2011 Suzuki Kizashi
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    2011 Suzuki Kizashi Expert Review:Autoblog

    The following review is for a 2010 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi – Click above for high-res image gallery

    Shut your eyes and say the word "Suzuki" out loud. Unless you're a moto-head or one of those rare Geo Metro fanatics (they exist, trust us), the image that springs to mind isn't very nice. Odds are that the car your subconscious conjures is tiny, cheap and bizarre. It's probably named something forgettable like "Aerio" or totally inaccurate (and forgettable) like "Esteem." Forgettable cars tend to attract forgettable customers. Don't believe us? Suzuki referred to their recent crop of owners as "subprime." Ouch. But, with that pain comes some truth. And in an industry long known for complete and total self delusion, Suzuki's admission was cathartic across both sides of the automaker/auto journo aisle.

    The Kizashi drives better than basically everything in its class.
    But what would cause Suzuki to be so blunt? A number of factors, as it turns out. For one thing, "subprime" is so 2008. Meaning that relying on folks with poor credit to snap up your cars because they're so cheap just ain't good business these days. Nor is outsourcing big, potentially huge moneymakers like seven-passenger SUVs to General Motors. There's nothing inherently wrong with the XL7 other than the fact that it's based on the Theta platform, just like the (defunct) Pontiac Torrent and Saturn Vue. Smartly, Suzuki has indefinitely suspended XL7 production. More importantly, rather than not making bad cars, Suzuki might just be in the middle of a product renaissance.

    Those familiar with the plucky little SX4 are well aware that it's a great driving, high content, practical hatch that's incredibly inexpensive (name another car featuring all-wheel drive and navigation for under $18,000). But you may not know the SX4 is half-Fiat, penned by none other than Giugiaro and half-designed by the Italian giant. So what Suzuki needs to really pull off a rebirth (or at least the early stages of a rebirth) is a fully 100% Suzuki-designed car that's not just "good enough," but "better than." And according to Suzuki, the all new 2010 Kizashi is indeed such a vehicle. But is it?



    Photos copyright ©2009 Jonny Lieberman / Weblogs, Inc.


    Tough to tell from the outside. While worlds better looking than all other U.S.-bound Suzuki vehicles (save the five-door SX4), the Kizashi is too derivative. Viewed head on, the hood looks lifted from a Chrysler PT Cruiser, the face is pure goatee-Volkswagen and the headlights appear to be Chrysler Sebring-y. None of the elements are particularly bad looking, but they aren't boat-floating either. Still, from certain angles, the Kizashi's grille is pretty assertive – just don't stare too hard for too long.



    The side view is (again) middle-of-the-road and simply not novel, with the C-pillars coming from the Chevy Malibu and the long nose, short deck looking quite Mitsubishi Lancer-ish, if not outright Sebring. But it's not bad. The little trunk lid (don't be fooled, the trunk itself is big) is all Bangled up and again, neither bad nor good. The best part of the whole package is, without question, the well integrated twin chrome pipes. But don't look too close, as they're actually just exhaust surrounds (i.e. not actually connected to anything save the rear bumper). Size-wise, the Kizashi is shorter than the competition Suzuki thinks it'll being going up against – it's closer in length to a Jetta than a Passat. However, and we can only blame clever packaging here, the interior has enough room for four big adults, with a surprising amount of rear seat legroom. Go figure.

    Inside, the Kizashi is pretty impressive – for a Suzuki. Meaning that yes, we've seen better, but we've seen much worse, too (again, see Sebring). For one thing, compared to the SX4, the Kizashi's cabin is modern and almost sophisticated. We can't say anything good about the tacky plastic plastered all over the dash, but the door inserts are soft and feel good against your skin. The steering wheel is compact, thick and firm – a great combo if you're into spirited driving. The center stack is elegant yet functional, almost like a cross between a Volvo and a Honda. The cloth seats in our test car were pretty enveloping, especially for a midsize family sedan – the three memory position driver's seat more so than the passenger's. And while the music Suzuki provided on our press trip was pretty damn awful, the 425-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo kicks and thumps with the best of 'em – no distortion to be had.



