By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 6.6
While the entire automotive industry, beginning in 2008, took a tumble, Suzuki's automotive arm - at least in the U.S. - figuratively drove off a cliff. U.S. sales of its automotive lineup went from 100,000 in 2007, to 80,000 in 2008 and roughly half of that reduced figure in 2009. You can chalk up at least part of that decline to American Suzuki's fiscal conservatism, part of it to a marginal dealer network, and part to Suzuki-branded vehicles secured from then-partner GM. Beginning in 2010 there's been at least a hint of a rebound, underscored by the well-received debut of Suzuki's most significant investment to date, the Kizashi. A mid-size sport sedan intended to capture the attention of both Accord and Audi intenders, the Kizashi conveys a European feel in combination with an Asian - or domestic - price point. For 2011 a Kizashi Sport is added to the mix, doing an even more credible job of channeling Euro specification, while keeping the price points appropriately aggressive.
If you enjoy driving something distinctive (hard to find in a mid-size, 4-door platform), the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi is your cup of Japanese tea. Its strong European feel, both in sheetmetal and suspension, are quite distinctive in a segment anchored by offerings from Honda, Toyota and Nissan. Further, attention to detail is first-rate, and its operation - handling, steering and braking - is seamless.
If you prefer to exist (at least automotively) in relative anonymity, the Kizashi may generate too many questions at car washes, gas stations and high school reunions. Also, there's the very real issue of market representation; Suzuki's dealer network is, as this is written, in a state of almost constant transition. In most metro areas you can count on at least one dealer, while in Southern California - as an example - there's but one dealer for several million households. All the quality (and warranty) in the world won't help if your dealer is 200 miles away.
The big news is the addition of a Sport derivative to the Kizashi's GTS and SLS lineup. Notably, all Kizashis are sporty, but the Sport enhances the package with unique - and lighter - alloy wheels, revised handling and aero mods that are extremely well integrated. Inside, the sport buckets - at least in leather-clad SLS form - receive contrasting stitching on seats, shift boot and parking brake.
Driving Impressions The 2011 Suzuki Kizashi is not, by any measure, the performance package offered by Suzuki's two-wheeled Hayabusa; neither is it the sport sedan equivalent of Suzuki's iconic Samurai...SUV. It is - we suppose - in a delightful place midway between the two. It is underpinned by a structure almost vault-like in its solidity, and suspended by a supple - albeit controlled - fully independent suspension. Acceleration, when facilitated by the six-speed manual, is better than adequate, while the CVT automatic goes about its business in a business-like manner. The automotive media has been universal in its praise of the Kizashi for its on-road dynamic and around-town comfort, and a full year in a long-term test vehicle has done nothing to dispel that impression among kbb.com staff.
Sport Bucket Seats
Most affordable mid-size sedans may offer a "sporting" upgrade, but virtually no one offers a premium interior in their base variants. Suzuki's Kizashi does, and the standard buckets provide the perfect balance between easy access and appropriate lateral support. The leather of the SLS is, of course, even more deluxe, but those with but $20K to spend needn't feel cheated while seated.
Alloy Wheels and 45-Series Tires
Most manufacturers will happily offer a performance tire/wheel package, but only if you're willing to pay on the north end of twenty-something thousand. With the Kizashi, Suzuki offers stylish and functional 18-inch alloys on all models except the very base price leader. We'll throw kudos to Suzuki, while offering our condolences to the automotive aftermarket.
Again, Suzuki's design team looked to Volkswagen and Audi for inspiration in both materials and layout. Instrument design, metallic trim and liberal use of soft-touch materials convey a premium look and feel even when, on closer inspection, the actual material may not be all that premium. And the Kizashi exists on the smaller side of mid-size. To that end, a family of four or five will find comfort, while an NFL team's front five will find it a tad cramped. A folding rear seat, however, adds immeasurably to the Kizashi's functionality.
Within its conventional three-box, front-wheel drive architecture Suzuki's design staff attempted to break out from what is typically regarded as Asian generic. And while that team clearly succeeded in creating something completely different from Accord or Camry, they didn't escape the "it's a derivative" criticism. There's a lot of Audi/VW in the Kizashi exterior, and while that's not a bad visual, neither is it an original visual. In front, the fascia is dominated by a prominent, Audi-esque grille flanked by proportionally expressive headlamps. The Kizashi fenders are flared, and filled appropriately (at least on all models except 'base') by generous wheel and tire stock. In back, the tail is athletically tapered and - in Sport variants - topped by a tastefully integrated rear spoiler. Boy racers won't necessarily be head-over-heels, but their older counterparts (man racers?) should be.
With a base price of under $20K (with destination and handling) you might expect the list of standard equipment to be short and the list of optional extras to be long; this is where Suzuki's product team departed from the Germanic model. Keyless entry and engine start; power windows, locks and mirrors; dual zone climate control and premium audio are all to the "standard" side of the Monroney label. On the safety front, the Kizashi is front and center, with a class-exclusive eight standard airbags; ABS with electronic brake-force distribution; and a tire pressure monitoring system. Notably, the Kizashi already meets crash standards that take effect in 2012, and side barrier and side-pole crash standards for 2014.
The Kizashi SE - one step from the base level S model - adds a CVT automatic transmission, 235/45-18 tires mounted on alloy wheels, a 10-way power driver seat with three-position memory, cruise control, and leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift lever and parking brake lever. Move up to either GTS or SLS and the Sport variations include (beyond a now-standard moonroof) a more muscular front fascia, body side sill extensions, lighter weight (by some two pounds per corner) alloy wheels and lowered ride height. Inside, Sport models receive a distinctive sport steering wheel with contrasting stitching.
