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The Suzuki Kizashi is one of the best compact sedans on the market. But as it is, many shoppers might not even think to put it on their list of prospective models. That's because Suzuki—and Suzuki dealerships—simply haven't made much of a name for themselves in the U.S. market. If you can see past that lack of brand cachet, the Kizashi shines as a premium, sport-flavored alternative to the likes of the Volkswagen Jetta or Chevrolet Cruze.Even a couple of years after its debut, the Kizashi remains one of the better-looking sedans. It's more than a foot shorter than most mid-size sedans, but on the upper edge of what would be considered a compact, and the Kizashi strikes some great proportions, combining a rather traditional sedan profile with a dressed-up look and sportier stance. Inside, the Kizashi is feels a class above most other value-conscious four-cylinder compact or mid-size models, with a little bit of sports-car swoopiness in the two-tier instrument panel design, a large, hooded gauge cluster, and just a tiny touch of chrome to punctuate the look but not overwhelm. The sporty, upscale look and feel is enhanced by well-bolstered sport seats and quality coarse cloth or ventilated-leather upholstery.
A gutsy 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine moves the Kizashi plenty quick, and provides spirited performance either with the available continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) or standard six-speed manual. 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; but of the combinations, our favorite remains the front-wheel-drive Sport model with the manual gearbox. 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.
Gas mileage for this powertrain is one weakness; EPA ratings aren't that impressive, though ranging from 20 to 23 mpg in the city and 29 to 31 mpg on the highway.Those who think of some compact models as a little too small but don't want the sacrifice in maneuverability that comes with a mid-size car will appreciate the Kizashi's 'just-right' size. Suzuki hasn't accomplished any magic with interior space here, though; the Kizashi is more of a compact sedan than a mid-size one on the outside, and the same rings true inside. But nice, supportive bucket seats provide a great driving position and plenty of support for taller folks. The Kizashi doesn't have a lot of space In the back seat, but you'll definitely be able to accommodate a couple of adults back there for a drive out for lunch.
The Kizashi really shines in the details. Throughout the interior, materials feel a bit different than most other models in this class, with nicely grained plastics plus soft-touch and padded surfaces in most of the places you'd brush against. Ride quality is on the firm side, but you'll never feel rattled; it also damps out road noise surprisingly well considering that it favors sportiness over outright comfort.
Federal crash-test scores still haven't been given to the Kizashi, but the IIHS rates it 'good' in all but its roof-strength test ('acceptable' there). Eight airbags are standard, including rear side bags, which still aren't common in this class.
The 2012 Suzuki Kizashi continues to put its best foot forward in terms of features for the money. Even when optioned with that, a loaded Kizashi SLS Sport still totals well under $30k. 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. GTS Sport and SLS Sport step up to a lowered suspension that rides 10 mm lower (but not really any harsher) 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. Sport models also get snug, leather-trimmed sport seats with contrast stitching, plus a number of other extras. A navigation system is available as a relatively low-cost option and includes a rear camera system, real-time traffic, and iPod controls.