    We elected to check out the six-speed manual Kizashi, but before we move on, your other transmission choice is a CVT with paddle shifters, providing six fake gears. You can get the CVT in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, but the 6MT only comes with FWD. Before you start bunching your panties, let's talk weight. The FWD 6MT Kizashi weighs in at a light 3,241 pounds. Add one hundred pounds for the CVT, and another one hundred pounds for the CVT with AWD. Not only that, but the clutch is Honda-light/easy to use. The shifter's okay, though a bit long to throw and a tad too sloppy. Still, it's world's more enjoyable than the CVT, thank you very much. We should note that the CVT with its endless gearing gets better mileage than the 6MT. 31 mpg highway vs. 29 mpg for the 6MT. City driving will net you around 23 mpg with the CVT, 20 mpg with the manual.

    Under the hood is a 2.4-liter DOHC inline-four that stumps up 185 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque – though if you opt for the CVT transmission you only get 180 hp – yet another reason to row your own. Belying the power rating is the motor's readiness to rev. Redline is indicated at 6,500 RPM and fuel cutoff happens at about 6,750, but getting up into those lofty revs takes no time whatsoever. The motor just roars when you clobber the pedal. Compared to other four-cylinder engines in its class, the Kizashi's motor is straight-up stout. In a Nissan Altima you get 175 hp (though 180 lb-ft of torque). A Toyota Camry gives you 169 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque, though you can get a version of its 2.5-liter inline-four with 179 hp and 171 lb-ft of twist. Base Honda Accord? 177 horses and 161 torques. And just for giggles, Sebring? 177 hp and 166 lb-ft. Now, of course, all of those (larger) cars are available with a more powerful V6, and right now, the Kizashi isn't. And to that we say good.



    That's right, good. Why? First off, the Kizashi can hit 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. Not breathtaking by any means, but fast enough. Second, we were able to flog the Kizashi not only on some fairly twisting roads around Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but on VIR – Virginia International Raceway. Talk about a brand reinvention. First of all, you could step into the springs Suzuki has perched under the front of the Kizashi. They are seriously massive – maybe eight inches in diameter. Then there's the KYB dampers at all four corners and the Akebono (the same folks who make stoppers for Japan's bullet trains) disc brakes fitted at each wheel. The front end enjoys a MacPherson setup while the rear features a fancy-considering-the-price 5-point multi-link setup. And while the Kizashi's chassis is fairly stiff, the body is even stiffer. As in rock hard (they let us bang on a body-in-white). This same formula – rigid body on top of a softer, more compliant suspension – is used by none other than the Rossion Q1. But why mention a mid-size family sedan in the same breath as a half-mental supercar? Unless...

    No, the Kizashi isn't a supercar. Not even kinda. But the Kizashi is remarkably sporting, dare we say shockingly so. Because frankly, we were expecting some sort of already also-ran Camry competitor. Instead, Suzuki gifts the automotive world with an inexpensive five-seater than can embarrass cars costing 150% as much, if not more. The sticker for the Kizashi we tested came in right around $21,500 with 18-inch wheels and 235/45 tires. Check all the boxes and you're talking $26,750 for AWD, CVT, leather, navigation, etc. But back to the Kizashi showing up other, pricier cars.



    The Kizashi drives better than basically everything in its class. Camry, Accord, Altima, Jetta, Malibu, Mazda6, Legacy – you name it. How? Well, unlike all of those cars that were engineered in focus groups, the Kizashi was tested on both Germany's Nürburgring and California's own Willow Springs. Overkill? Absolutely, but the Kizashi isn't like those other cars. In fact, Suzuki brought a selection of the competition down to VIR to let us drive them through a few obstacle courses back-to-back. The Altima felt like a dinosaur wearing cement shoes. We were worried the Mazda6 might scrape its door handles, while the Volkswagen CC – a car we really dig – seemed to weigh three tons. Even the Subaru Legacy felt full of lard by comparison – and it isn't. But let's not stop there.

