Say you want a four-door family car, but you don’t want to be stuck with plain vanilla. You want something fun, but not too big.
You could spend $30,000 or more and get an Audi A4 or an Acura TSX. There are a few other choices if you want affordable performance, but the tradeoff is lack of luxury and comfort. One car that seems to be a great balance is one that most people have never even heard of, a Suzuki Kizashi.
The Kizashi is Suzuki’s idea of a sports sedan. While it’s not anything close to a BMW M3, it is pleasantly surprising. The Kizashi, Suzuki says, is “premium feel without premium pricing.”
Suzuki has a lot of experience in building small cars. That “premium” feel starts out with clean, conservative styling that looks substantial. We wish that the sporty GTS trim was given a more aggressive look, but it would have probably made the car more expensive.
The premium feel blows you away as soon as you get inside. Suzuki provides a contemporary and upscale interior atmosphere with expensive feeling materials and rich textures. Get inside the Kizashi Sport GTS and get inside other comparable cars from Toyota or Nissan in the same price range and you will feel the difference. The Suzuki feels more like an Audi than a Toyota. Driving enthusiasts will appreciate Kizashi’s sporty, elegant and informative instrument panel, while consumers seeking a luxury sedan will be pleased with the vehicle’s available leather seating and premium quality materials rivaling those of upscale competitors.
There are three-stage heated seats and three-position memory seating. There are even small details such as French seams and high-density, low-fatigue foam in the seats. The Kizashi also offers extensive sound insulation to help suppress road, tire and wind noise and it works. Unlike many other cars in this price range, the Suzuki is smooth and quiet.
“Premium” also means safe and the 2011 Kizashi does not disappoint. It incorporates a long list of standard safety equipment, including a class-exclusive eight standard airbags, electronic stability program’ an anti-lock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Additionally, the 2011 Kizashi already meets higher-speed front crash standards that will take effect in 2012 and rigorous side barrier and side-pole crash standards that will take effect in 2014. Better visibility is achieved with standard projector beam headlights, supplemental side-mounted signal lights, fold-down rear headrests, available rear sonar and backup camera.
The Japanese built Kizashi is equipped with a 2.4 liter DOHC 16 valve four cylinder that puts out 185 horsepower when ordered with the manual transmission. Cars with automatics get only 180 horsepower. While that’s not a huge number, it still results in respectable performance. With the manual transmission and the standard front-wheel drive, the Kizashi can run to 60 mph from a standstill in 7.4 seconds and all the way to a top speed of 124 mph. The engine feels responsive at lower speeds due to short gearing in the lower gears while the sixth speed is good for cruising on the freeway.
If you want to accelerate you’ll need to work the gearbox, since there isn’t a lot of torque under the hood. Fortunately, the shift linkage works well.
Another interesting feature of the Kizashi is the availability of all-wheel drive. Kizashi’s next-generation i-AWD system is a rare option in its class, as this performance feature is more often found among luxury offerings. Engineered to provide outstanding traction in inclement weather, the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system delivers enhanced traction in low-friction situations. Activated by the driver, the system sends power to the rear wheels immediately upon acceleration.
Torque split, up to 50:50 front/rear, remains dependent on several factors, including wheel slippage, throttle and steering input. If you live in an area that receives a lot of snow, that may be of great importance to you but otherwise you are better off avoiding it. The added weight and friction really slows the Kizashi down and, to further add salt to the wound, the AWD requires the automatic transmission that makes it even slower.
How much would you expect to pay for such a car? The Kizashi starts out at only $19,000 with our Sport GTS model costing only $23,000 with FWD and manual transmission. That is a huge bargain when you look at what else is available at that price. Suzuki likes to compare the Kizashi Sport with the Audi A4. That may be stretching it, but they do have a point. The A4 does give you more but it costs significantly more. When you compare the features and the premium feel of the Suzuki, you would be hard pressed to find anything comparable.