S is for Super: Suzuki Kizashi

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This Suzuki would have probably been the car of the year if Suzuki had a larger advertising budget. The truth be told that the S is a sleeper. Starting at under $20,000 for a well equipped base model and $26,000 for a loaded Sport version, these sedans are comfortable, fun to drive, and we squeezed out over 32 mpg in our extended stay with the Kisashi (Kee-Zah-Shee). Why extended? Because the horrendous weather that was pelting the area was making testing difficult. Nevertheless, despite the snow and rain the Kizashi always felt sure footed and safe.

 We were hard pressed to tell we weren’t driving an Audi or Accra based on its fit, finish, and handling dynamics. Okay, we exaggerate a little, but if you like to drive, and not be driven, this Suzuki is much more enjoyable than the traditional sedans.

 Mom’s view: The exterior is nice, but it doesn’t shout Suzuki, which could be good or bad. It is enjoyable to drive and the six speed manual transmission shifts effortlessly. However, don’t skip first gear because the 185-horsepower engine bogs until the rpm reaches 2000. The clutch is mellow, the pedals a bit close together for those driving wearing thicker heels, and the ride is quiet.

 The Kizashi is really a surprise. We dearly love its smaller sister, the SX4, that is a nearly perfect cute utility vehicle with all wheel drive, great gas mileage and GPS for $15,000. But the Kizashi is more family oriented. We tested the Sport trim package with a lower grille, body side sill extensions, a trunk mounted spoiler, larger wheels and interior tidbits. It looks more sporty, but I am not sure it is worth it in daily driving.

 Safety wise there is a plethora of standard equipment including standard eight airbags; electronic stability program; an anti-lock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution; and a tire pressure monitoring system among other features. Visibility to the sides and back is limited, but the mirrors are large and easy to adjust.

 Young working woman’s view: A great warranty that offers 100,000-mile/seven-year, is fully transferable, with a zero-deductible powertrain limited warranty anchors this Suzuki and soothes the fears of those afraid to leave the shelter of more popular brands. But it didn’t take me long to be won over by its features, values, and business like virtues. The headroom and legroom make the car feel much larger than it is. On the more upscale GTS and SLS models you get a sunroof as standard equipment. Nice touch. In fact, the Kizashi is full of nice touches, except for a couple it items such a driver’s computer readout that was overly optimistic about the mpg. The gauges use a small font, and why does it have to go to 140 mph? The climate control and stereo controls are a model of usability, but the iPod and USB ports were confusing. A nice car, but a turbo would make this a much more attractive bad boy.

Dad’s view: A car that loves to play best describes the Suzuki. It isn’t very powerful, but the engine is smooth. The 2.4-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine doesn’t get serious until over 5000 rpm so you don’t have to worry about leaving burnout marks on the pavement. But be warned, the highway ride is so pleasant that you seldom know how fast you are really going. We went to Palm Spring and constantly had to slow down. Going to Big Bear yielded a similar concern as the Suzuki bounding up the highway in fourth gear. The brake feel is a bit soft, but the four-wheel disc brakes offer short stops when pushed and the steering is light. An easy car to maneuver, If Suzuki can get people to drive this sedan they are going to be surprised.

Young working male’s view: The Suzuki is filled with little surprises. There is good interior lighting, a soft cloth covered glove box, a storage tray that keeps small items from sliding, and even door pull-straps. Add to that a keyless push start system, and such available goodies as a Bluetooth, a USB port and a very good Rockford Fosgate audio system with 10-speaker system. You have to ask yourself if you are brave enough to say you own a Suzuki and not have people think motorcycle.

Our test car had three-stage heated front seats; rain-sensing windshield wipers; heated mirrors; an automatic day-night mirror; voice-command hands-free calling, a standard sunroof on some versions, and available satellite radio. There is more, but suffice to say that this is the best Suzuki ever. Period.

Family conference: If you need a sedan you need to test drive this Suzuki. It uses unleaded fuel and sips it. You get exceptional safety equipment standard. The warranty is as good as it gets in this price range. The ride is compliant yet playful. If you live in the mountains you can order all wheel drive. After all, S is for super.