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Thoughts on the 2012 Suzuki Kizashi

I had the chance to drive a 2012 Suzuki Kizashi Sport GTS AWD for a week. As any self-respecting snow blogger, I took the opportunity to take it around town and then head up to the mountains for a weekend. In short, the Suzuki Kizashi is a great mid-size for active Coloradans and a very fun car to drive.

Driving in Town

First things first, I was driving the the all wheel drive model and I’d say it’s a must-have here in Colorado. There was some snow on the ground but not much when I tested it so I didn’t get to see how it handles in the winter.

That said, this is a more sporty sedan so it’s a little low to the ground. The seats hug you nice and tight and the entire dashboard wraps around you pretty snug. Though, something about the wheel was different and I’ll get back to that later.

Not to be understated, this is a powerful, fast, fun car. Let me repeat: this is a great machine to drive around town. With the windows down, you can hear something awesome going on in the engine; it doesn’t matter what it is, you know it’s good. While most of the time you’d drive around town in automatic drive (CVT) I notice the manual shift uses down for an upshift and up for, well, down. This felt more natural to me than up to upshift. Go figure. I think it’s more “fun” to pull down when accelerating so this detail is likely an intentional decision.

Driving in Mountains

Again, this is Colorado so all wheel drive is a must. When heading on the highway up to the mountains I’ll say this: accelerating and speed was never an issue. In other cars, sometimes you’ll want to change lanes to get in a gap but know you can’t get up to the same speed as the other lane; that was never an issue with the Kizashi. We drove this thing up I-70, past the tunnel, down the other side, up Vail pass, and even out past Avon and it never struggled to stick to whatever speed I wanted. It was actually pretty easy to get distracted out past Beaver Creek and hit 90 on the flat winding curves.

Overall the turning and handling is great. The steering wheel is a fun thing to turn, I can’t explain it. But, after long distances I started to become aware of it. In other words, I realized I may have been working more than I would with a luxury car’s power-steering, for instance. But, that’s the point: this car is for an involved driving experience, but maybe not a road trip.

Worth noting, since it’s lower to the ground there were parts of the highway where it felt like I found every single bump and crack in the road. Great for tight switchbacks but not always ideal for long, winter-beaten roads.

Technology

The optional sound system envelops you in a wonderful cocoon of music and sound. The subwoofer is great. But, the in-dash controls are nothing to write home about and don’t match the audible experience. The controls seemed like off-the-shelf radio controls and knobs and I didn’t find it particularly easy to use.

The system has your typical AM/FM radio, satellite radio, programmable stations, and on-wheel controls for volume and changing stations. Plus, there’s an iPod connector and tray for charging which is great. But that’s where the greatness ends. The in-car iPod controls are nearly unusable and impossible to get to any music you’re looking for. When you have thousands of songs, playlists, podcasts, and you’re trying to use a 6-button controller (back, forward, play, pause, etc.) you’re going to struggle. The in-car controls should be dropped entirely as you’ll find the Bluetooth audio is the only good way to control what you listen to (in other words, Apple has done a better job designing music controls than car manufacturers).

My favorite feature of any car, of course, is the bluetooth key. Just throw it in your backpack, purse, pocket and simply walk up to the car, hit the button and jump in. This also means you’re not accidentally locking your keys in the car as you walk off to the slopes (nearly happened!).

Everything else you’d expect is there: dual climate control, optional heated side mirrors, lots of cup holders, and so on. If you jump up to the Sport SLS model you can take advantage of in-dash navigation, rain-sensing wipers, power-adjustable seat with memory, and so on.

Style

It’s hard to capture this car. It looks great, it looks powerful, it also looks expensive. I would call this the “value version” of an Audi. When it sits on the street, it turns heads. I love the look and, as a guy, I could picture this as my car right out of college up through having a family. It’s curvy, sleek, but not a ‘loud’ looking car by any means.

There’s nothing to write home about on the interior. The Sport GTS model has some nice trim, seats, and the gear stick and parking brake feel solid. The dashboard controls are plastic but feel pretty thick and solid. The Sport SLS would be where you get the fancy leather, heated seats, and a bit better dashboard (back up camera, GPS nav, etc.).

Storage

One thing that amazed us was how deep the trunk was. The car is longer than its curves suggested. We easily folded down one seat and fit the length of my skis (I’m 5’11”) and Rachel’s board and had plenty of room to spare (it didn’t bump up against the front seat). It has a center passthrough so you wouldn’t even need to do that if you wanted to fit two passengers in the back.

This also means sitting in the back seat isn’t too cramped (I’d say it’s average back there).

Of course, you can optionally add cross bars and a rack for a few hundred bucks and throw everything on the roof. There’s something about it but I feel racks always look cool on a sleek sedan like this.

Overall Drive

The Suzuki Kizashi is quick, fun to handle, and easy to get around in. It’s longer than expected so parallel parking isn’t as easy as it may seem (practice makes perfect).

The car is low to the ground so you become one with the road, though, that means you can really feel the imperfections at times.

The huge engine will get you somewhere between 22 and 30 MPG. Driving up to the mountains put us closer to the lower end, but coming back down the hill evened it back out.

It’s a blast to drive around town or up to the mountains with the music turned up. I’d say this is the most fun car I’ve ever driven and it’d be hard to match. That said, it’s not perfect and the experience is a little rough in spots.

Pricing

Just looking at the 2012 Suzuki Kizashi, you might guess it costs 50% more than the retail price. The Sport GTS with all wheel drive comes in at $22,249 (nearly $10k less than comparable “names” in the same class) and goes up from there with various options. Based on my experiences, I’d probably jump up to the top-of-the-line Sport SLS which starts at $26,199.