Review: 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS AWD

By Charles Krome

I’ll start by saying the Kizashi gets the highest praise I can give a vehicle: I’d actually use my own money to buy one. Maybe not this exact model, but certainly the Sport SLS or GTS without the all-wheel-drive system. Yes, you trade away some amount of grip, but you make up for it by getting a six-speed manual transmission, five more horsepower and a slightly lighter car. And at that stage, you’d be sitting in a nimble near-premium sport sedan with a surprising amount of pep, a well-crafted and roomy interior, and a sub-$25,000 starting price—a combination you really can’t get anywhere else.

And even the AWD version I had was plenty of fun. The only problem—and it’s a common complaint amongst the Kizashi elite—is that the car is a tad underpowered. Under the hood is Suzuki’s 2.4-liter 16-valve I4 with “digital” fuel injection, which delivers 180 horses and 170 lb.-ft. of torque. Those numbers may seem underwhelming at first, especially when hooked up to a CVT, but they’re enough to push the car from 0-60 in a not-too-shabby 7.5 or so seconds, and it feels even faster because of the car’s dynamic handling setup.

Of course, even with that being said, I can tell you that the CVT is not going to satisfy a performance-oriented driver, even with its paddle shifters and manual gear control. “Shifting gears” was a sloppy affair, especially downshifting, and more than once my right foot somehow found itself out of sync with Kizashi’s torque band, which didn’t do much for acceleration. I’ll also admit I’m a firm believer that you can have more fun with three pedals than you can with two, regardless of the vehicle.

Now, about those vehicle dynamics: The Kizashi gets the de rigueur Nurburgring-tuned suspension, with MacPherson struts and coil springs up front and a multi-link setup at the back, as well as nice KYB shocks. Plus, the Sport model’s ride height has been lowered 10 mm. As a result of this work, as shown by Suzuki in a relatively amusing YouTube spot, the Kizashi is capable of out-handling an Audi A4—as well as a motorized sofa. The car did well in the real world, too, with minimal body roll and, for the most part, rock-solid composure. For those who like to put a number on things, a quick spin around the Internet shows the Kizashi Sport can achieve about .93g on the skid pad.

That kind of performance was enhanced by a more-than-competent electronic power steering system that was perhaps just a shade too light for my tastes but provided very impressive road feel. In fact, the actual driving experience was very comfortable all the way around. The seats were firm and supportive—and well-stitched—and the cabin was sleek and tidy, without a lot of distracting buttons and knobs and what have you. Part of that was because this specific Kizashi eschewed a nav system and rearview camera, although both are available as options. Frankly, in a driver’s car like the Kizashi, I’d much rather skip that technology anyway and save a couple thousand bucks.

Speaking of which, the Kizashi’s high-value proposition is another definite advantage. The MSRP of my tester was $27,149, and that included up-level content like heated front seats, push-button start, rear climate vents, heated mirrors, a power sunroof, a rear-parking sonar-alert system, rain-sensing wipers, an incredible 425-watt Rockford-Fosgate stereo and the Sports package, which added an aero body kit, lightweight wheels, further suspension tweaks and a “Sport Design” steering wheel. The only options were premium floor mats ($125), XM Satellite Radio ($350) and a “Trunk  Pass-Through Ski Bag” ($50). Remember, too, that the car also comes with Suzuki’s intelligent all-wheel-drive system.

When you consider you can get into the same package for $24,849 by eliminating the AWD/CVT, you can really start seeing just what a great bargain the Kizashi is. And that’s particularly the case when you keep in mind how much car you’re getting. The Kizashi is 183.1 inches in length, which is slightly longer than most mainstream compacts—those are almost all just south of 180 inches. But the Suzuki’s interior volume of 105.4 cubic feet is more expansive than nearly all mid-size sedans except the Honda Accord, which has all of .6 more cubic feet of space.

For what it’s worth, the A4 I mentioned above clocks in at 91 cubic feet. And as long as we’re talking about the A4, let’s talk about its MSRP, which starts at $32,400 for the front-wheel-drive starter model and $33,300 for the lowest-cost model with quattro. The corresponding Kizashis begin at $18,999 and $22,099, and if that’s not exactly apples-to-apples, it’s certainly at least fruit-to-fruit.

I mean, the Kizashi isn’t an A4, but you could buy a Nissan Versa for the amount of money you’d save purchasing the former instead of the latter. It’s also worth pointing out that at a no-AWD price of under $25,000, a Kizashi is notably less expensive than a high-end Chevy Cruze—a quick visit to Cars.com showed more than 15 Cruzes kitted out to above $26,000.

Some other random pros and cons of the Kizashi:

  • Although there wasn’t a lot of interior storage, there was a dedicated, covered compartment in which you could tuck away an iPod and its cord while listening to Apple’s wonder machine.
  • The Rockford-Fosgate sound system was outstanding.
  • The switchgear for the power windows and door locks was slanted slightly away from the driver, so reaching for it always felt odd.
  • The nubbly black plastic that covered much of the dash was engaging and soft enough, but it was already fading in the sun.
  • The nice chrome-looking “exhaust tips” were actually separate from the true exhaust pipes, making for a messy, tacked-on appearance.
  • The interior had both split-folding seats and a center pass-through for long objects (see the aforementioned “Ski Bag”).
  • The driving pedals were adjustable.
  • There were rear climate vents for added backseat comfort.
  • The Kizashi returned excellent fuel mileage; the EPA rates it at 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway, and I achieved a bit over 23.5 mpg despite spending much of my time with the accelerator flat on the floor.

Fun-to-drive, fuel-efficient, well-put-together and offering a ton of value, the Suzuki Kizashi should be on the consideration lists of any driver shopping in the $25,000-or-so neighborhood.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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4 Comments

  1. Excellent review. I really got a good feel for the car and what it’s all about. Thanks.

  2. I found the Kizashi to be a very, very good car when I reviewed a front wheel drive with the six-speed manual – the same configuration that Charles cited as his ideal combination. It’s a very easy car to drive and its ride/handling mix is above average. The fact that its interior materials are a notch or two above the class norm makes it a compelling alternative to the default Toyota/Honda/Nissan/Chevy/Ford choices.

  3. It’s a very appealing car except for the dealership aspect. There’s only one in my city and I haven’t seen a single one on the roads. Suzuki needs to step up, otherwise it may well disappear off the automotive map entirely. It’s a shame as I’d love to test drive one.

  4. Oh and a telling indicator about Suzuki in Canada is that it doesn’t offer leases, so does it expect to still be around in three years? Or does Suzuki assume the Kizashi won’t retain its value enough to void the need for leases?

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