Editor's note: This review was written in September 2012 about the 2012 Suzuki Kizashi. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2013, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2012 Suzuki Kizashi probably isn't on the lists of most midsize-car shoppers, but aside from a cranky transmission and too much road noise, its striking looks, great price and high features content mean it deserves a look.
Breaking into the competitive midsize-sedan class is tough, so Suzuki's Kizashi has had its work cut out for it. Up against household names like Accord and Fusion, the little-known car is striving to carve out a niche as a budget sports sedan. Helping it is its affordable all-wheel drive — an option that's rare among competitors.
Yet finding success in a segment crowded with great vehicles is still proving difficult: Kizashi sales are on a perpetual slide. Look past its struggles, however, and you'll find a comfortable, stylish sedan. In the spirit of rooting for the underdog, I wanted to like the Kizashi, and for the most part, I did. This little car makes a big impression.
Suzuki's only sedan, the Kizashi was introduced for the 2010 model year and has seen few changes since. For 2012, the SE trim gets a new Leather Edition option that adds heated, power, leather front seats; it's the model reviewed below. Click here for a review of the 2011 model, and see the two model years compared side by side here.
Anti-Midsize Car Styling
At 183 inches long, the Kizashi is smaller than midsize rivals like the Ford Fusion and a little more spacious than compact competitors like the Volkswagen Jetta. See all three compared here.
What it lacks in size, however, it makes up for in style. Midsize sedans typically aren't much to look at, so the dynamic Kizashi really stands out. It evolved from three concept cars, each more striking than the last. Flash-forward to the production model, and it's not exactly stunning, but its look is very un-Suzuki — and that's a compliment.
Its crisp lines and flowing curves are the opposite of the brand's bland subcompact car and SUVs. The Kizashi manages to look both elegant and athletic, with sculpted lines, a fluid-looking profile, and a muscular, chrome-accented double grille. The rear end's twin chrome-tipped exhaust ports and integrated trunk lid spoiler add to the sporty effect.
Sporty Handling, Un-Sporty CVT
The Kizashi loses some points for its unrefined powertrain. Acceleration is unexciting but adequate from a stop, and it takes awhile for the 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine to gather steam for highway maneuvers.
The problem is the continuously variable automatic transmission. Like a cranky old relative, it's slow to react and complains constantly. A six-speed manual is standard. That version offers 5 more horsepower and would likely make the Kizashi livelier. On the other hand, my car had front-wheel drive; the added weight of the optional all-wheel-drive system could only cost you more acceleration.
Fuel economy was as estimated: During my week with the car, I averaged 26.3 mpg, and the EPA rates two-wheel-drive versions 23/30 mpg city/highway with the CVT. Manual models lose a bit of efficiency: they're EPA-rated at 20/29 mpg city/highway. Four-cylinder versions of both the Fusion and Jetta score better here: The Fusion is rated 23/33 mpg and the Jetta is estimated to get 24/32 mpg.
That always-grouchy drivetrain emits a steady, gruff note that quiets only when cruising. Climbing hills seemed to overwork it — though, to be fair, the San Francisco streets I tested it on were hills in the extreme sense. And things get even louder: Road noise is intrusive, and too much tire thrum at highway speeds buzzes through the cabin.
If you can get past the noise, the ride is actually pretty serene. I took the Kizashi on a 270-mile trip and found that it rode comfortably, absorbing most bumps and providing a smooth, compliant ride.
Suzuki pitches the Kizashi as a budget sports sedan, and it nails that description in the handling department. Maneuverability is a high point: It's agile and handles like a smaller car, easily taking corners with little lean. It was fun to drive both on the highway and around town, playing well on San Francisco's schizophrenic streets.
Roomier Than Expected
The Kizashi is more spacious inside than it looks. Despite being several inches shorter in length than midsize rivals, it's also a bit taller, translating to plenty of space up front. Headroom measures 39.3 inches, more than both the larger Fusion (38.7) and the smaller Jetta (38.2). Although the Fusion offers more legroom, with 42.3 inches, the Kizashi's 41.7 beats the Jetta's 41.2 inches.
Backseat passengers also have a comfortable amount of headroom, but legroom will be pinched for most adults. The Fusion and Jetta offer much more.
Cargo space is lacking, but a wide trunk opening with a low liftover height makes loading luggage easy. With just 13.3 cubic feet of space, the Kizashi's trunk trails the Fusion (16.5) and Jetta (15.5). Trunk hinges that dip into the luggage space steal valuable room and could smash packages.
The seats fold in a 60/40 split to create more space, and getting them down is a cinch. A small pass-through in the middle seat is a nice bonus, handy for carrying long items, like skis, or reaching into the trunk from the backseat.
Quality Materials, No-Brainer Controls
Several interior features make this a comfortable road-trip car, especially for those up front. The standard sport seats are long and supportive (they were comfortable for my entire trip), and the dual extendable sunshades provided relief from the setting sun.
The Kizashi's well-executed cabin is also a bright spot. Much of the interior of my SE Leather Edition test car was nicely padded, and everything felt high-quality. The color scheme was a bit drab (beige on flat black), but chrome trim throughout pepped things up. Nicely grained plastic also helped break up the dull surfaces.
On the whole, the interior appointments are impressive for the price. Standard leather seats on my midlevel test car were a nice bonus; many rivals in both the compact and midsize classes don't offer them so affordably.
In an age where fussy is the norm, the Kizashi's controls were refreshingly easy to use. The large climate dials had a solid feel and were a no-brainer to control. The audio buttons were also intuitive. My test car didn't have a navigation system; one is offered only on the top, Sport SLS trim level for an extra $1,399.
Features & Price
The 2012 Suzuki Kizashi starts at $19,764, including a $765 destination charge. All-wheel drive can be added to any model for around $1,500, which definitely sets the Kizashi apart. All-wheel drive is available only on uplevel versions of the Fusion, and it's not offered at all on the Jetta.
Four-cylinder versions of the Fusion start at $21,500 with destination. Volkswagen's Jetta starts at $16,285 for the base trim with a 115-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
My test car was very well equipped for $24,814 including destination. A leather-appointed interior, heated power front seats with driver lumbar support and memory, steering-wheel audio controls and keyless entry with push-button ignition made it seem like a bargain.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Kizashi achieved the top score of Good in front, side and rear impacts, and was rated Acceptable for roof strength. It received four out of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's rollover test.
The Kizashi features eight airbags, including seat-mounted torso airbags for all outboard seats as well as side curtains. A backup camera is available only on top trims, where it's an additional $1,000. Ford offers a backup camera in the Fusion in a couple of different packages starting at $2,940. One isn't available in the Jetta for 2012, but will be for 2013. To see all the Kizashi's safety features, click here.
Visibility straight back is fine, but the rear-corner sightlines are compromised by thick roof pillars; large side mirrors compensate somewhat.
The Latch anchors for child-safety seats were very accessible; my forward-facing convertible child seat installed easily thanks to their placement under handy pop-off covers.
Kizashi in the Market
What the Kizashi lacks in size, it makes up for in value. It's fun to drive and has a high-quality interior filled with affordable convenience features and style that's hard to come by in this class.
The Kizashi may be a no-name car in a sea of familiar faces, but shoppers willing to take a closer look will be pleasantly surprised.