La Jolla, Calif. _ Suzuki recently invited me to drive the 2011 Kizashi Sport. I did not know what to expect, having never driven a Suzuki before, but that was the point of the invitation. Suzuki is trying to reach a new audience — active people who want a midsize sports sedan that looks cool and goes vroom.
Suzuki arranged a roundtrip drive from seaside La Jolla to Julian, a sleepy Western town 50 twisting, turning, hilly miles inland. My first impression of the car – looks good. Most midsize sedans are boring. Nobody buys a Camry to impress women. At least, not successfully. Suzuki has remade its American product line and it has put the Kizashi at the fore. The angle – make what is traditionally a boring segment of the car market more exciting. The Kizashi Sport, which is pronounced “Kee-Zah-Shee” and is Japanese for “something great is coming,” rides on 18-inch alloy wheels, not usually available for cars in its class. The sedan’s Europen-style exterior is punctuated with flashes of chrome and culminates in its stout front end. Normally when you think of Suzuki cars the words “small” and “practical” and “I think my math teacher owned one” come to mind. When I looked at the red Kizashi Sport, I thought “class.”
I drove the SLS automatic, which comes with all-wheel drive. It is powered by a 2.4 L DOHC inline four-cylinder engine, which gets 180 horsepower when paired with its performance-tuned continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT’s benefits: no shift shock and increased fuel efficiency. The drawback: the CVT holds the gear, so to speak, at a high rev. Some people find this annoying, but the sound was not loud enough to affect my enjoyment of the car. And if it had, I could have used the Sport’s paddle shifters. The CVT also is used by Lexus, Nissan and Audi, so this occurrence is not uncommon.
Considering I was driving a midsize sedan, acceleration proved more than adequate. I sped quickly onto I-5, and later was able to pass an SUV with ease on a two-lane highway. The horsepower is comparable to the Mazda 6, Altima and Acura TSX. At least one auto writer has wished publicly for Suzuki to drop a V-6 into the engine bay. I mention this wish not as a knock against the Kizashi, but as a compliment. Hey Suzuki, you designed a midsize sedan that looks like it should have a V-6 under the hood. That’s a design win.
While twisting and turning through a two-lane highway, the Kizashi Sport offered a smooth, solid ride thanks to the steel unibody, reinforced front suspension, five-link rear suspension and high-performance KYB shocks. I was reminded of how close I was to the ground every time the car in front of me braked in corners while I acclerated through, which I did with the four-wheel drive engaged. I shoved the car around a few corners and never felt any loss of grip. The braking was excellent, as it ought to be, with components supplied by Akebono, the same company that manufactures the brakes that stop Japan’s bullet trains. The Sport felt as safe as advertised, and was comfortable and quiet. Compartments such as the glove box and trunk are flocked, helping to keep external noise to a minimum.
The interior was roomy and filled with premium amenities for its class, such as push-button ignition, dual zone climate control, bluetooth, iPod connectivity, a USB port that keeps MP3 players charged, sport steering wheel and standard sport seats. It’s a fun car, designed for commuting to the office and weekend getaways to the mountains or the beach. I thoroughly enjoyed driving it. Suzuki’s goal was to build a car that drives like it is one class above its price. With the Kizashi Sport, it has succeeded.
The GTS Sport 6-speed costs just under $23,000, plus $735 in destination and handling. The SLS 6-speed is based at $24,699, plus destination. The SLS AWD that I drove topped out at just over $28,000 – with destination, floor mats, XM and trunk pass-through.