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Sold under nearly any other badge, chances are the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi would be a wild sales success. Sized a step smaller than American mid-size sedans, yet closer to entry-lux sport sedans like the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Acura TSX, the Kizashi feels like a premium, sport-flavored alternative to the likes of the standard Volkswagen Jetta or Chevrolet Cruze. And provided you're not a stickler for backseat space, it can fit a small family's needs about as well as a Toyota Camry or Nissan Altima.
Even visually, the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi clearly borrows some influences from a wide range of other design standouts. It's more than a foot shorter than most mid-size sedans—closer to compacts like the Volkswagen Jetta and Chevrolet Cruze—and the Kizashi strikes some great proportions, taking a rather conservative, traditional sedan profile and dressing it up. The Kizashi's cabin feels upscale and stylish, and it stands in a class above the interiors of most other four-cylinder mid-size (or compact) sedans. There's a little bit of sports-car swoopiness in the two-tier instrument panel design, with a large, hooded gauge cluster and just a tiny touch of chrome to punctuate the look but not overwhelm. Well-bolstered sport seats and coarse cloth or ventilated leather complete what amounts to a sporty, upscale feel.
The 2011 Suzuki Kizashi only comes with a four-cylinder engine, but it's a gutsy one that can move this compact sedan plenty quick. The 185-hp, 2.4-liter feels at its perkiest between 2,500 rpm and 5,000, and it provides spirited performance either with the six-speed manual gearbox or available continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). With the CVT, the Kizashi comes either with front-wheel drive or the new i-AWD system, which is configured for enhanced cornering and managed via the stability control system. EPA fuel economy ratings aren't that impressive, though ranging from 20 to 23 mpg in the city and 29 to 31 mpg on the highway.
While the powertrain is good but not stellar, the Kizashi is very remarkable—and by some accounts class-leading—with respect to steering and handling. It has excellent steering response; it loads up predictably—and better than most electric-boost units—though it doesn't have much road feel. Overall, though the Kizashi feels athletic, and excellent suspension tuning, body control, and grip give it a nimble, tossable feel. Brakes employ Akebono performance calipers, and they feel strong but a little touchy.
Suzuki hasn't accomplished any magic with interior space here; the 2011 Kizashi is more of a compact sedan than a mid-size one on the outside, and the same rings true inside. However, the Kizashi has nice, supportive front bucket seats that are highly adjustable and even good for taller folks—plus a great driving position. In the back seat, it's no limo, but even the tallest, lankiest folks can get comfortable back there for a trip across town.
Throughout the Kizashi, materials are a pleasant surprise. Nicely grained plastics pair with soft-touch and padded surfaces in most of the places you'd brush against. Thanks to some excellent suspension and sound-insulation work, the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi rides very well, too, with a firm but well-damped feel overall.
Purely in terms of features for the money, the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi looks like quite the deal. Suzuki typically offers few if any options on its U.S. vehicles, instead including a strong list of standard features, and the Kizashi takes that to a new level with all Kizashi's including keyless entry and dual-zone climate control, for instance.
Both the GTS and SLS models are now termed GTS Sport and SLS Sport; with the new Sport moniker comes with a lowered suspension that rides 10 mm lower than the base setup; a bolder, lightweight wheel design; a trunk spoiler; body sill extensions; a more aggressive front fascia; and a bolder, 'aero' look. Inside, the Sport models get a different steering wheel with perforated leather grip, leather-trimmed seats with contrasting stitching, and front sport seats that are a little more supportive and form-fitting.
At the top of the line, a navigation system is available for $1,399 and includes a rear camera system, real-time traffic, and iPod controls. Even when optioned with that, a loaded Kizashi SLS Sport still totals well under 30 grand.
- Sporty yet restrained design
- Nicely detailed interior
- Handling and maneuverability
- Quiet, refined cabin
- Premium feel at a bargain price
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- Engine noise, particularly with the CVT
- Unimpressive fuel economy ratings
- Tight headroom with sunroof
- Flawed display with limited characters, reflections