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2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS FWD Review

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2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS

SEE ALSO: Suzuki Buyers Guide


2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS FWD
The Best Kept Secret in The Auto Business

Introduced last year and pointing to new directions for Suzuki, the mid-sized Kizashi sedan gets enhancements to style and suspension for 2011.

When you think of Suzuki, what do you think of? Here in the U.S., probably motorcycles - no surprise as the GSXR series and Hayabusa sportbikes are legendary. Or maybe small SUVs, like the long-running Grand Vitara.

While motorcycles and mini-SUVs have been the best-known Suzuki-brand vehicles here, Suzuki also makes cars. Its Wagon R has been the best-selling car in Japan for a while, and Suzuki has a near-50 percent market share in India. Here, its cars have suffered from a long-time association with General Motors that saw re-badged Daewoos brought in and sold as Suzukis. Low price was an attraction, refinement was not.

Those days are over. The joint venture with GM is history, as are the Daewoos. There is a new agreement with Volkswagen that should bear fruit within a few years. Meanwhile, Suzuki is perfectly capable of building high-quality, fun-to-drive cars on its own. Case in point: the Kizashi.

The Kizashi is meant to lead a transformation from builder of basic transportation to builder of more stylish, performance-oriented, desirable, aspirational cars. At this point, it's one of the best-kept secrets in the industry. With the Kizashi, Suzuki has announced its intent to be "premium without the premium", to make and sell cars that compete with those a class or two above their price point.

A tall order, but if the Kizashis that I've driven in the past year are any indication, Suzuki is on its way to success. Designed and built to compete not necessarily with the popular mainstream mid-size Asian and American sedans but also with used (so comparably-priced) European sports-luxury compacts as well, the Kizashi offers a distinct alternative to all. It's more European than Japanese in looks and feeling, and combines a sporty character with a powerful and efficient four-cylinder engine matched to either a six-speed manual or CVT transmission, with all-wheel drive available in CVT models.

No V6? No problem! The Kizashi's 185-horsepower four moves it as quickly as many a competitor's V6 model. I saw an average of 26 mpg during my recent week with a new Sport SLS, the top of the model line, even without paying any attention to high-mileage driving. Actually, it was more the opposite…

Notice that "Sport" in the model name. Chief among the Kizashi's sophomore years changes is the transformation of uplevel GTS and SLS models to Sport GTS and Sport SLS, with a lowered, firmer suspension and interior and exterior

cosmetic and functional upgrades. The S and SE continue mostly as before, offering great value.

The Kizashi Sport SLS features leather seating, power-adjustable and heated in front, heated outside mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and rear parking sensors in addition to its new sport suspension and enjoyable driving character -- just like an entry sport-luxury sedan. At $25,305 as tested (minus tax, license, etc), it's considerably easier on the budget. With cars like the Kizashi, Suzuki is headed in the right direction.

APPEARANCE: No boredom visually, no boredom dynamically. The Kizashi's rounded lines, short hood, larger passenger cabin, and short deck conspire to make it look small -- and perhaps the Suzuki nameplate reinforces that impression -- but it's not. With a 183.1-inch length on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, it slots right at the compact/midsize boundary outside, convenient for squeezing into tight parking spaces. On the Sport models, the distinctive two-piece grille is enhanced with more chrome, the lower front fascia and side sills get an aero treatment, and a small spoiler is added to the trunk lid. Ride height is 10mm lower, with upgraded wheels and tires.

COMFORT: If the Kizashi looks small outside, it feels larger inside. Two largish friends rode in the rear seat, and had compliments, not complaints. They also got floor heat vents and end of console air vents, just like in more expensive cars. Yes, the Kizashi is on the narrow side, so three adults will be cramped - but the same can be said of most sedans. The interior design and materials are a class above what's expected, with soft-touch textured materials on the instrument panel, and very tight fit and finish tolerances. The standard equipment level is high, as even the S gets SmartPass® keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a useful information display in addition to the expected power windows, mirrors, and locks. SLS Sport level means power-adjustable front seats, comfortable and supportive, with 10 way adjustment for the driver and four for the passenger, with heat, fancier trim on the tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel (plus cruise and auxiliary audio controls), a good Rockford-Fosgate audio system, and more. Good soundproofing further contributes to the premium experience inside. Good trunk space is another bonus.

SAFETY: Eight airbags and a strong structure that meets 2014 side pole and rear offset collision standards are among the Kizashi's passive safety features. Active safety is enhanced by the ESP® Electronic Stability Program, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake-force distribution, and predictable handling characteristics and response.

RIDE AND HANDLING: In standard trim, the Kizashi distinguishes itself from the mass of mid-size and compact transportation appliances with a firmer, more European tuning to its fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension. Sport models build on this with slightly firmer springs and shocks and lower-profile, wider 235/45 VR18 tires on lightweight alloy wheels. A 10mm decrease in ride height further improves response with a minimal effect on ground clearance (no problem with the "rolled curb" at the end of my driveway). It's still more sport-touring than sport, no problem at all for everyday use. At a journalist's track day earlier in the year, Suzuki had a Kizashi with a stock engine and track suspension setup. Big fun, and one of the stars of the day on the track. So if you want more out of your Kizashi, it's there and the car is fully capable of dealing with it.

PERFORMANCE: I've read complaints that the Kizashi was underpowered. Perhaps said complaints came from people who have spent too much time in high-dollar exotics? And let's not forget the old adage that it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow. Not that the Kizashi is slow -- it's 7.4 second (manual) 0-60 time is respectable for a four-cylinder family sedan, and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine's 185 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) and 170 lb-ft of torque (at 4500) are more than enough for driving entertainment. Good low- and mid-range torque and a flexible nature makes it easy to drive, with either of two or three gears good enough most of the time. Shifting the six-speed gearbox is a joy, thanks to good linkage, and low lower gears and a high overdrive sixth ensure both good acceleration and economical highway cruising. And if power is needed, just rev it -- over 4000 it builds in a linear manner and you won't miss a heavier V6 (and its negative contribution to weight distribution and weight) at all. And a V6 wouldn't sip fuel to the tune of the four's EPA-rated 20mpg city, 29 highway or my heavy-throttle 26 average.

CONCLUSIONS: The Suzuki Kizashi is a unique entry in the family sedan class, combining unexpected refinement and character with a very reasonable price.

2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS

Base Price			$ 24,699
Price As Tested			$ 25,304
Engine Type			DOHC aluminum alloy 16-valve inline
				 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 146 cu. in.
Horsepower			185 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			170 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		106.3 in. / 183.1 in.
Curb Weight			3350 lbs. (est)
Pounds Per Horsepower		18.1
Fuel Capacity			16.6 gal.
Fuel Requirement		regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P235/45 R18 94V m+s
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, 
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut/
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 29 / 26
0 to 60 mph				7.4  sec

Premium floor mat set			$ 125
Premium metallic paint			$ 130
XM Satellite Radio			$ 350
Destination and handling		included