2012 Suzuki Kizashi Sport GTS AWD: And now for something really different.
Conventional wisdom: They still import Suzukis?
Marketer's pitch: Suzuki lets others do their bragging. The website points out that Motor Trend seemed to love it, saying, "From a style standpoint, the Kizashi succeeds inside and out" and it's also "light and flickable around a good hairpin or two."
Reality: Despite positive reviews from big names in the automotive world, I'd have to say different is not always better.
What's in a name? Carmakers generally like to evoke images of adventure when they christen a new vehicle. Think Santa Fe. Rio. Yukon. Colorado.
The Mediterranean-sounding invented word also works, and tends to be a Japanese favorite: Corolla. Celica. Altima.
Kizashi? I kept having images of a cabbage- and/or beet-based dish my Lithuanian grandmother might have foisted upon me when I was 9. "Eat your Kizashi!" she'd probably half-shout above the din of the 11 other grandkids. "It grows hair on your chest!"
Where does this fit? Unfortunately, we live in a time of chest waxing for men. And thus it goes for the Kizashi, first introduced for the 2011 model year. It's a midsize sport sedan from a small company best known for motorcycles in an SUV world dominated by Toyota and Honda, GM and Ford.
That doesn't mean the Kizashi is not a worthy car. But it is another impediment to getting a foot in the door.
Line of sight: Just setting myself up in the Kizashi, though, proved problematic. I couldn't find a convenient way to see cruising speeds on the speedometer through or around the steering wheel.
Low budget: Suzuki sells the Kizashi on price, starting at $18,999 for a front-wheel-drive version with a stick.
Unfortunately, sometimes you get what you pay for. I found the interior materials cheap and not very inviting. The seat was stiff and the dashboard materials didn't say, "Oh, caress me." Not that I'm forever rubbing my hands along dashboards ... but still.
Inside: The dashboard pod is a more traditional version of the Hyundai swoop.
Outside: The exterior design coupled with the name really inspired the Grandma's cabbage analogy. It looks very blobby and uninspired, like a Korean car from about three generations back.
Performance: The engine made noises as if it really wanted to snap some necks, but the CVT just seemed to sap all its power away. The power curve never seemed to match what I needed; the tachometer would jump from 3,000 to 5,000 r.p.m.s with just a tiny flick of the accelerator, or dip suddenly back to 2,000 by letting off just a bit.
Perhaps a manual version offers enthusiasts more excitement.
Shifty: Drivers get a choice of paddle shifters and a console shifter, but I found neither offered a lot of feedback. Six gears are available, and drivers with more patience for CVTs may find this works just fine.
Friends and stuff: The rear legroom is generous, and the rear seat is comfortable overall.
The seat folds down to allow items to pass through from the trunk, but the hole is small even by average sedan standards. The trunk offers plenty of room, though.
A cellphone slot with a door in front of the shifter is nicely sized and placed, though.
Night shift: The doors automatically lock when you start moving. Unfortunately, I could find no way to make them automatically unlock when I parked. Considering the locks don't light up and are not in a convenient place, getting out at night seemed more challenging than necessary.
Fuel economy: 27 m.p.g. in a mix of city and highway driving, which is not bad for a sports all-wheel drive.
Where it's built: Sagara, Japan.
How it's built: Though the Kizashi is new, Consumer Reports gives the Suzuki SX4 good ratings as a used car and for most major mechanical components, though it does fall short on body integrity and interior parts.
In the end: The Kizashi recipe offers some flavor, but it's certainly not for all palates.