    There will absolutely be a V6 Kizashi, as well as a hybrid.
    Suzuki thinks that people buying products like used a certified pre-owned Audi A4, Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series or Lexus IS might very well be interested in the Kizashi. From a perceived prestige standpoint, no way/no how. However, if performance is what a buyer's after, then absolutely. Case in point, on a 60 MPH emergency lane change maneuver, the Acura TSX leaned over to the left, seemed to stay there and squealed its tires all the way to the end of the paddock. The Kizashi? It was able to change direction almost effortlessly, transitioning from left to right with no body roll, no wobble, no fuss. The steering was crisp, quick and full of useful feedback. With the exception of the admittedly tricky Turn Seven, VIR's undulating twists and turns never upset the Kizashi. And the absolute best part might be the boat anchor-like brakes. Very impressive, and again, totally unexpected.

    Much of the Kizashi's prowess comes down to its weight, or lack there of. When we got to the hot laps portion of the day, Suzuki was kind enough to stick us in a V6 Kizashi mule, with the 3.6-liter V6 from the XL7, just so we could see what a little more speed is like. As you might expect, the mule is much quicker off the line. Depending on how well you came out of Oak Tree turn, the 2.4-liter Kizashi was traveling at just over 100 MPH at the end of the straightaway. The V6 was moving about ten MPH faster. However, handling suffered. The suddenly nose-heavy car was simply not as eager to turn in, less able to dance. We tried the AWD CVT car on the track, too. While better than the V6 mule in terms of overall athleticism, our money's still on the six-speed, FWD Kizashi. And yes, there will absolutely be a V6 Kizashi down the road, as well as a hybrid.



    Suzuki has done the seemingly impossible, almost willing themselves out of automotive irrelevance by producing a wonderful, desirable, actual driver's car. The Kizashi is the real deal and you can consider us thoroughly impressed. However – and this is a big however – what's next? It's not enough to just produce one great car then sit back on your laurels. You must be willing to follow through, to continue pushing against the edge of the envelope, to keep reinventing and improving your brand.

    The Kizashi is a great first effort at distancing Suzuki from its recent subprime past. And going by nothing but the excitement on display from their marketing, engineering and PR staff over the two-day launch, Suzuki does seem on the cusp of something big. Maybe the most telling fact is this: Kizashi means, "A great thing coming." We'd say a great thing is already here, and we really hope Suzuki can keep it coming.



    Photos copyright ©2009 Jonny Lieberman / Weblogs, Inc.

    2010 Suzuki Kizashi Sport – Click above for high-res image gallery

    Miami isn't exactly a driver's town. It's a tangle of perfectly perpendicular secondary streets demarcated by lengthy stoplights and the occasional drawbridge or toll booth. Perched on the very tip of Florida, it's one of the last places we would voluntarily spend time behind the wheel, but despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic, hair-raising lane changes and lawless nature of the traffic patterns, high-end metal is the norm down here.

    We're fighting for our right to merge against a Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari F430 and a murdered-out Nissan GT-R as we make our way toward South Beach, contemplating the implications of dinging a car worth more than our mortgage when it dawns on us: The high rollers around us should make way – we're driving one of the most unique cars in the country.

    Suzuki was kind enough to hand us the keys to one of the only Kizashi Sport models in existence. In fact, this is the same prototype that took center stage at the New York Auto Show, and while the suits in Japan have demanded that this Sport eventually meet with the Great Crusher in the Sky, the company's PR team have managed to keep the sedan from meeting its untimely fate long enough for us to do battle with traffic.



    Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.



    From the beginning, Suzuki made it clear that the Kizashi is a new take on the economical mid-sizer. The company knows all too well that it's jumped into one of the most vicious segments in the automotive market – one dominated by lethal contenders like the long-time heavyweight Toyota Camry and rife with legitimate newcomers like the 2011 Hyundai Sonata – but the Japanese automaker seems to think it's found an angle that has been largely overlooked by the big players. The premise is simple: Build a European-quality driver with Japanese reliability.

