's bread-and-butter sedan, Kizashi
(pronounced Kahh-sahh-she) returns in 2012 with only minor tweaks from 2011. Having debuted in the 2010 model year, the four-cylinder sport sedan holds its hood high in an exceedingly crowed, mid-size segment.
There is a method to the madness behind the name. From Japanese, Kizashi
translates to "something great is coming." Suzuki
began selling cars in America back in 1985 with a primary focus on small, fuel efficient offerings, a devilishly clever mantra considering today's $3.50 per gallon gas prices. Since its debut, the mid-size Kizashi
easily slipped into flagship status at the Japanese automaker. It was designed from the ground up with Suzuki
calling the shots rather than partnering with another manufacturer, as was the case with its predecessor, the forgettable Korean-built Forenza. Kizashi
is a value-driven sedan priced less ($20,999 to start) than comparably-equipped four doors from Japan's big three (Toyota, Honda and Nissan). All trims, even base models, come with electronic push-button start. Suzuki
, one of the smaller players in the Asian automotive market, survived the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan relatively unscathed, although production was halted, playing havoc with supply lines. For 2012 though, it's back to business at Suzuki
's Sagaro, Japan plant that assembles Kizashi
was the first Suzuki
passenger car to offer all-wheel drive. It's one of a handful of mid sizers to offer this option, handy for Chicago's soon-to-arrive slush, snow and ice season. Sturdy front-wheel drive comes standard.
The sole engine in all four trims (S, SE, Sport GTS, Sport SLS) is a 2.4-liter, 16-valve inline four-cylinder engine with multi-point fuel injection cranking out a comparatively impressive 185 horsepower. Shoppers get to choose between an automatic-type CVT (continuously variable transmission), or six-speed manual. With CVT, an infinite range of forward gears (not just five or six) creates a smoother experience and slightly toned-down horsepower of 180. By comparison, the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu cranks out 169 horses with its 2.4-liter four cylinder while a four-cylinder 2012 Mazda 6 generates 170. Some mid-size rivals offer optional six-cylinder power, although with increased fuel economy targets, more and more are opting to go with just a four.
Minimal 2012 updates include a new leather seating option in SE and additional Crimson Red exterior color in S and SE. The top-performing model, a Sport SLS with six-speed manual, reduces weight by eliminating the sunroof and power driver's seat, although our tester this week, a Sport GTS with CVT retains both. Also for 2012, Sport SLS now comes with in-dash navigation standard, but remains optional in Sport GTS. Rear seat entertainment screens are not available.
At 183.1 inches long, Kizashi
fits at the smaller end of the mid-size spectrum. Head and leg room are decent front and back. Controls are intuitively positioned and easy to navigate at a glance. The Sport SLS is the only trim with leather seating surfaces standard. The manually-adjusting, three-spoke steering column tilts and telescopes and is home to secondary stereo controls and cruise functions in every model. Seats include low-fatigue foam for optimal back comfort, appreciated during a Northwest Tollway trek to Rockford. The instrument panel includes two large analog gauges with digital message window tucked between. Up level GTS and SLS Sport models include a welcomed perforated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The dash column's center bodes forward with sides gently sloping back towards the "A" pillars. Atop is a sound system with digital message window displaying station information with large, pre-set push buttons. Below is the dual zone (standard in all trims) ventilation system with large, textured twist knobs monitoring temperature and push buttons for fan direction and speed. A retracting cover below houses a USB plug-in port and 12-volt outlet for portable electronics. Soft-touch materials add elegance to the dash and front door panels. The non-partitioned glove box utilizes one large bin.
Fuel economy readings are slightly below the industry average. Our all-wheel-drive model with CVT averaged 22 mpg city and 29 highway. The fuel leader is front-drive with six-speed manual generating 21 mpg city and 31 highway. The good-sized 16.6-gallon tank utilizes regular, unleaded fuel.
Our tester, a 2012 Sport GTS with all-wheel drive checked in at $25,749. Extras included premium floor mats ($210), metallic paint ($130), Bluetooth hands-free connectivity ($240) and trunk-stowed first-aid kit ($65) for a bottom line of $26,404. One of the few option packages is an in-dash navigation system with built-in rear camera ($1,399) available only in the GTS trim. The lowest priced S trim with six-speed manual starts at $20,999. By contrast a 2012 Mazda 6 checks in at $21,240 while a 2012 Malibu lists at $21,995.
Strap-like door handles and breakaway-type side-view mirrors share color with the body panel. The front, honey-comb grille presents Suzuki
's prominent "S" logo front and center flanked by large headlight housing. High side belt (or character) lines create slightly smaller window dimensions. Dual exhausts come standard. Sixteen-inch tires adorn S trims while larger 18-inch varieties assure sure-footedness in others. Up level Sport trims (GTS and SLS) include a small trunk-lid spoiler and extra chrome interspersed within the front grille. A temporary spare tire gets stowed under the flat cargo floor.
Because of Kizashi
's smaller mid-size dimensions, two adults fit with optimal comfort in back. Rear seatbacks include a 60/40 split allowing access to the 13.3 cubic-foot trunk (average for this class). In keeping with a sports theme, expect a lower seating position.
Sport trims, including our GTS tester, are designed with a 10 millimeter lower ride height for a lower center of gravity and enhanced aerodynamics. In general, Kizashi
's five-link rear suspension affords firmer handling reflecting that of the mid-size Mazda 6 rather than a more subtle ride delivered by the Chevrolet Malibu. Little body sway is encountered when entering or exiting expressway ramps.
In the near future, don't expect any gas-electric hybrid, clean diesel or all-electric powertains in Suzuki
passenger cars. A once intriguing alliance with Germany's largest automaker, Volkswagen, conceived back in 2009 has soured, so technology interaction may be wishful thinking.
As mentioned, Kizashi
's biggest hurdle may be the plethora of worthy competition in the popular mid-size sedan segment. Toyota's venerable Camry gets a complete makeover in 2012 while the competitively priced and styled Kia Optima turned heads during its 2011 revamp. Domestic rivals upped the ante recently with the quiet cabined Chevy Malibu and reinforced Ford Fusion. Still, Kizashi
is more than up to the task especially if pricing and content is a high priority.Kizashi
's ace in the hole may be Suzuki
's generous seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. It's fully transferable to the next owner (helping boost resale value); a key difference when stacked against other extended warranties. Kizashi
meets 2014 crash test standards and includes eight standard air bags including front and rear side curtains along with front and rear side seat mounted. Additionally, antilock brakes and electronic stability control are found in all trims. At a glancePrice as tested:
2.4-liter, four cylinderHorsepower:
180City/Highway fuel economy: