Thumbs Up: A comfortable mid-sized sedan with great build quality, surprising content and reasonable performance.
Thumbs Down: Six speed transmission has long throws, loose gates and tall gearing.
Buy This Car If: You want a Japanese-built Volkswagen Jetta at a slightly lower price point.
If you would have blindfolded me and put me behind the wheel of a 2010 Suzuki Kizashi, then asked me what I thought I was driving, my answer would have been a Volkswagen Jetta. Sure, the engine note is different, and the six speed in the Kizashi isn’t up to VW standards, but aside from that, the cars feel remarkably similar. Some would take that as an insult, but I mean that as praise. The Kizashi GTS won’t challenge an Audi A4 (like Suzuki’s marketing department claims), but it will compete favorably against Volkwagen’s midsized sedan.
Like the Jetta, the Kizashi offers reasonable handling and above average comfort at an entry level price point. Unlike the Jetta, the Kizashi is available in both FWD and AWD layouts, and comes with either a six speed manual (in FWD models) or a CVT transmission. Luxury comes at a lower price with the Suzuki as well, at least in 2010: to match the content of my Kizashi GTS, you’d need to opt for a Jetta SEL. The Kizashi stickers at $22,499, while the Jetta comes in nearly $1,000 higher, at $23,455. Want more incentive? The Suzuki comes with a 7 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty versus the VW’s, which is 2 years or 40,000 miles shorter.
If you’ve ever driven a Suzuki in the past, especially in the distant past, I’d encourage you to throw out any preconceived notions you may have. Material quality and build quality was something of an issue on early Suzuki’s, but that is no longer the case with the Kizashi. My tester came to me with nearly 6,500 miles on the clock, and “tester miles” should be looked at like “dog years”, since not everyone who drives a press fleet vehicle is as kind as yours truly. Despite the relatively high mileage, the car didn’t have a single squeak, rattle or vibration, and still felt as tight as the day it rolled off the assembly line. The paintwork is impressive, and I would even call it “category leading” in this price point.
All Kizashi models come with a 2.4 liter inline four motor, good for 185 horsepower and 170 pound feet of torque. Zero to sixty for my six speed equipped FWD Kizashi happens in 8.3 seconds, and the car gets a reasonable EPA estimate of 24 MPG in combined city and highway testing. My own mileage seems to back this up, as the Kizashi got 24.7 mpg in my combined city and highway driving. The motor is smooth enough, but not well suited to spirited driving; try to rev-match on a downshift, and you’ll discover that the Kizashi’s motor keeps spinning higher after you lift off the throttle and get on the clutch. My impression is that Suzuki equipped the Kizashi with a heavy flywheel, possibly to make the manual transmission more forgiving for novice drivers. Most drivers won’t notice, and it’s hardly an issue for the day to day commute, but it does take away from the Kizashi’s ability to be driven in a spirited manner.
The main weak point I came across was the gearing of the six speed transmission. Suzuki appears to have set gear ratios for mileage, not for acceleration or driving enjoyment. At seventy miles per hour, in sixth gear, acceleration is glacial unless you downshift to fourth. Even then, acceleration is no more than adequate, as is the case when working up through the gears. Short shift the car (as most driver’s will do), and you wont even notice. Push the car hard, and you’ll find yourself wondering where the 185 ponies went to. You won’t hear me say this often, but I’d go for the CVT transmission (which comes with paddle shifters to mimic gearing) over the manual, which really does need further refinement
The inside of the Kizashi is a decent place to spend time. I commend Suzuki for keeping cloth seats, since I much prefer these over leather or vinyl. The driver’s seat is 10 way adjustable and features lumbar support plus memory, essential for drivers like myself who spend weeks dialing in the perfect driving position then get borderline homicidal when someone changes it. The leather wrapped steering wheel has adjustment for both tilt and reach, and the steering wheel audio controls fall nicely to hand. The dash features large, retro looking analog gauges for the tach and speedometer, and they give the instrumentation a bit of character. A large vehicle information display (similar to Volkswagen) sits between the tach and speedometer. The automatic climate control is clear and well laid out, and features oversized controls, presumably for use with gloves in the winter time. The Rockford Fosgate stereo (standard on GTS models) is outstanding and among the best I’ve heard in this price point.
On the road, the Kizashi handles very well for an entry level mid sized sedan. I hate to keep flogging a dead horse, but think “VW Jetta” and you get the picture. Steering at low speeds is a bit over-boosted for my tastes, but the variable assist power steering gets better as speed increases. Ride is firm without being harsh, and you get the feeling that the Kizashi has higher handling limits than a lot of other cars in its class. This isn’t a sports sedan (despite Suzuki’s marketing claims), so if you compare it to a Ford Fusion, a Nissan Altima or a (dare I say it) Volkswagen Jetta, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Compare it to an Audi A4, a BMW 3 Series or even an Acura TSX and you’re likely to be sadly disappointed. Of course all of these options are priced well above the Kizashi’s point of entry, so I certainly wouldn’t raise it as an issue.
The Kizashi features a relatively large trunk for the car’s size, and has a 60/40 split rear seat to accommodate oversize cargo. The rear armrest also features a trunk pass-through, useful for hauling things like skis or the odd piece of lumber.
Exterior styling is attractive but conservative compared to the Kizashi concept cars shown in 2007 and 2008. I’ve already praised the paintwork, which really is better than you’d expect in this price range. The Kizashi GTS comes with multi-spoke, turbine styled 18” wheels, and they go a long way towards enhancing the appearance of the sedan. Flared fenders give the car a more aggressive stance, and character lines on the front and rear fenders enhance the car’s overall appearance. Up front, the black chrome grill is a nice touch, but I would have likes a slightly smaller chrome Suzuki “S”. I know Suzuki’s proud of what they achieved with the Kizashi, but the grill logo must have been sized by Flavor Flav.
My Kizshi GTS tester came equipped with a sunroof, 10 speaker Rockford Fosgate stereo, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, fog lights, 235/45R18 tires on alloy wheels, and dual illuminated visors. The only options were premium floor mats ($125.00), premium metallic paint ($130.00) and body side molding accents ($125.00), so my tester carried a sticker price of $22,879.00. That’s a good value for a midsized sedan with this level of content, and I would definitely suggest you put the Kizashi on your list of cars to drive. If your expectations are reasonable, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.