    If you haven't read what we think about the base Kizashi, we suggest you brush up by checking out our latest review. When we drove the car last December, we made it clear that while the exterior was pretty good looking, we wished the production version had borrowed a little more heavily from the concepts Suzuki showed off way back when. The Kizashi Sport answers our longing as best as the production car can thanks to a slew of new aesthetic additions inside and out.



    First, we have to say that the car you're looking at is a pre-production model, so the end result may vary. However, Suzuki assures us that when the Kizashi Sport goes on sale in July, it will be the spitting image of our prototype tester. That means the front fascia will still boast the same attractive faux canards below the fog lights (Suzuki calls them jowls) and the side skirts will be aggressively flanged to match. Likewise, those 18-inch alloys will also be standard on Sport models. The rollers are not only penned after the ones originally found on the concept, but each is also 2.5-pounds lighter than the standard-issue wheels on the base Kizashi. We don't have to tell you that cutting unsprung weight is a good thing.

    Inside, the standard steering wheel has been replaced with a perforated-leather unit, and SLS trim will also net buyers a set of satisfying leather seats, complete with contrasting stitching. Those who prefer cloth can go for GTS trim and still enjoy all the fancy hardware outside. Suzuki says that even with the hide interior, the Kizashi Sport will carry an MSRP of around $25,000 when equipped with the six speed manual. Fully-loaded with the CVT and all-wheel drive, the car will top out at around $28,000.



    Now, at this point, you're probably wondering what exactly Suzuki has cooked up under the hood to warrant the Sport moniker. When the Kizashi was still just a rumor swimming around the interwebs, word was that the car would come with a variety of engine choices, including the direct-injection 3.6-liter V6 currently residing in the Cadillac CTS. But that was when the Japanese company was joined at the hip with General Motors. When Detroit took a dive, it withdrew from the majority of its automotive partnerships, including its alliance with Suzuki. That means we won't be finding a V6 on the Kizashi option sheet any time soon.

    As a result, the Kizashi Sport gets its power from the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine you'll find behind the headlights of the base version. That's not to say the sedan isn't capable of holding its own in traffic, though. With 185 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, the Suzuki lump will pull all the way up to its 6,500 rpm redline. Like the base Kizashi, the Sport is available with a six-speed manual transmission, though our auto show survivor was equipped with the capable CVT and an excellent all-wheel-drive system.



    While GM may no longer be in the picture, Suzuki made it clear that its new sedan is built to handle extra power. In fact, the engineers designed the chassis to rock and roll with up to 300 ponies pushing at all four corners. The good news is now that Suzuki and Volkswagen are getting cozy, we may see a German powerplant working its way into the Kizashi within a couple of years. Currently, Suzuki says both companies are investigating drivetrain options and trying to figure out what would be the best fit. While the turbocharged 2.0-liter found in the current Golf would be an obvious answer, the suits at Suzuki don't really see the benefit given the added cost and minimal horsepower return.

    And what about the much-rumored Kizashi Hybrid, you ask? Like the V6, that car was originally a collaboration with The General. When the two parted ways, the fuel-sipping version got shelved. Now that VW is in the picture, development has started up once again. Instead of using the mild system found on the old Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, Suzuki says that the new system will likely resemble the Tiguan Hybrid's drivetrain. Given that the current 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the Kizashi is capable of 30 mpg on the highway, we can't wait to see what the car can do with a little help from a battery or twelve.



    For now, buyers will simply have to make do with the peppy little four-cylinder. And that's okay, as the Kizashi Sport has one last set of tricks up its sleeves. The car now rides nearly half an inch lower than the standard version we drove last year, and it boasts slightly revised damping to keep up with the drop. That means, whereas the base car can lay down an already impressive .89 g on the skid pad, the Kizashi Sport can crack .93 g all day long. Just as a point of reference, the 2010 BMW M3 does the same dance at .97g. That's right, we just compared a $25,000 Japanese sedan to Germany's best and brightest.

