Road Test Reviews, Suzuki, Vehicles

2011 Suzuki Kizashi SX – Road Test

It’s been a number of years since I last drove a Suzuki vehicle – too long in fact. I’ve always been a fan of Suzuki vehicles because they are always well built and well equipped – and they typically cost a lot less than other Japanese vehicles. Many moons ago (1987) when I was a driving instructor I leased one, and my students absolutely loved it.

But Suzuki is just a little car company and don’t make many cars – right? Wrong! Suzuki is the NINTH (9th) largest auto manufacturer in the world – they’ve been around for more than 100 years, they’ve got the Number 1 best-selling car in Japan and have a 50 percent market share in India. I talked to one car dealer several years ago that sold Suzuki’s side-by-side with Volvo’s. He hated the Suzuki’s because they never came back for warranty work. The Volvo’s kept the dealership doors open because of all the warranty work!

In late spring 2010 Suzuki decided to shake things up a bit in the automotive landscape when they launched the Kizashi. They’ve always had small cars and small to mid-sized SUV’s – but until now they’ve never competed in the mid-size sedan arena – at least in North America they haven’t. It’s a tough segment with perennial best-sellers like Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata and the Ford Fusion constantly beating each other up for the “Best-Selling” title. It’s a tough and competitive segment of the market where mediocrity is severely punished, and where glory results in the spoils of huge sales and bigger profits.

So what does Kizashi mean? The translation from Japanese is “something great is coming.” Every now and then a car comes along that just defies what you expect from it. You think you might like it, but you don’t expect it to slap you across the face and make you weak at the knees. And believe it or not that’s exactly what the Kizashi does!

First Impressions
I was fortunate enough to have the Mazda6 GT out for a road test the week before I got the Kizashi -I thought that would be the perfect back to backtest when I booked them. Oh, how wrong I was. After a week of having the life sucked from within in boredom, I got my heart pumping to excess within minutes of driving the Kizashi. I re-discovered what it meant to enjoy driving again!

This week’s test vehicle is the top-of-the-line SX model and at a very reasonable $30,495 Cdn – you get a lot of value for your hard-earned cash. With a choice of three models (S, Sport & SX), Suzuki has done a great job of giving us a well-balanced line up of cars that come fully loaded in the base guise ($25,995 Cdn) and then get more goodies added as one spends just a little more money.

Slipping behind the wheel of the Kizashi, everything is nicely laid out and easily identifiable – which is one more thing I’ve always loved about Suzuki vehicles. The quality of the plastics and the knobs are better than I expected, and Suzuki are definitely taking aim at the better-known marques from Japan and Europe, as well as North America. If they could get bums on the seats they’d unquestionably sell a lot more vehicles here.

Looking around the interior, I was disappointed that there was no USB input for my MP3 player – that was until I lifted up a little door that I originally thought was the ashtray. Crisis averted, I plugged it in and headed off for home. As soon as I pulled out onto the city streets and gave it a bit of welly, I knew right away this was going to be a fun week. Compared to the extremely disappointing Mazda6 GT that I’d just dropped off, it was mind-blowing how two cars could be at such extreme points of the “fun-to-drive scale” – while competing head to head. I went zipping around corners with a big grin on my face – and I’d only been behind the wheel 30 seconds or so. By the time I’d reached the highway I knew that this was the car I’d be buying if I were in the market for a 4-door car and couldn’t quite afford the Acura TL SH-AWD. That’s the highest praise I can give any car!

Generally, I’m not a big fan of paddle-shift gearboxes, but the Kizashi’s has won me over. All week I used it and had a blast. With the CVT transmission you don’t actually get gears because the belts and pulleys inside the transmission are always in the right “gear” for your speed. When left alone the transmission had a little shift – just like a regular transmission, but “gearing down” with the paddle shifters brought the car to life and it held the gear right up to the redline. All too often a manufacturer will programme the transmission to shift at their pre-decided points instead of the drivers. The CVT transmission is optional in other markets, but standard in Canada, while the only way to get the manual gearbox is to buy the Sport version. Other markets also get the 6-speed manual across the model range.

The perfectly shaped and bolstered seats contributed to the fun factor as well as the comfort level. Once set, I didn’t have to adjust it over the course of the week – something that rarely happens for me. The ten-way leather seats come with lumbar adjustment and a three-position memory for the driver and a four-way seat for the front passenger. Even the base model comes with heated front seats, although they are cloth instead of leather.

Model Range
The S model includes a CVT transmission – without the paddle shifters and FWD, but the cloth seats are sill 10-way adjustable, heated and 3-position memory. It’s very rare for a “base” model to come with some of the features that Suzuki has included in the Kizashi. You get an AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA player with 8 speakers, but no Bluetooth, whereas the other two models get the awesome sounding 425-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo system and Bluetooth.

All-in-all you still get an incredible car for the money because it comes with standard features like: Dual-zone automatic climate control system with dust & pollen filter, SmartPass keyless entry and start system, Cruise control with illuminated steering wheel-mounted controls, Tilt and telescopic steering wheel, Information display (outside temperature, fuel consumption & range), Illuminated steering wheel audio controls, Power heated driver’s seat with 10-way adjustment & Driver’s seat 3 position memory, Heated passenger seat (3 positions), 60/40 split-folding rear seatback with folding centre armrest, Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Heated power mirrors, Intermittent windshield wipers, Engine block heater, 17-inch alloy wheels with Tire Pressure Monitoring System.

