By Amos Kwon
on 12.27.10

For some time now, Suzuki vehicles have widely been considered sub-par automobiles — barely passing muster as basic transportation. Their designs have slightly improved over the past several years but build quality has continually been an issue. Well, roll the automotive drums and draw back the thick velvet curtains because Suzuki has pulled a game-changer in the very competitive mid-size sedan market with the 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport. Aside from a name that sounds like a violent sneeze (when you pronounce it correctly), the car sets a serious precedent for the somewhat obscure automaker. I am rarely surprised by mid-size sedans, but the Kizashi changed all that. Gesundheit.

The first thing you notice is that the Kizashi looks like nothing else in its segment. It’s incredibly sleek, with an overall lithe shape that is void of the “flame surfacing” BMW made so popular several years ago with its divergent lines and bulges. Large but purposeful headlights and tail lights are well-incorporated into its overall look. The character line that extends from the inside edge of the headlights, along the body, and all the way to the trunk lid visually elongates the car and adds a subtle sophistication, especially when combined with an Audi-esque Union style grille and stunning 18” light gunmetal colored alloy wheels. Panel gaps are very slight and uniform throughout the exterior. I’d roll a ball bearing down them without hesitation. Two minor niggles are the interesting triangular tailpipe housings and the chrome rocker panel strips (only on the Sport), but what do I know? I’m 40. The car simply looks good coming and going. I got my fair share of head turns driving it down Chicago streets. Well, at least the car did.

The first thing you notice is that the Kizashi looks like nothing else in its segment.

The interior may be an even greater surprise than the exterior. In a nutshell, it’s attractive, well thought out and quite user-friendly. When I drive new vehicles, I base my level of frustration by how often I need to refer to the user manual. With the Kizashi, I think I cracked the manual open only once to figure out how to operate the XM radio. Material quality is very good at this price point. The thickly padded three-point steering wheel is the perfect size, not too big, so you don’t feel like you’re steering a ship. Dials and gauges are easy to read and the trip computer is a wealth of information, with average speed to miles per gallon figures displayed between the speedo and the tach. The luxurious accoutrements take the form of the tire pressure monitor, the volume and phone buttons on the steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, the dual power and dual heated seats and the Bluetooth speakerphone. Nice touches, Suzuki.

The tapering center stack wouldn’t be out-of-place in a more expensive car, except for the bizarrely huge radio display font, as if your rear seat passengers need to see that you’ve sadly chosen Track 5 of the latest Lady Gaga album for road trip tunes. Rear legroom isn’t up there with the big names, but rear seat comfort is very good. There is storage space aplenty, from the capacious trunk to the fantastic rear door pockets. The perforated leather seats ooze quality and provide good support, even laterally, which came in handy, as the Kizashi Sport handles well in the twisties. I am not partial to front wheel drive cars, but the Suzuki exhibited no noticeable torque steer in straight line acceleration and entered and exited corners accurately. Steering feel proved to be surprisingly good, up there with Honda, and that’s saying something. Though I didn’t pound this tester like a cheap rental on vacation, I did my fair share of spirited driving, and the Suzuki did not disappoint. I wouldn’t pit it against a Lotus Elise, but it tracks true and impressed me, given most mid-size sedans’ lackluster handling. Plus, you won’t find 235 width tires on a Camry, would you? Suzuki threw these in on the Sport, and they pay in spades. Finally, I just wanted to mention the solidly crafted signal and wiper stalks. I had expected Suzuki to fit something that had the quality of a bendy straw. These were as solid as something from Munich. Not bad. Not bad at all.

So, if you’re in the market for a well-crafted, beautifully designed four door mid-sized sedan and you aren’t toting around three six-footers on a daily basis, plus you’d also like to avoid being tranquilized by a severe lack of driving fun, take a good long look at the Kizashi. For you horsepower hogs, you might want to wait for the 6-cylinder version, coming later in 2011. For the rest, the 4-cylinder will do you just fine, especially with the manual transmission. I never thought I’d utter the words, but Suzuki, you changed my mind in one fell swoop. Just think about changing its name. Please. Bless you.

MSRP: $22,899

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