The Suzuki Kizashi One Year On: Still Honeymooning

One year ago today, I took delivery of my 2011 Suzuki Kizashi GTS Sport 6-speed. It was a somewhat obscure and esoteric choice, especially since Suzuki had stopped importing automobiles to the United States. I did have a tiny bit of trepidation about what ownership would entail, but I also felt strongly that this was the right car for me. Fortunately, our first year together has been nothing but enjoyable. Nope, it’s not perfect. No car is, however, and this one is damn good — good enough to still put a smile on my face every time climb in and start the engine.
Okay, let’s be realistic. Nobody is going to go from a V12 Vantage to the Kizashi and be impressed. Likewise, if you’re used to Porsches or even Acuras, Suzuki’s flagship will seem exceedingly ordinary. But consider that I purchased my rare-as-unicorn-poop 6MT in damn-near showroom condition with less than 28,000 miles on the clock for under $12,000 OTD. When you consider the other options for a reliable daily driver available in that price range, the bang for the buck makes this car impressive.

Every partner will have a few peccadillos, and over a year, I’ve discovered a few of the Kizashi’s. The six-speed manual gearbox has nicely-spaced ratios and a delightful clutch, but the lever itself is a bit inconsistent. Most of the time it slips from gear to gear without complaint, but every once in a while it can be somewhat rubbery and vague, especially going down from third to second or second to first. It can get downright cantankerous going into reverse; I’ve learned to be very deliberate with the lever while letting out the clutch just enough to let everything rotate into place. Thanks to the web forum, I’ve learned that this quirk is common to all manual Kizashis and not a harbinger of impending doom. The only “repair” I’ve had to make was re-tightening the passenger-side windshield wiper pivot nut.
The whole car feels remarkably solid for its market segment, but there’s more wind noise than I expected at super-legal highway speeds. The A-pillar airbag covers are attached a bit flimsily and there is a slight, very intermittent rattle somewhere near the windshield—probably in the defrost vents. Other owners have noticed it, too, but no one has yet pinpointed the source. Fortunately, it doesn’t show up all that often, and when it does, it’s quiet enough that even playing soft classical music on the radio will mask it. In the whole scheme of things, it’s no big deal. I did have a louder rattle at highway speeds that I thought was coming from inside the front passenger door, but the culprit turned out to be the dealer-installed, stick-on rain deflectors that had been attached over the side windows. The VHB tape on one had begun to pull loose. I ripped all four of them off and the rattle went away. (By the way, 3M’s “stripe eraser” rotary wheel was worth every penny when trying to remove the gummed up adhesive residue from the door frames.)
The interior is somewhat austere but well laid out and businesslike, and the seats are in a whole different league than any car I’ve owned previously. Of course, there are lots of things that impress me only because my previous daily drivers were all from the early ’90s or older. Bluetooth connectivity and keyless start still feel pretty whiz-bang cool to me. Heck, this is the first car I’ve ever owned with a sunroof.

“So this is what this feels like: great day, great road, great car — well, it feels to me like a great car.”
(With apologies to Kevin James)

The thing that impresses me most is the handling. Well, I can’t even say handling in general, because it’s a front-wheel-drive car and with 185 horsepower, there is some noticeable torque-steer. Specifically what is great is the steering. There’s zero dead spot on center, with enough weight through the wheel to give you some real feel of what’s happening, and yet it manages to be very light and eager on initial turn-in. Unlike all the numb, over-boosted domestic cars I’ve spent time in, the Kizashi manages to go precisely where you point it without drama, no matter the speed or radius of the turn. The spring and damping rates keep the chassis calm and composed. Replacing the original, worn, über-crappy Dunlop SP 7000 tires with a set of Cinturato P7 All Season Pluses helped both feel and grip immensely. I discovered that I do have a supporting dealer in my area, should a factory tool or obscure part be needed, and I was able to verify that spiders are not holding my evap canister hostage.
How to avoid door dings: park in a row of engineers’ cars.

The Kizashi will probably remain completely stock. I can’t see myself ever stiffening the suspension, going with ultra-sticky summer tires and yellowstuff pads, or adding a turbo. This is no hard-edged track day car, and trying to make it something it’s not would ruin it. As it is, it’s an exceptionally well balanced, well thought-out and put-together, all-around small sedan. My wife and I have a trio of four-wheel vehicles among the two of us. (The others are the Chrysler 300 she drives and a ’02 F150 SuperCrew for hauling and outdoorsy weekend stuff.) The Kizashi only really gets used for my weekday work commute. Fortunately, there are two series of switchback turns along the route. They’re in residential areas and are fairly well patrolled, so I can’t get too crazy, but pretty much every day I get to experience at least one or two nice turns that make me appreciate my choice. It’s my favorite car ever, hands down.

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  1. dukeisduke Avatar

    Wow, very good review. I do get to see a Kizashi every once in awhile (one or two in a year). And thanks for the tip on the 3M Stripe Off Wheel. I’d normally use some 3M Release Agent (stuff in an aerosol can that removes adhesives and glued-on weatherstrip), with rags or towels, plus fingernails and/or plastic scrapers. The wheel sounds easier to use.

  2. Ross Ballot Avatar
    Ross Ballot

    Always liked these. Glad to see yours is doing well!

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    Excellent, glad to hear you still enjoy driving it – and that you want it to remain original.
    About the reverse gear: From my experience, that is a strange Japanese tradition. Toyotas of all flavours and my Honda, too, are incomprehensibly difficult to get in reverse sometimes. Do you also get a ‘dead spot’ in ‘R’, when there’s no motion, just the slightest of grinding noises?

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      Yes, if I just halfheartedly slip the stick into reverse and let go before I let the clutch out, it sometimes just goes gddrrrr.

  4. GTXcellent Avatar

    Glad you’re still happy with your car – that one I saw the other week was a spitting image of yours. It is a really sharp looking ride.

  5. mad_science Avatar

    Man, that is a handsome car.
    Too bad Suzuki had to “find it” right on their way out.
    Vaguely Fiero-esque.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I always thought there was some Chrysler 300 going on in there. In a good way.