Driven: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi

May 11, 2010
2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Enlarge Photo
2010 Suzuki Kizashi

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

Enlarge Photo
For daily-driving needs, the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi feels right-sized in many ways. It's just large enough to carry four adults across town in comfort, yet it's compact enough to fit into a smallish parking space. And it feels quite light and nimble yet tracks with enough heft for reassuring high-speed cruising.

Those impressions mostly agree with the ones we gleaned in our first drive last fall, but recently, in more of a daily-driving routine, we had a week to mull over the Kizashi's traits.

Just as with our first time with the Kizashi, we were thoroughly impressed with the well-bolstered sport seats, the pleasing upholstery, the quality feel of the plastics, and the nice tactile touches like the nubby rubber outer edges of knobs and dials. Legroom is incredible.

About the only complaint remains road noise at highway speeds; on coarse surfaces, although the Kizashi is pretty well insulated, you might wish for a little less humming and thrumming.

During a day of racing around corners and pushing the Kizashi hard at the track last fall, we said that the steering was nicely weighted but a little lifeless on center. But for real-world driving, we stand corrected; it's about perfect, and that heft on center means you won't be making a lot of small adjustments. And the brake pedal felt about perfect, with impressive stopping power that's easy to modulate.

In that first drive—involving plenty of time on curvy mountain roads and on the track—we focused on models with the six-speed manual transmission and had only a short driving opportunity with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic that will be sold in much larger numbers. A follow-up visit with a CVT-equipped Kizashi seemed ideal for a week that involved a lot of dashing across town on various small errands.

Provided you're just easing along with traffic, the CVT does its job in an unobtrusive way, letting revs rise—often toward the 3,500-rpm mark—at first in moderate acceleration with traffic, then they gradually fall as you reach cruising speed. It tends to take full advantage of the flexible nature of the 180-hp engine and brings revs down quickly whenever you back off the gas. Try to hotfoot and take off more quickly at stoplights, and some of the CVT's halo is lost; the CVT seems a little less decisive with more throttle and lets the revs go freely into the upper ranges, then bringing out a bit more boominess than you ever get from the engine with the manual gearbox.

While the SE tester didn't come with steering-wheel paddle-shifters (upscale GTS and SLS models do), it does have a manual shift gate that allows access to six set ratios. The system allows some slip if you try to lock in one of the higher gears at too low a speed, but within reason it locks that ratio in.

The AWD model we drove is rated at 22 mpg city, 29 highway, and we saw about 23 mpg altogether, over a week and about 140 miles of mixed driving. It should be noted that if you want all-wheel drive, you have to get the CVT.

The Kizashi's sound system also proved easy to use. Our test car didn't have satellite radio enabled, so we simply plugged in our iPhone and hit the USB button and we were in business to listen to This American Life episodes and Pandora streaming audio. One note: for media players the sound system attempts to display track information but the dot-matrix-like letters are so huge and limited that it's indecipherable. Sound quality was great, however.

As tested, the 2010 Kizashi SE AWD model was optioned only with floormats and metallic paint, coming to a grand total of just $23,004, including destination. And as we've already reported, the Kizashi comes with all sorts of equipment like cruise control, dual-zone climate control, and steering-wheel audio controls at no extra cost.

This editor had the Kizashi within a week of having a Jetta, and the two vehicles have a very comparable feel. While the Jetta is a bit quieter at speed, we preferred the excellent, buttoned-down ride and handling balance of the Kizashi.

All the buyers who've heard good things about this model but have crossed it off the list because they're not familiar with Suzuki should reconsider. Open up your mind to this longtime second-stage brand, or you're going to miss one of the best new sporty sedans.

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