As this is written gas is once again inching - or, more correctly, racing - to $4/gallon. To that end, Suzuki's decision to offer only one drivetrain - a 2.4 liter DOHC four - and forego an available V6 seems absolutely prescient. To be sure, that same decision came in for its share of criticism at the time of the sedan's introduction, especially when "sport" was used as its modifier. The manual trans is the choice for those with sporting ambitions, but the CVT - although more labored from a standing start - has a way of building momentum that is positively infectious. With all of that, any number of observers has lamented the lack of a manual trans with the optional all-wheel drive. That combo might not slay the Audi, but would certainly give it a run for its Deutschmark.
2.4-liter in-line 4
185 horsepower @ 6500 rpm (with manual transmission)
180 horsepower @ 6000 rpm (with CVT)
170 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/31 (manual, FWD, S Sedan), 20/29 (manual, FWD), 23/31 (CVT, FWD, S Sedan), 23/30 (CVT, FWD), 23/30 (AWD, S Sedan), 22/29 (AWD)
By Stephanie on Monday, March 09, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 66,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "great value, dependable, fun to drive"
Cons: "only 25 MPG"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Bought this car, new and loaded (SLS), and have used it to commute. I've been putting 35K miles on it per year and never have had any trouble wiht it. It handles great and looks pretty sharp too as I've gotten lots of compliments on it. It goes great in the snow. The ammenities make it feel like a $30,000+ car but I only paid a fraction of that for it. A great reliable little car."
2 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By sb007 on Monday, February 09, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 51,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Value, reliability, styling, & fun to drive factor"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"This car has great looks, handles fantastically, excellent gas mileage, and was priced great. The 6 speed manual makes this car drive and handle better than any of the 3 series BMW's that I have owned. The only problem that I had is keeping the light beige interior clean. The fault there is mine, but why would they even offer a light cloth interior like that? I had a 2011 Altima and this car beat it down in every category. I would buy this vehicle all day long, it's too bad they don't offer them in the US anymore. It's been reliable since day one when I purchased it new. In 3+ years all I have had to do is put on a set of new tires. If you have a chance to pick up a used one, do not hesitate to grab it quickly because it's far better than anything in its' class."
By Driver on Sunday, September 14, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 55,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Quality, luxury and handling at good price"
Cons: "Slow off the line, not for tall drivers"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I own a 2012 Sport SLS, loaded. Very attractive styling, I get frequent positive comments from people about it's looks. The silver metallic paint is stunning, I have not yet seen a more attractive silver. The wheels are gorgeous but very difficult to clean and super sensitive to ANY cleaner, mine still look good but are splotchy from whatever coating is coming off. Interior is understated and elegant, Audi-esque, and noticeably well assembled. No seams misaligned or out of place, it's perfect. Black leather with white stitching durable, comfortable and elegant. Very good interior room, 4 people is no problem, 5 is. Firm but compliant ride reminds me of my 2000 VW Golf, which is a compliment. Handling is superior, this chassis eats up curves. Is a dog from 0-20 or so, spools up nicely past that. I avg 26 mpg and drive relatively conservatively, have achieved 32 mpg on extended highway trips but usually 29-30. Perfect reliability so far. Steering wheel needs to telescope another two inches, I'm 6' and have difficulty achieving a truly comfortable driving position due to this. I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone under 6' tall, this is really a very nice car that no one owns. Oh, the 450 watt Rockford Fosgate system is ridiculous - loud but very clear and crisp."
12 people out of 18 found this review helpful
By barra on Tuesday, September 02, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 56,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "33-34 mpg average, ride quality, "feel""
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought the manual transmission because it gives me an extra way of slowing the car in winter driving. A good set of all-weather tires helps too. It has for-wheel disc brakes and they stop the car very well. The recommendation is to use the parking brake. Just leaving it in gear will not hold the car in place on a hill. Like most modern cars, there is no visible reference to tell me where the the front end starts and the back end stops so I had to figure that out myself. The car handles very well with a tight turning radius. The environmental control system, sound system and interior materials are very good. This is my first experience with a Key fob that opens everything. It is almost too convenient."
4 people out of 6 found this review helpful
By Jake on Thursday, August 28, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 36,400overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Beautiful Car"
Cons: "needs more tire noise dampening."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"This car has a beautiful interior and has exterior likes that I like very much. It is a drivers car and loves the road. Every where I go someone is asking me about the car. This car would have been a terrific seller if it had made it to the market a few years sooner. I personally find it hard to believe it is a Suzuki because they were so ugly and cheap looking in the past. A wonderful car to late. Someone should pick up this design add a V6 and enjoy mountains of sales."
1 person out of 3 found this review helpful
By Rod on Thursday, June 12, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 25,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Handles well, CVT smooth, catches eyes"
Cons: "too few to complain"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I purchased this vehicle a year after so I got away from all of the lost cost driving off of the dealer lot. At 12000 miles new to me It was still in excellent condition and couldnt even tell it was a year old. I have the Sport SLS model and for the price the thing is loaded with options and extras. Not just fancy wood on the dash or a whatever switch that really has no use. I have two girls 5-10 so the black leather is amazing and holding up really well and even the plastic and buttons, that I have seen on other cheaper forgein models, are holding up nicely. I cant tell you how many times I have been in a parking lot and had people come up just to see exactly what it is because there arent many on the road.... Hopefully that is not an issue when it comes to repair time so I guess we will see that way. It is a little noisy with the light 4 cylinder road noise wise. and even though it looks fast and furious per say its not going to be beating too many off the light. However, it is wonderfully smooth and once you put better tires on it, it handles the road like a champs. I live in mountainous and windy area and you just feel comfortable taking any corner. I would recommend this rig for sure. Hesitant about repairs since SUZUKI is no longer going to sell in US. But I will just keep enjoying the nice ride until that time comes."
15 people out of 29 found this review helpful