2011 Suzuki Kizashi Road Test Review

Brian Armstead - CAP staff
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When it comes to automobiles, Suzuki has long been the "other" Japanese car company.  More known for their stellar motorcycles and outboard marine engines, Suzuki has struggled over the years to place itself on the North American market map in a crowded Japanese field that includes stalwarts Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Mazda, and second tier competitors Mitsubishi and Subaru.  Suzuki has been and "also ran" when it came to success in the North American auto market. 

But wait, Suzuki appears to be saying enough is enough, and so has started an aggressive march forward to make waves on the second tier, with its long term sights on the first.  Current offerings like the SX4 duo, Grand Vitara SUV and Equator pickup truck, signal a new era of brand independence for Suzuki, which in past years has relied on shared platforms with General Motors and Korean brand Daewoo to establish itself (the Equator shares its roots with Nissan's Frontier, and I should mention there are still 2009 versions of its Daewoo-built Chevy Aveo clone dubbed Swift+ and old Chevy Equinox-based XL-7 available).  Suzuki's old midsize model was the Verona, a reworked Daewoo, something to offer but nevertheless an era the Japanese company most likely would appreciate us all forgetting.  So for 2011, Suzuki reaches not just one, but several notches higher with their superb Kizashi sedan. 

I remember when I first passed a Kizashi on a local US interstate (the Kizashi is already available south of the 49th as a 2010 model).  "What the heck is that?" I queried, expecting it to be anything but a Suzuki.  WTHIT? was pretty much the reaction wherever I took the car, as people fell in love with the styling. Old, young (with my 17 year old daughter Eden giving it a rousing approval, despite her general disdain for anything not brandishing a German logo), and in between all gave the Kizashi high marks for its aggressive yet luxurious look. 

And speaking of the Germans it's clear Suzuki had the BMW 1 and 3 Series and the Audi A4 benchmarked when developing the car.  It looks so European with a muscular profile.  The front is highlighted by a large, Audi-like grille, flanked by projector beam headlamps.  The side profile features side skirts and prominent wheel arches that house beautiful multi-spoke wheels.  The rear view showcases dual exhaust and a deftly integrated deck spoiler.  The Kizashi was extensively tested throughout Europe, including the Swiss Alps, German Autobahns, and the Nürburgring, the world famous circuit also in Germany.  Folks, you don't spend big bucks to rent the 'Ring unless you have the goods to back up your statement that you tested there.  And back it up is just what the Kizashi does. 

Available in front- and all-wheel drive guise in the U.S. (FWD & AWD, with AWD available on all trim levels), my tester was the sporty 2010 GTS AWD model.  And boy did I need the AWD capability, as my test route was blanketed with six inches of snow.  Even with performance tires on the car, the Kizashi's AWD system proved "quattro like," which is the ultimate AWD compliment. 

All trim levels are powered by a spunky 2.4-litre, 16-valve DOHC four, making 185 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque.  The four is silky smooth, and features a "zero maintenance" self-adjusting timing chain, instead of a rubber/fabric belt which must be changed at specific intervals.  Suzuki's All-Wheel Drive II is a full time automatic system with a driver's on-off activation switch.  Front strut and multi-link rear suspension features KYB performance struts/shocks, and four wheel disc brakes feature Akebono components, a company that could be called the "Brembo" of Japan. 

Power is channeled though a six-speed manual or automatic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).  My GTS tester was equipped with the CVT with steering wheel paddle shifters.  I'm still warming up to CVT technology, as the sensation of the car "shifting" seems like an endless wind-up to me.  For my money, I'll take the GTS with the six-speed manual.  Performance can best be described as "fun," with decent acceleration and serious cornering ability with the AWD GTS.  You won't win any stoplight contests with the Kizashi, but you will certainly put a scare into some pricier performance machinery.  When you want to maintain a more civilized profile, ride quality and body integrity are excellent, with little road noise penetrating the well-appointed cabin. 

Inside, the Kizashi remains very competitive.  On the safety front in U.S. models, standard equipment includes eight airbags (including rear-side airbags!), electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. According to Suzuki, the Kizashi already meets NHTSA 2014 safety standards. Comfort and convenience features include pushbutton start, dual-zone climate control, ambient and footwell lighting, and a power driver's seat with 10-way adjustment.  Suzuki Canada hasn't finalized trim level information yet, or at least hasn't made it available on its retail site, so expect these details to be available closer to the model's release date.  So, for now the U.S. division's GTS model adds a great sounding, 425 watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system with subwoofer; Bluetooth streaming for iPod and other MP3 players; hands-free calling with voice command; fog lights and power moonroof.  SLS models add leather seats, power passenger seat, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink garage door opener, heated outside mirrors, automatic rain sensing wipers, automatic headlamps and rear parking sensors with audible warning and graphic dash display. 

Kizashi prices begin at a remarkable $18,999 USD and rise to a very reasonable $26,749 USD for a fully-equipped SLS model with AWD and CVT.  As the "ice cream" on our American brothers' slice of Suzuki "pie," the company offers what they call "America's Best Warranty" – 100,000 miles (160,000 km) or seven years of powertrain coverage. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my week with the Kizashi, and have enjoyed all of my test drives in recent Suzuki models.  Safety, great handling, muscular good looks and available luxury.  With the Kizashi, Suzuki has clearly taken a major leap forward.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Suzuki, 2010, Kizashi, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999,

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