2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS: Driven

April 15, 2011

Sold under nearly any other major automotive brand, the 2011 Kizashi Sport would be a major sales success. So far for Suzuki, however, it hasn't; and we think that's a shame, as it's one of the best sport sedans for anyone on a tight budget.

After a follow-up drive with the new 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport, we're even more convinced of that. The Kizashi is sized about like the new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze or 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, yet it's a lot more fun to drive.

The second year in, Suzuki didn't deliver the more powerful engine that it had been hinting, but it did instead revise its Kizashi line, adding Sport models.

Better as a Sport, better with the manual

All 2011 Kizashi GTS and SLS models now come only in Sport guise (as Sport GTS and Sport SLS), and include perhaps most importantly a lowered, sport-tuned suspension that rides 10 mm lower, plus front sport seats that are a little more supportive and form fitting. In addition to those functional upgrades, the Sport looks the part a bit more, with a bolder 18-inch alloy wheel design; trunklid spoiler; body sill extensions; and more of an 'aero' look thanks mainly to the lowered ride height and more aggressive front fascia. Inside, those seats get leather and contrasting stitching, and the steering wheel is trimmed with perforated leather.

The Kizashi is plenty powerful for most needs—provided you get the manual transmission. With the manual, the Kizashi can get to 60 mph in around 7.5 seconds; while CVT versions can make that dash in around nine, they feel more sluggish (and make 5 hp less). What the Sport package doesn't include is one thing we've hoped for since our first drive: a more precise shift linkage. That's one of the weak points, even though the Kizashi's clutch is easy and the gears are nicely spaced.

While the Kizashi's powertrain still leaves room for improvement, we couldn't wish for much better in the way the Kizashi steers, handles, and rides. There's not a lot of steering feedback, but it's very precise and nicely weighted, and there's a level of body control that, even on an unfamiliar curvy road, means that you rarely feel flustered. We've driven several other Kizashi models and, overall, the Sport does feel just a little more buttoned down over heaves, with a little less secondary motion after speed bumps, railroad crossings, and the like.

Overall, the Kizashi drives with more precision and better tactile feedback than some much more expensive sport sedans. And what's even more amazing remains the Kizashi's interior refinement; for a vehicle with such a firmly damped suspension and athletic feel, the ride is very well damped and seldom jarring, with a well-hushed cabin reinforcing that upscale impression.

A few audio niggles

The Kizashi's front seats, especially in the Sport here, are snug and supportive in the corners, and the driving position is great for this taller driver. We have a few niggling issues with the Kizashi's audio system, which limits the display for MP3 track data or radio information to just a few large dot-matrix characters; we also had issues with iPod connection, with that same maligned display grabbing a tag from the first track played and not refreshing until the car was restarted.

Our loaded, top-of-the-line Kizashi Sport SLS came with dual-zone climate control (as do all Kizashis), plus a power driver's seat, heated front seats, heated mirrors, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, and a Homelink garage-door opener, plus Bluetooth hands-free calling, Bluetooth audio streaming, and otherwise-excellent Rockford Fosgate audio. The final price seemed like a steal, at just over $25k. Of course despite this, getting shoppers into Suzuki dealerships—which are typically few and far between, and not always located next to other top-tier showrooms—is a major hurdle.

For a more extensive take, see our full review of the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi, where you'll also find complete specs, pricing, more pictures, and what other sources have said.

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