When we last saw the Suzuki Kizashi, we called the sedan "a sheep in wolf's clothing," alluding to the Suzuki's promise of sports car performance but delivery of middling power, handling, and economy. For the 2011 model year, Suzuki is back, this time with a Sport badge on its Kizashi. So has the automaker given this wolf some bite to back up its bark or is the sedan sporty only in name? We took a spin in the 2011 Kizashi Sport SLS to find out.
What sort of features come with the Kizashi's new Sport moniker? Aside from a more aggressive nose, lower body kit, trunk-lid spoiler, and more chrome accents than you can shake a stick at, the Kizashi also gains a slightly stiffer suspension that sits 10 millimeters lower than previously. Suzuki claims that this lower stance enhances aerodynamics and handling, but our first impression was that it, too, was primarily a stylistic decision. We didn't have too many complaints about the previous Kizashi's handling, but we were more than happy to test out Suzuki's claims on our favorite back roads.
What we found was that the way the Kisashi handles is more or less unchanged, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There was still a great deal of understeer, but the sedan was also still very responsive to our inputs. If nothing else, the firmer suspension made it much easier to feel the sedan's front end washout as it pushed it through turns and react faster to counteract it. Around one particular bend, taken perhaps slightly faster than advisable in the wet conditions, we were able to almost perfectly feel the front wheels skipping over the cracks in the road and quickly prevent a slide. In day-to-day driving, this level of communication, responsiveness, and predictability is infinitely more useful than a few seconds' additional speed around a track.
Handling has been slightly improved, but power remains unchanged in the new Kizashi Sport.
So, there are modest improvements to the Sport's handling, which was fine in the first place. Now, what has Suzuki done about the Kizashi's middling power and performance numbers? As it turns out, the automaker has done nothing. There's no turbo, no direct injection, and no boost in power. The Kizashi Sport is powered by the same 2.4-liter, 185-horsepower, four-cylinder engine that we previously described as "run-of-the-mill." The six-speed manual transmission is still as fun to row through as it was in our last encounter, but the Sport SLS offers no more power this time around. In fact, the EPA's highway fuel economy estimate for the car is down 2 miles per gallon at the SLS trim level to 29 mpg, while city mpg remains unchanged at 21 mpg. With so little changed in just one model year, we're not sure where those 2 mpg went.
The six-speed manual transmission is easily the most fun part of the Kizashi's driving experience.
Prospective owners can opt for an available all-wheel drive system that could potentially boost performance, but doing so also swaps in a continuously variable automatic transmission that would likely drain all the fun out of this mildly sporty sedan. We'd say skip it.
Regarding the Kizashi Sport SLS' interior appointments, about half of our passengers appreciated the Suzuki's leather-trimmed and heated seats, while the rest seemed to find the monochromatic black color scheme of our example car a bit dour, its high dashboard a bit claustrophobic. What we took away from our time with the Kizashi is that Suzuki spends its money in the right places, with fit and finish that are pleasing to the touch, if not to the eye. Our biggest complaint, however, was about the flat "sport seats," which, when combined with the SLS trim level's leather trim, provided very little lateral support during spirited driving. It may have been difficult to get the car's rear end to slide, but it certainly wasn't difficult to get the driver's to.
Standard at our Sport SLS trim level is Bluetooth connectivity for Hands-Free Profile (HFP) and audio streaming (A2DP). However, if you decide that you want to go with the optional touch-screen navigation system, the system will lose its A2DP functionality, which will leave Android and BlackBerry owners stuck with the analog auxiliary input for playing music stored on their handsets. That navigation package is also the only way to add a rearview camera to the tech mix, so perhaps it's not so bad a trade-off for iPhone or iPod owners.
The Rockford Fosgate premium audio system feels, at times, more powerful than the 2.4-liter engine.
Also standard on the Sport SLS is our old friend, the Rockford Fosgate 425-watt 10-speaker audio system with subwoofer. While still bass-heavy, the Kizashi's system isn't as overwhelmingly boomy as many of the Rockford Fosgate systems that we've tested, making it a good system for rock, pop, electronica, and rap. Fans of light jazz and delicate classical passages need not apply. However, if you're into waking the neighbors, it can be tuned to turn heads with its powerful low-end output. Audio sources include AM/FM radio, optional XM Satellite radio, a single-disk CD player, and a USB audio input with iPod connectivity. Browsing an iPod is handled with a large monochromatic dot-matrix display and a combination of buttons and knobs. It's not pretty and doesn't display very much information at any given time, but overall the system is fairly easy to use and quick to respond once you get the hang of it.
The stereo's monochromatic display isn't pretty, but it's easy enough to read at a glance.
The 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS is really only a refresh of a name and an image. Its cabin tech package is good, but not what we'd call standout. We're particularly put off by having to choose between Bluetooth audio streaming and navigation. Most cars add features as you step up, not lose them. We like that the handling, while not sports-car precise, is very communicative and responsive. Power and fuel economy are lackluster. We didn't really expect the automaker to overhaul the power train in one model year, but the fact is that those of you waiting for a turbocharged variant of Suzuki's sedan will simply have to keep waiting.
Our Sport SLS trim level starts at $24,699, which gets you that sport-tuned suspension, Bluetooth wireless, and the Rockford Fosgate system. Also included is an audible rear proximity sensor. Add $350 for XM satellite radio, $130 for Platinum Silver Metallic paint, and a $745 destination fee to reach our as-tested price of $25,924. If you don't care about wireless audio streaming, go ahead and add an additional $1,399 for the touch-screen navigation and backup camera package--that's what we'd do.
|Model||2011 Suzuki Kizashi|
|Power train||2.4-liter gasoline, FWD|
|EPA fuel economy||21 mpg city/29 mpg highway|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes|
|Disc player||Single-disc CD/MP3|
|MP3 player support||USB/iPod, analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, Bluetooth A2DP stereo streaming|
|Other digital audio||XM satellite radio|
|Audio system||425-watt, 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate|
|Driver aids||Audible rear proximity sensor, optional backup camera|
|Price as tested||$25,924|