    That's not to say that the Kizashi Sport is M3-besting material by any means, but the sharp suspension helps the Suzuki feel significantly quicker than it is. Couple the new low-slung stance with an Akebono braking system capable of bringing the car down from 60 mph in a shave over 130 feet and you have one very solid driving experience. In reality, it reminds us of what Acura used to be before the brand larded up with sound deadening and unnecessary bulk.



    Speaking of Acura, Suzuki is clearly targeting Honda's luxury arm with the Kizashi, though we don't really see consumers cross-shopping the two. Instead, this is a new mid-size with a pulse, which makes it the perfect alternative to rolling comas like the Camcord. Given that the Kizashi Sport carries such a low MSRP and a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, we have a hard time imagining why anyone would vote for the competition – provided tiny Suzuki manages to get on their radar in the first place.

    Our time with the Kizashi Sport was admittedly short, and though we spent it swapping glares with the drivers around us, we'd be hard pressed to come up with a better vehicle for fighting rush hour around South Beach. Quick, nimble and capable of handling repeated panic stops from the jokers in front of us, it's easily up to the task of fighting the segment's biggest players, something we'll test for ourselves when it goes on sale in two month's time.



    Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

    New Sport models join lineup of sporty sedans.

    Introduction

    The Suzuki Kizashi was all-new for 2010, and two new Sport models have been added to the 2011 Kizashi lineup of sporty sedans. 

    Stacking its quality up against a full field of four-cylinder sports sedans, Suzuki last year put the performance brands of the world on notice that they have some unexpected company. Suzuki wasn't just bragging, as the Kizashi has been a resounding sales and driving success. 

    Kizashi uses one engine, a good 2.4-liter aluminum four-cylinder with variable valve timing that does the job well, getting about 25 combined mpg, by both EPA ratings and our couple weeks in Kizashi models. It runs smooth and makes 185 or 180 horsepower, depending on whether it's mated to the 6-speed manual transmission or Continuously Variable Transaxle, which operates automatically or can be shifted through six steps using paddles on the steering wheel. 

    Suzuki engineers invested much time and attention in the development of the suspension, MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear, and it shows; the ride, including over rough roads, and handling, including hard driving on the track, are exceptional for a midsize sports sedan that costs a mere $20,000. The chassis raises the bar for rigidity. The brakes, too, we found to be pitch perfect. 

    All-wheel drive is an option. It's a sophisticated system that turns on and off, like some SUVs, so that you can use the normal front-wheel-drive on dry pavement and not waste fuel. Called i-AWD, the all-wheel-drive package, available with the CVT, brings Suzuki to the game with the big boys, such as the Subaru Legacy and Audi A3. 

    Styling-wise, the Kizashi looks both potent and elegant, in its modest midsize manner. Lovely lines: a touch of Audi here, a pinch of Lexus there. No overachieving swoops or flares, no gratuitous chrome trying to grab your attention. 

    New for 2011 are the Kizashi GTS and Kizashi SLS models. Both feature special Sport bodywork, including a more muscular front fascia and lower grille, side sill extensions, spoiler on the trunk lid, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The crossed mesh grille is titanium colored. 

    Inside the cabin, the quality of the materials is high, maybe especially the standard sport seats. The layout of the controls and instruments is clean, and the standard equipment is plentiful, including climate control vents for the rear seat. Even the base model has remote entry, pushbutton start, power windows, USB port, and other equipment many base models lack, although cruise control is not included at that lowest price. Both Sport models get their own steering wheels, and the SLS Sport gets contrasting stitching on its leather seats. 

    Kizashi straddles the line between compact and midsize sedans. Popular Mechanics magazine included it in a face-off of midsize sedans in 2010, and the Kizashi scored first-place in handling, braking, skid pad grip, and acceleration, against Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima, Mazda 6, and Chevrolet Malibu. 

