The Suzuki Kizashi was all-new for 2010, and two new Sport models have been added to the 2011 Kizashi lineup of sporty sedans.
Stacking its quality up against a full field of four-cylinder sports sedans, Suzuki last year put the performance brands of the world on notice that they have some unexpected company. Suzuki wasn't just bragging, as the Kizashi has been a resounding sales and driving success.
Kizashi uses one engine, a good 2.4-liter aluminum four-cylinder with variable valve timing that does the job well, getting about 25 combined mpg, by both EPA ratings and our couple weeks in Kizashi models. It runs smooth and makes 185 or 180 horsepower, depending on whether it's mated to the 6-speed manual transmission or Continuously Variable Transaxle, which operates automatically or can be shifted through six steps using paddles on the steering wheel.
Suzuki engineers invested much time and attention in the development of the suspension, MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear, and it shows; the ride, including over rough roads, and handling, including hard driving on the track, are exceptional for a midsize sports sedan that costs a mere $20,000. The chassis raises the bar for rigidity. The brakes, too, we found to be pitch perfect.
All-wheel drive is an option. It's a sophisticated system that turns on and off, like some SUVs, so that you can use the normal front-wheel-drive on dry pavement and not waste fuel. Called i-AWD, the all-wheel-drive package, available with the CVT, brings Suzuki to the game with the big boys, such as the Subaru Legacy and Audi A3.
Styling-wise, the Kizashi looks both potent and elegant, in its modest midsize manner. Lovely lines: a touch of Audi here, a pinch of Lexus there. No overachieving swoops or flares, no gratuitous chrome trying to grab your attention.
New for 2011 are the Kizashi GTS and Kizashi SLS models. Both feature special Sport bodywork, including a more muscular front fascia and lower grille, side sill extensions, spoiler on the trunk lid, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The crossed mesh grille is titanium colored.
Inside the cabin, the quality of the materials is high, maybe especially the standard sport seats. The layout of the controls and instruments is clean, and the standard equipment is plentiful, including climate control vents for the rear seat. Even the base model has remote entry, pushbutton start, power windows, USB port, and other equipment many base models lack, although cruise control is not included at that lowest price. Both Sport models get their own steering wheels, and the SLS Sport gets contrasting stitching on its leather seats.
Kizashi straddles the line between compact and midsize sedans. Popular Mechanics magazine included it in a face-off of midsize sedans in 2010, and the Kizashi scored first-place in handling, braking, skid pad grip, and acceleration, against Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima, Mazda 6, and Chevrolet Malibu.
Safety-wise, the Kizashi leads the field, with no less than eight standard airbags, advanced stability control using the ABS, projector beam headlamps, and a tire pressure monitor. The Kizashi has surpassed the government's 2014 standards for side pole impact and offset front collision.