The Sport model ($29,495 Cdn) differs from the SX in only a few ways such as: it gets aluminum alloy wheels, silver stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a lowered sports suspension, rear spoiler, FWD and you get a 6-speed manual as well as an extra 5 hp. It also comes with leather seats, 4-way power seat for the front passenger, power moonroof, auto headlights, fog lights and rear parking sensor. As mentioned previously, the Sport and SX models get the Premium 425-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo system (AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA player with 9 speakers including a 150-watt subwoofer) with Bluetooth hands-free phone integration, USB audio input jack as well as items such as: Auto-dimming rearview mirror, Automatic headlight on/off, Intermittent & Rain-sensing windshield wipers, Fog lights, Power glass sunroof, Leather seating surfaces and 18-inch alloy wheels. Colour choices are limited to either black or silver.

The SX version gives you everything the Sport model comes with, but adds the next-generation Synergetic Vehicle Dynamics Control (iAWD) that runs the car in FWD, but allows you to switch on the AWD at the press of a button. There are other benefits to the iAWD system including enhanced cornering capabilities. When the driver selects the “AWD” switch on the instrument panel, power to the rear wheels starts immediately upon acceleration and torque split remains dependent on several factors – including wheel slippage and throttle input.

The Kizashi comes standard with the following safety items: Four-Wheel Disc Brakes with ABS, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution) and Brake Assist, Engine immobilizer, Front/rear seat-mounted side airbags, Pre-tensioners for front seat belts, Rear parking sensor and Side curtain airbags.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has awarded the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi with five-star ratings in frontal and side-impact crash tests. The Kizashi also meets the NHTSA’s 2014 side-impact safety standards, according to Suzuki. Standard safety equipment includes eight airbags, standard projector-beam headlights, supplemental side-mounted signal lights, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Audible back-up sensors and a camera are optional

When Suzuki designed the Kizashi, it was engineered from conception to be all-wheel-drive capable and also to have an exceptionally rigid steel unibody – with reinforced front suspension and multi-link rear suspension constructed with embedded aluminum – allowing for crisp, nimble handling with excellent stability, sophisticated ride and reduced chassis vibration. They even went as far as testing it on Germany’s Autobahn, Switzerland’s Alpine twisties, cobblestone roads of rural England and the legendary Nürburgring racetrack.

The Kizashi is considered a mid-sized car but it’s a little smaller than its competitors such as the top-selling Camry, Accord, Mazda6, Altima and Fusion, however I wouldn’t consider that a negative. My wife and I both found the Kizashi a perfect size and couldn’t find fault with it – believe me we tried, it’s a challenge for us to out-do each other when criticizing every vehicle we get. The 2.4 litre engine is a little smaller than the competition (most are 2.5L units), but power is better than most and our fuel economy numbers bested them as well.

There are plenty of mid-sized sedans in the $30,000 price range, but other than the Subaru Legacy, none have AWD as standard equipment. To get a car with this level of refinement you’d have to look at cars costing well over $10,000 more. Suzuki brings a high level of sophistication – not just in the interior, but also on the road all at a budget price. If that isn’t convincing enough, Suzuki is developing an even more fuel-efficient hybrid version that will be added to the lineup in the future.

The Conclusion
If Suzuki could get people to just try the Kizashi before handing over their cash to other manufacturers, they’d be the world’s number one car company. Unless you need a LOT more room in a car – you don’t need to go anywhere else. Unless you really have to spend more money for less content, then shop elsewhere. If you insist on using more fuel than is necessary and would like to get to know the Service Manager of the dealership intimately – then go elsewhere. If you don’t enjoy driving and think it’s just a chore then PLEASE, go elsewhere and let those of us that love to drive enjoy the Kizashi.

Perfect-sized four-door family car
Only comes one way – loaded
Best CVT transmission I’ve driven to date
A blast to drive
Awesome stereo system

Unfortunately, you’re stuck with only silver or black if you go with the Sport version.

Immediate Competition:
Chrysler Sebring/Avenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Mitsubishi Gallant, Nissan Altima/Maxima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry

By The Numbers…
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Powertrain:                  2.4 L, 16-valve DOHC I-4 engine, Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) transmission; iAWD
Horsepower:               180 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque lb-ft:               170 @ 4,000 rpm
0-100 kph:                   N/A
Wheelbase:                  2,700 mm
Curb Weight:                1, 513 – 1,621 kg  (3,308 – 3,549 lbs)
Cargo Capacity:           378 litres (13.3 cu.ft)
Towing capacity:          N/A

Fuel Consumption:
City: 9.3 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 6.8L/100 kms
I averaged 10.7 L/100 kms during pretty aggressive driving

Pricing for the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi SX
Base Price: $25,995 (Kizashi S)
As Tested: $30,495
Destination & Delivery: $1,495

All Suzuki’s come with a 3 year /60,000 km new vehicle limited warranty and a 5 year/100,000 kms Powertrain warranty. Roadside Assistance is 3 years/unlimited kms.

Copyright © 2010 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland

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