    Safety-wise, the Kizashi leads the field, with no less than eight standard airbags, advanced stability control using the ABS, projector beam headlamps, and a tire pressure monitor. The Kizashi has surpassed the government's 2014 standards for side pole impact and offset front collision. 

    Lineup

    The 2011 Suzuki Kizashi comes in four models, Kizashi S, SE, GTS Sport, and SLS Sport, all of which use the same 2.4-liter engine. 

    Kizashi S ($18,999) comes with auto dual-zone climate control with rear seat vents, cloth upholstery, sport seats, fold-down pass-through rear seat, nine-speaker AM/FM/CD with MP3, steering-wheel audio controls, USB port, projector beam headlamps, keyless pushbutton start, ambient footwell lighting, power locks, power windows, power mirrors, illuminated visor mirror, intermittent wipers, security system, 16-inch steel wheels. Kizashi S is available with a 6-speed manual or CVT ($21,049); the latter includes cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Kizashi S is also available with all-wheel drive and the CVT ($22,099). 

    Kizashi SE ($22,049) comes only with the CVT and adds 10-way power driver's seat with three memory positions, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, and parking brake lever, paddle shifters, cruise control, wide-profile 18-inch tires on alloy wheels. Kizashi SE is available with AWD ($23,399). 

    Kizashi Sport GTS ($23,049) features sporty body work, including a muscular front fascia and lower grille, body side sill extensions, trunk spoiler, steering wheel, sport bumpers, fancy 18-inch alloy wheels. The GTS also adds a moonroof and fog lights, 10 speakers, 425-watt Rockford Fosgate system and iPod connectivity. The GTS 6-speed manual gets a higher numerical 4.11 final drive ratio (quicker acceleration performance); also available is the CVT ($24,149) or CVT AWD ($25,499). 

    Kizashi Sport SLS ($24,849) upgrades with leather upholstery with contrasting stitching, heated seats, power passenger seat, heated mirrors, auto headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear parking sensor, HomeLink garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers. The SLS offers a choice of 6-speed manual, CVT ($25,949), or CVT AWD ($27,299). XM Satellite Radio ($350) is available. 

    Safety equipment includes eight airbags: two frontal, two side curtain, and one for each door. Active safety features include antilock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution. The government-mandated tire monitor is there, also. Suzuki says the Kizashi already meets some of the 2014 crash standards, including side pole crash and front offset collision. More than 100 Kizashis were crashed by Suzuki during testing. Optional all-wheel drive can enhance safety in slippery conditions. The basic warranty is 3 years or 36,000 miles, but the powertrain is covered for 7 years or 100,000 miles. 

    Walkaround

    The styling of the Kizashi is Suzuki all the way, especially head-on. Kizashi's looks are consistent with its performance profile. Not a would-be or wannabe sports sedan, but a modest sports sedan on the way up. Nothing is overdone. Well, maybe just a little bit, the twin chrome integrated angular tailpipes. A touch of cool. We're okay with that. The 18-inch alloy wheels are eye-catching. 

    The Kizashi has a rounded, Audi-like stance. In profile, especially the roofline and front valance with the S and SE models, it's Lexus-like, with a neat little nose. The hood is a small bulge, with no extra contours other than its natural overall shape. The shape of the grille is totally Suzuki, as if that big S in the center didn't already say so. Headlights fit just right, and the lines are clean to the three other air openings, with the two outside slots holding the fog lights. 

    All SLS and GTS models come with Sport trim, which includes special bodywork. The new fascia on the Sport models is full and rounded, reminiscent of the aerodynamic nose on the Kizashi that Suzuki and Road & Track magazine took to Bonneville and set a class record with, an astounding 203.7 mph, thanks mostly to a big supercharger. 

    It's quite tidy from the rear, although you can't really tell the Kizashi is special until you see the chrome Kizashi nameplate, in racy Japanese-y script. 

    Interior

    Kizashi's interior is comfortable and free of small inconveniences, and that's saying a lot. High-quality materials make even the base Kizashi S feel like a more expensive car. The layout of the center stack is slick and efficient, finished in black and aluminum plastic. You can easily understand and operate the knobs and controls, everything in its logical place, handsomely so. 

