By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 3/9/2011
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.
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)
With virtually no change in its base MSRP from 2010 to 2011 (just under $20,000), the Kizashi remains a value proposition, undercutting similarly equipped Altimas, Accords and Camrys by many hundreds of dollars. The most popular Kizashi, an SE with front- wheel drive, will command around $22,500, while a top-level SLS with both CVT and all-wheel drive is a touch over $28K. To better determine actual transaction prices, check the Kizashi's Fair Purchase Price at kbb..com. In terms of resale, having purged its lineup of rebranded Korean product from GM/Daewoo, Suzuki as a whole is performing at levels fully competitive with its Asian and domestic competition.