Many cars come from the land of ahs: Honda, Corolla, and Altima. Suzuki's latest near-midsize Kizashi sedan breaks from the bland side of blahs. It begins with a name that sounds like something shelved at your grocer's cluttered cereal aisle. Actually, Kizashi means something great is coming. And Suzuki needs an eye-opening machine. Its U.S. sales are weak. So a fortified car that wakes up dealer interest and pulls in consumers is the place to start.
Suzuki's press materials are chock full of superlatives. They describe the Kizashi as a breakthrough affordable, track-bred four-door sports car. It's smaller than the Camry--like VW's compact Jetta that its shield grille apes. That shield shape is echoed on the steering wheel and dashboard's center. Fit, finish and materials throughout the Kizashi are much better than average. You'll find soft-touch interior panels, uniform textures and fabric inlays. My SE's leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob felt rich-ah! This is a huge improvement-nothing like the Verona's dreadful vinyl beanbag-like covers.
Instruments ape a chronograph with lots of hash marks and thin needles. Fewer "crosshairs" would be more. Despite the reach-and-rake adjustable steering column, I couldn't locate an ideal zone for proper hand placement and complete instrument cluster view.
Nappy cloth-covered seats with wavy wood-grain emboss are supportive front and rear. There's enough space in back for two adults, maybe three if they're thin. The center position is actually habitable. Rear side airbags are standard.
Kizashi rides on KYB's tuned shocks. There's some vertical tossing as you roll over dips. Nonetheless, ride quality is reasonably comfortable for the upper-Midwest's roads.
Handling is sound. Modest body roll is accompanied by front-end push. Stability control kicks in if you keep pushing the go control. Dunlop's Z-rated, 17-inch tires on alloy wheels are part of the package. Steering is surprisingly stiff like digging your way into Ted Drewe's Concrete, a famous St. Louis frozen custard treat.
With one hand on the wheel, walk your free fingers through the logical and nicely spaced center stack's switchgear. Then, try the steering wheel's sensible rocker-type controls. If you think you've been transported into the lap of luxury, that's Suzuki's aim. Nonetheless, the nonadjustable center armrest isn't an ideal elbow-parking pad.
Standard: automatic climate control with rear face and floor-level vents; keyless entry, smooth fob and dashboard start button.
The carpeted trunk is deep and wide. Watch your head; the rear lid's hinges aren't articulated. Beside crushing luggage, they don't move that lid safely out of your noggin's strike zone. Rear seats split fold with center passthrough.
Suzuki claims the 180-hp in-line four (185 with the six-speed manual) is the most powerful base engine in its class. You wouldn't know it; in SE trim it's attached to a "performance" oriented continuously variable transmission that's has a kung fu grip on low rpm operation. This makes the normally aspirated ponies moan, producing a thunderous din. There's a "U pick'em" mode that selects six forward steps. Keep it out of six, apply lots of throttle; the engine shows signs of life.
Noise level at 60 mph is low--modest wind rustle around the large side-view mirrors. At this speed, the engine operates at its sweetened spot--nearly 2,000 rpm. Fuel economy: the EPA says 23 mpg city and 30 highway. I observed 24; the trip computer claimed 26.9. Price is attractive: $21,800 as tested. All-wheel-drive is an option.
While the Kizashi might not live up to Tony-the-Tiger's exclamation, it's uncommonly good. With a six-speed manual, you might dub it, "Special K."