    The instrumentation isn't as clean as it might be, with dozens of little lines as increments on the tachometer and speedo, running all the way to a dreamy 150 mph; and there's a reflection at night that blurs the edges of the smaller gauges. There's a 2x4-inch digital display between the tach and speedo, with access to everything from outside temp to instantaneous fuel mileage. We mostly watched our average mpg, which ended up 23.8 mpg. 

    The Sport SLS that we drove had handsome cross-stitched leather seats with high-density, low-fatigue foam. The 425-watt 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system sounded beautiful, but the FM reception was often weak (though this was in bad weather). The leather-wrapped shift lever feels good. 

    If your Kizashi has the CVT, you'll be using the paddle shifters a lot. The paddles are sized and shaped just right, unlike some. There's a nice 3-spoke steering wheel with controls; it feels good in your hands when driving through the twists. Fold-down rear headrests improve rearview visibility. Overhead and footwell ambient lighting is cool. 

    We've put a lot of miles on various Kizashi models. There was one all-day run on choppy pavement in the Sport models with lots of turns to toss your butt and shoulders around, and another couple hundred miles on a dark curving interstate in a hard long drizzle, with puddles all over the freeway. The fit of the seat made it all no sweat, and we enjoyed the hours and concentrated driving. 

    We got more seat time in an S model with cloth upholstery that was smooth and elegant in charcoal. If you skip the leather you'll still have a stylish car. You can keep the Kizashi's price near base MSRP, and still get the good stuff. 

    There are cupholders in front, and in the rear they slide forward out of the dropped center armrest. Nice leather door grab handles. A standard folding rear seat that opens up the trunk is always useful in a car; in addition, there's a hatch to the trunk for skis, 2x4s, and other long cargo. 

    The legroom in the rear is adequate, although it's a couple inches less than the redesigned Subaru Legacy, a competitor with a base model at that same under-20K price (and including all-wheel drive). The Legacy is also a couple inches longer in wheelbase and length. But what the Kizashi lacks in legroom, it might make up in temperature comfort, with that rear seat climate vent. 

    There's a lot of sound insulation, so the cabin is very quiet. The Kizashi offers extensive corrosion protection, including resin panels under the body, zinc-plated steel sheets, and hot wax imbedded in the suspension mounting points. 

    Kizashi comes with keyless ignition: Press the Start button to fire it up. We prefer a traditional key. 

    Driving Impression

    Chassis and suspension are the best parts of the driving impressions. And brakes. Engine is good too. That about covers everything. 

    The Kizashi was developed on the Autobahn, alpine roads in Switzerland, cobblestone streets in England, and on the Nurburgring racing circuit. The firm KYB shock absorbers don't swallow the bumps or smooth them out, but neither do they transmit them. They follow the undulations in the road, and that's not uncomfortable but confidence inspiring. You know they're paying attention. At high speeds on a curvy freeway, you can still feel the shocks working. The car moves a bit as it follows the road, so you have to stay alert. 

    Suzuki put a great deal of time and pride into the suspension and chassis with torsional rigidity higher than some European competitors. The Kizashi chief engineer, Hide Kumashiro, a former motorcycle road racer, stressed handling as his highest priority, which is why high-performance KYB rear shocks are used, with a carefully designed multi-link rear suspension with imbedded aluminum. We pushed the Kizashi on the road, over undulating and sometimes rough surfaces, quick changes of direction under braking, and it never gave us an unsatisfying moment of wobble or softness. Nor did it ever jar us, not once, which might be saying even more. We weren't in the Alps, merely the Gifford Pinchot National Forest around Washington's Mount Adams, but we'll take it. 

    The Kizashi feels sportier than the Mazda6 we recently tested, especially the engine. It's smooth, sharp, and sounds nice, from zero to 6500 rpm redline, but 6000 rpm is a sweet spot to upshift with the 6-speed gearbox. The engine characteristics are steady. Against its competitors, the 185-horsepower Kizashi is solid; by comparison, the Acura TSX has 201 hp, the Mazda6 170 hp. But the Kizashi is quicker from zero to 60 than either of them, and a lot cheaper than the TSX. It also comes with way more standard equipment. 

