2011 Suzuki Kizashi Road Test Review

Frik Els - CAP staff
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In Canada, the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi is only available in a single variant - the fully loaded AWD with Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Exactly what financial considerations went into the decision by Suzuki Canada to go this route are not immediately apparent, because it means that to get behind the wheel of a Kizashi, Canadians are being forced to dole out a minimum of $30,000. Even in light of that figure, I wouldn't want my Kizashi equipped any other way.

The AWD CVT Kizashi is something of a revelation. The mid-size sedan certainly fills a niche for the Japanese manufacturer. Before Kizashi, there was the 2006 Verona, but luckily the Kizashi has nothing in common with that dull-as-dishwater rep-mobile. Not only that, the Kizashi has the hallmarks of a potential game changer for a company that has lacked any sort of coherent market image up to now.

In the past, Suzuki Automotive has been associated with cheap and cheerful city runabouts, uninspiring and cramped SUVs (the "Grand" in Grand Vitara is something of a misnomer) and a penchant for "who's your father?" platform swapping and rebadging.

Bikes? Yes. Outboard motors? For sure. A sports sedan that competes with the best Japanese, not to mention what the Germans have to offer? What? You're talking about Suzuki right?

I had less than a week to enjoy the Kizashi, but had to fill the tank twice. It's that much fun to drive.

Not that you would know it from the specs. On paper the Kizashi may not warrant a second look. A 2.4-litre, 16-valve, DOHC, 4-cylinder barely making 180 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque doesn't exactly shout performance.

There are more powerful and cheaper sports packaged sedans from said German competitors - Volkswagen's outgoing Jetta Wolfsburg Edition starting at $27,275 to name just one – not to mention the new 2011 Jetta that starts out much less expensive yet. There also exists a too long list of middle-of-the-road Japanese family sedans, headed by the Accord EX, that more than give the Kizashi's horses a run for their money for less scratch.

Interior space is surprisingly generous, but that's only because given the exterior dimensions you expect it to be more cramped. It's not a compact, but neither does it play in the same space as a Camry or Passat. In terms of luxury appointments the leather is of fine quality, but the seats are just a tad too hard and given the time you'd want to spend behind the wheel, uncomfortable. Tactile quality of the plastics goes from luxurious to something akin to bakelite in some spots, the instrument panel dimmer rod for instance. The sound system is more than adequate, but the centre console layout looks slightly tacky and outdated.

And then there's the CVT. Simply mentioning it would make many car buyers looking for sportiness in a vehicle balk at the idea of giving the Kizashi even an outside chance. The problem is that if you want an AWD Kizashi, you are automatically saddled with the CVT. And once again, that's all you can get in Canada.

If you prefer a manual it will take a trip across the border to where U.S. consumers can choose from four different trims, including a base model front-wheel drive manual for a savings on the starting price of $11,000. Think about it, that's over a third less than the Canadian flavour. You still won't get AWD with any other configuration than with a CVT though, and for the snow-bound the lack of all-wheel drive is often a deal breaker.

In short, it's time to make peace with the CVT. Suzuki says the Kizashi's CVT is performance-tuned and with this vehicle it's a claim that can be taken to the bank. The sports sedan is not blisteringly quick by any measure, but combine the Kizashi's performance with superb handling and cornering and you have a package that will make competitor's engineers take note.

If you absolutely need to take control - and at no point did I feel that the car was running out of overtaking breath - there are paddle shifters linked to pre-set shift points.

The AWD system sends most of the power to the front wheels, but when needed transfers up to 50% of the torque to the rear wheels. You can switch from the always on AWD to FWD-only by the simple push of a button. You may save some fuel, but the Suzuki AWD is one of the best out there, so why bother?

So how has Suzuki been able to attract aspiring racers to the marque, given the transmission and power drawbacks? Yes, the suspension tuning is excellent and the chassis has the right rigidity. Yes, the firmly planted stance and go-getter looks are definite pluses, but alone these things are not enough to make it a car to crave.

In Japanese kizashi means omen or a sign of things to come. Perhaps Suzuki should have called the car the Rakki. It's Japanese slang for lucky and the engineers at Suzuki certainly got lucky. The Kizashi is one of the best examples in the automotive world where the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Suzuki, 2011, Kizashi, $30,000 - $39,999,

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