2011 Suzuki Kizashi

Suzuki Kizashi / Reviews / 2011 Suzuki Kizashi

Introduced for the 2010 model year, the Kizashi midsize sedan was the most impressive, competitive model in Suzuki's history, and our enthusiasm hasn't abated in 2011.

My impressions in the 2010 review still apply, but a few things have changed for 2011: Suzuki has added a Sport designation to the GTS and the all-wheel-drive version of the SLS. That means added chrome accents up front, side sill extensions, a trunklid spoiler and 18-inch wheels. See the two model years compared.

Some other developments are noteworthy: The Kizashi took third place in a Cars.com comparison test among eight leading family sedans; buyers have been raving about the 2010 in Cars.com's consumer reviews; and this time I got to test a 2011 version I missed last time: a manual, front-wheel-drive version of the Sport SLS trim level. That car is basically the opposite personality of the 2010 Kizashi GTS automatic with all-wheel drive.

Last time around, I noted that I could imagine the Kizashi being sporty, but that the automatic with all-wheel drive wasn't the sporty version. The manual with front-wheel drive definitely is. It hits 60 mph in just over 7 seconds — rather than more than 9 — and is fleet-footed on twisty roads. The drivers in our comparison test called it "zippy," "peppy" and "the driver's car."

The six-speed manual transmission is well-geared and the clutch pedal is light enough, but the shifter's a bit long and clumsy. It's also not the nicest-looking stick, but that's due in part to its Reverse lockout collar just under the knob — the type you pull up on to access Reverse. It's not very streamlined, but I think it's the absolute best way to lock out the Reverse gear, and I wish all automakers would use it, looks be damned. It's ergonomic, and the stick absolutely will not go into Reverse unless you want it to. Plus, it's abundantly clear when it is in gear. Not so for many of the other shifters on the market.

Driving this version also confirmed my suspicion that, at modest speeds, the optional continuously variable automatic transmission puts the engine on the verge of lugging, a condition most often experienced with a stick shift when the gear is too high for the current rpm and the engine struggles and vibrates conspicuously. When I allowed this version to decelerate to the point at which a lower gear was needed, the vibration was exactly what I experienced with the CVT, supporting my claim that the latter should be recalibrated.

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