    We also drove a Kizashi with the CVT, running it hard for about 80 challenging, curvy miles. The CVT sucks 5 horsepower and brings the redline down to 6000 rpm, and compromises the sportiness. It shifts with paddles through six steps (like gears in a gearbox, but not), and you have to shift like mad to keep the engine in the powerband, even with good torque. 

    At full throttle, the engine jumps to 6000 rpm and just stays there and buzzes away as the car gains speed. The response of the CVT is sharp, but it just changes the power delivery too much, if what you want is the throttle feel of an old-school sports sedan. It changes the whole dynamic and sound of the engine. But if you don't care about driving hard over curving roads, you'll be happier with the CVT. Around town, you can forget it, or you can use the paddles if you want. In that way it's like an automatic transmission, only more efficient. 

    We found the SLS with the 6-speed manual quiet under acceleration and even quieter at a cruising speed. Eighty miles per hour is only 3000 rpm in 6th gear, and the car might as well be gliding, for all its smoothness. And because the torque is a healthy 170 pound-feet at 4000 rpm, there's enough torque at lower rpm in 6th gear to accelerate when needed, without downshifting all the time. While we were at it, we got nearly 25 mpg cruising at 80 mpg. 

    We got about a dozen hot laps around Portland International Raceway in the Kizashi. A rev limiter intrudes (mildly) at 6500 rpm, so shifting at 6000 rpm works well. The clutch and linkage are neither short-throw nor aggressive; in fact the clutch feels a bit soft, but that's not a bad thing. It's a mild sports sedan. 

    On Portland International Raceway, it didn't understeer. That's rare for any front-wheel-drive car, including some of the expensive sports sedans. Suzuki brought a test mule to the launch, a Kizashi fitted with a Suzuki/GM 3.6-liter V6 engine making more than 250 horsepower, and we took some laps in that hotrod; driven with appropriate restraint, it didn't understeer either. No V6 is planned for the Kizashi, but the point was proven, that the Kizashi suspension is built to take a lot more horsepower. A turbocharged Kizashi is said to be on the way. 

    Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 23/30 mpg City/Highway for a Suzuki Kizashi SE with the CVT automatic. The CVTs generally get better fuel economy than the manual transmissions, beating them by 2-3 mpg around town. All-wheel drive costs about one mpg: A GTS FWD CVT is rated 23/30 mpg, with a GTS AWD CVT rating 22/29 mpg. Best rating is from the Kizashi S CVT with 23/31 mpg; we're guessing the actual difference is likely a fraction of 1 mpg attributable to the lighter weight and skinnier tires of the base model. 

    As for the brakes, we found the touch to be beautiful, using them frequently on the curves on the road, and heavily around PIR. We can't imagine anyone in a sports sedan like this one needing more. 

    The optional all-wheel drive moves the Kizashi into exclusive territory along with the Audi A3 and Subaru Legacy. Called i-AWD, or intelligent all-wheel drive, it's turned on by the driver, and moves up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. 

    Summary

    The Suzuki Kizashi is a small sports sedan that offers more standard equipment than its competitors, including safety features, at a slightly lower price. The S and SE models offer much, and for more money there are Sport models, plus optional all-wheel drive. The engineering is excellent, with a solid four-cylinder engine, transmission choices including a high-tech CVT with paddle shifters, an exceptionally rigid chassis, tuned suspension offering a compliant ride and great cornering, and precise brakes. 

    Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Washington's Columbia River Gorge. 

    Model Lineup

    Suzuki Kizashi S ($18,999); SE ($22,049); GTS ($23,049); SLS ($24,849). 

    Assembled In

    Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    premium floor mats ($125), metallic paint ($130), XM radio ($350). 

    Model Tested

    Suzuki Kizashi SLS ($24,849). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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