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2010 Suzuki Kizashi

By Cars.com,

What was I expecting when the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi arrived for my two-week-long test drive? Well, not much, I'm embarrassed to say. I lecture my kids all the time on the importance of staying open-minded and forming your own opinions, so I'm ashamed to admit that I was harboring a lackluster view about Suzuki as a brand in general. With the introduction of the Kizashi, my hope is that my mind won't be the only one changed about the brand.

The Kizashi is a surprise indeed and has the ability to fill a niche of affordable-without-feeling-cheap smaller midsize sedans. The base Kizashi starts at $18,999. My test car, the SE trim level, cost $21,780.

This might be the only car I've driven with a continuously variable automatic transmission that didn't drive me crazy. It had plenty of zippy power, and the CVT didn't rev up too much and cause obnoxious interior noise. As a matter of fact, an average driver getting into this car wouldn't even notice anything different about the transmission, and I consider that to be a success of great measure. Add to that optional all-wheel drive and you've got yourself a great car for small families.

EXTERIOR

I have to confess to being a little reluctant to drive this car to a first date. Not that I really care what a stranger thinks about the car I drive, but I'm more concerned with how the car I drive makes me feel. Decidedly, while driving to a first date, I want to feel confident and sexy. I wouldn't think that driving a Suzuki would make me feel that way, but after a few more dates with the same fellow, he confessed that I looked extra adorable in the Kizashi. Can I keep it a little longer? I think a color other than "did-we-forget-to-paint-the-metal?" silver would also make a big impact on the aesthetic appeal.

Climbing in and out of the Kizashi for my little ones was a breeze thanks to its low step-in height. The trunk release, however, was a pain to figure out. There's a release button of the key fob, but it was touchy and didn't seem to work all the time. There's also a release button on the lower left side of the instrument panel, but that took me more than a week to find. This is a perfect example as to why you should actually read your car's owner's manual when you buy it. There's tons of trunk space in the Kizashi — enough room to hold three sets of golf clubs for our first golf lesson of the season.

The Kizashi has a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. With an EPA-estimated 23/30 mpg city/highway, we got quite a few trips to and from the golf course on just one tank of regular gas.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair-Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some-Groove-On

INTERIOR

While the interior fit and finish of the 2010 Kizashi still reads a bit "cheap," there are some details that are better thought out. For example, the fabric upholstery has a wood grain finish that makes it more interesting than other midsize sedans on the market. Leather seating upholstery with butt warmers is also available.

The standard SmartPass keyless entry and start was my favorite feature in this car. I just loved not having to dig through my purse — it's really too deep to be functional — to hunt down car keys.

I also enjoyed the steering-wheel controls with toggle switches that just feel good to the touch. They're actually reminiscent of ones I loved on a Jaguar I drove last summer. From a parent's perspective, you want as many features in the car to be easy to operate so you can keep your focus on the driving rather than on fumbling for radio controls. My test car also had a tilt/telescoping steering wheel.

The backseat seemed molded for kids. There was plenty of legroom for youngsters; however, the fit would be a tad bit snug for most adults. There are two cupholders for backseat occupants in the fold-down armrest and a bottleholder in each door.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

SAFETY

I was highly impressed with the easy-to-access Latch connectors in the Suzuki Kizashi. This, in combination with seat belt buckles on solid bases, should make this car particularly functional for small families. The only problem is that the actual amount of width between each of the rear seating positions was just a nano-smidge too tight, resulting in my daughter's booster seat encroaching upon the seat belt buckle receptor. Every time she got in the car it was a frustration. I ended up twisting around to reach behind me and scoot her booster seat out of the way so she could then have full access to the buckle.

A forward-facing convertible fits easily in the Kizashi. However, a rear-facing convertible runs into fit problems in the small backseat. To get the car seat installed correctly, the front passenger seat needs to be moved forward, which could be uncomfortable for taller passengers. A rear-facing infant-safety seat fit in the backseat without having to move the front passenger seat forward.

Standard antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control systems, plus eight — yep, count them, eight — standard airbags (driver and front passenger front- and side-impact airbags, two rear side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags for both rows) make the Kizashi not only a great bargain, or "premium without the premium" as Suzuki claims, but also a safe bet for small families on the go.

© The Washington Post Company