2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport
2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Paul Williams

Photo Gallery:
2011 Suzuki Kizashi

Saint-Sauveur, Quebec – With the introduction of the $29,995 2011 Suzuki Kizashi SX earlier this year, Suzuki Canada offered what Vice President, Sales and Marketing Bill Porter describes as, “a very different vehicle in the intermediate segment.”

What’s different? The “fun-to-drive” factor is key, with the Kizashi’s suspension and chassis tuned for a sportier driving experience than typically found in mainstream midsized cars.

While the Kizashi SX is available only with all-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission, the new Kizashi Sport offers even nimbler handling as a front-wheel drive version with six-speed manual transmission.

Priced below the SX, the Kizashi Sport’s 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine is rated at 185 horsepower (compared with 180 from the SX), ride height is lowered by 10 millimetres, and the suspension is modified for sharper response and enhanced control.

2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport
2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport. Click image to enlarge

The Kizashi Sport exterior features several changes in comparison to the SX, including a unique front bumper, revised grille, side skirts, chrome trim, rear spoiler and special wheels.

The exterior design is eye-catching and appealing, as the Kizashi Sport manages to combine a sporty profile and a powerful stance, without resorting to excess.

The Kizashi Sport is also notable for its generous interior amenities, which include leather seat surfaces with contrasting stitching, Rockford-Fosgate audio, sunroof, automatic climate control and Bluetooth connectivity. The 60/40 rear seat also features a pass-through for skis or similar long items.

In comparison to competitors like the Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata, the Kizashi is somewhat smaller, which contributes to its agility without sacrificing occupant comfort and cargo capacity.

2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport
2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport. Click image to enlarge

On the road, the Kizashi Sport feels quicker than the SX, although it lacks the pulling power of Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre direct injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine as found in the Passat.

The manual transmission certainly adds a sporty feel to the driving experience, but the smooth shifts are countered by somewhat long throws between gears and ratios that seem biased toward economy rather than punch. However, this would be my transmission of choice in the Kizashi, compared with the CVT automatic in the SX, with second and third gears moving the car along smartly.

Power, handling and comfort are well balanced in the Kizashi, and the car feels very stable at speed. Visibility is excellent, with its thin A-pillars contributing to an excellent forward view of the road. The big rear-view mirrors are also appreciated.

Both front seats are power-adjustable, and headroom is more than sufficient, which is often not the case with sunroof-equipped cars.

2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport
2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport
2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport. Click image to enlarge

But the Kizashi Sport’s most distinctive feature is its precise and satisfying steering response. The steering wheel feels directly connected to the car’s front wheels, providing a confidence-inspiring sense that the Kizashi Sport will go exactly where you point it. What automotive writers refer to as “vague” steering is not a Kizashi characteristic.

To further make the point concerning Kizashi’s handling, Suzuki Canada made available a range of competitive cars at Quebec’s Circuit ICAR test track, located at the Mirabel Airport outside Montreal.

Fortuitously, we were able to compare vehicles on dry pavement and in wet conditions as the weather deteriorated during the day. Only the Acura TSX (placed among the mix, despite its higher price) compared favourably with Kizashi’s performance, although in the wet especially, the Subaru Legacy acquitted itself well.

Other vehicles, like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima exhibited far more body roll in the corners and less stability at speed. The Kizashi, it should be pointed out, arrives with standard performance tires, while competitive vehicles wear all-season rubber that is almost certainly selected by their manufacturers for a more compliant ride.

2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport
2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport. Click image to enlarge

Something that several of the participating journalists observed was that the Kizashi Sport would benefit from additional power and the option to select all-wheel drive. As all-wheel drive was cited by Kizashi owners as a key reason for purchasing the car, there would seem to be a good argument for retaining it in the Kizashi Sport.

Nonetheless, the Kizashi Sport certainly does qualify as a “very different” vehicle in the midsize segment. It clearly has a different look than its competitors, and it expresses a different character.

Almost as an afterthought, Suzuki also announced the availability of a lower-priced Kizashi S, with cloth interior. It will be sold in the $26-27,000 range.

For those looking for something out of the mainstream that will be practical and enjoyable to drive, the Kizashi Sport is worth a look and especially, a test drive.

Pricing: 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport
  • Price: TBA, but below $30,000
    Suzuki Kizashi S
  • Price: TBA, $26-27,000 range
  • Available: October, 2010
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