To say that Suzuki has been a bit player in the North American auto industry is almost too kind. With the exception of the spunky SX4, Suzuki has been handed forgettable, rebadged Daewoo and GM cars for well over a decade-cars that gave nothing in terms of defining the brand, and worse, little reason to keep buyers or the media interested. All of that changes with the Kizashi.
The what? Yes, the name is, well, not elegant in English. Pronounced “kee-zah-shee” the rough translation means “something great is coming.” Suzuki did take a gamble going with this name, but don’t dismiss the car on those grounds. After a week with the Kizashi, this car has the potential to elevate Suzuki from bit player to A-List star.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Kizashi is quite handsome. I have no doubt the Vivid Red paint on our test car helped, but the Kizashi drew stares and double-takes from passersby. There have been comparisons to the current Jetta, but seen in person the Kizashi has a distinctive flair. The front end is more aggressive than a Jetta, the fender flares give the car some attitude, and the rear is quite organic looking, and may be the most interesting view of the car.
The look of the Kizashi is well-balanced, and the size is just right. Sticking with the VW comparison, the Kizashi is larger than a Jetta, and smaller than a Passat. While the Camry, Accord and current Mazda 6 have all grown into “big” cars, the Kizashi feels just right.
The Kizashi gets even better once you step inside. Fit and finish is excellent, and on par with the best in the business. Everything your hand touches has a soft, premium feel to it. The dash top was hard plastic, but still had a quality look to it. The dash and center stack had a clean, elegant design. No overwhelming number of buttons to distract or take away from the peaceful interior. Suzuki’s attention to detail is impressive. The backlit trunk release button made me wonder why every manufacturer doesn’t offer the same feature. The audio controls on the steering wheel reek of class. The overall impression is that you are in a much more expensive car.
It was easy to find a comfortable driving position in the power, heated leather sport seat, and the tilt/telescoping steering wheel made it even better. The center gauge cluster had a British elegance to it that was particularly pleasing. For entertainment, Suzuki teamed up with Rockford Fosgate to create an audio system especially for the Kizashi, and the results are impressive. Although I liked the large font on the stereo display when I had a CD or the radio on, it was not able to share much info with an iPod hooked up. I am baffled at the initial lack of a navigation system on the Kizashi, but hey, you can get a portable GPS.
On the road, the Kizashi is tight as a drum, and the feel has a German accent. I thought the steering was quick and had a nice weight to it, but did lack a little in road feel. In ride and handling, the Kizashi is 100% sport sedan, and the KYB shock absorbers provide a stout but comfortable ride. Very little upset the Kizashi, and the car is at home on a curvy road or just humming along the interstate. Another revelation was just how quiet the car is, around town or at speed. In comparison, the Accord EX I just reviewed had significantly more road noise, but offered a far less sporty ride.
Power for the Kizashi comes from a 2.4 twin cam four with 185hp. You have a choice of a six-speed manual, or a CVT (you lose 5hp with the CVT). One feature that really makes the Kizashi stand out from the competition is the availability of all-wheel drive (the CVT is your only choice here). The engine had more than adequate power to get you up to speed, and passing power is not a problem either. Our tester was all-wheel drive, so we had the CVT. This just seemed to go against the grain of the car’s sport sedan DNA that I could tell was there. At all times, maximizing fuel economy is the CVT’s mission here, as the transmission is always looking to keep revs to a bare minimum. With max torque at 4,000rpm, cruising at 35mph at 1,500rpm, the oomph you want is always delayed. Thankfully, our car had shift paddles, which gives you more control, and the feel of six “stepped” gears. This helped a lot, and allowed me to keep the Kizashi in the meat of its power band. If you have an enthusiast bent, the six-speed manual is the only way to go.
Taken as a whole, the Kizashi is a very impressive effort by Suzuki. If I came away with anything after living with the Kizashi for a week was that the car had a sense of occasion that is missing from its competitors, at least at this price point. You can sense the hard work and thought that went into the car in all areas. No where on the Kizashi I was able to point and say “they cut corners here.” This is a complete package. Our SLS was spec’d out as the most expensive Kizashi you can buy, and fully loaded the car still MSRP’d at $26,749USD, a screaming bargain. For fun, I spec’d out an Audi A4 2.0 Quattro with an automatic, optioned out (that’s right) to meet up with what comes standard on the Kizashi. The difference? Almost $10,000. No joke, Suzuki will pay you $100 if you decide to buy the A4 after test driving the Kizashi.
Odd name? Yes. And I feel that if I drove a manual transmission car, I’d be on my roof with a megaphone talking up this car. It is that good. Indeed, something great is coming.