class marketing to get the word out.
Don't let Kizashi's price fool you: The car is “that good,”and should not be overlooked by people shopping for sports sedans.
Suzuki Kizashi (SuzukiAuto.com)