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Suzuki Kizashi: The Japanese Jetta

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Used 2012 Suzuki Kizashi S AWD
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author photo by Aaron Gold October 2016

A colleague and friend once called the Suzuki Kizashi, "The best car nobody buys," which is much more succinct and accurate, though not quite as catchy as my (admittedly Alan Partridge-esque) description, "The Japanese Jetta."

The Kizashi came at a bizarre point in Suzuki's soon-to-end history. They had just ditched their mediocre Daewoo-designed cars (Forenza, Reno and Verona -- anyone remember those?) and introduced the SX4, a competent (if somewhat thirsty) subcompact that presaged today's make-a-car-look-like-an-SUV-and-you'll-sell-a-billion movement. They came out with the 2010 Kizashi, a brilliant sedan that drove like a charm. I remember thinking at the time: More cars like this, and Suzuki is home and dry. For the record, I also predicted the iPhone would never catch on.

My Jetta comparison comes from two elements. First, the Kizashi was a "tweener," sized midway between traditional compacts and midsize cars, just like the Jetta. Second, it was brilliant to drive. We can argue all day about the Kizashi's automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) -- I'll take a position in favor of the CVT and probably lose -- but the engine was a gem, and the suspension was brilliant. The Kizashi's chassis had a light, agile feel; more importantly, it exhibited a subtlety that often escapes Japanese engineers. If that wasn't enough, Suzuki offered the Kizashi with optional all-wheel drive, which led to visions of a turbocharged WRX competitor dancing in our heads. That never happened, but Suzuki did serve up a Sport version with a lower and tighter suspension. It wasn't the quickest thing in a straight line, but if you kept your momentum up, the Kizashi could make good time in the curves.

In retrospect, I realize that by comparing the Kizashi to the Jetta, I may have been doing the Kizashi a disservice. Suzuki's 185-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder was vastly preferable to the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder lump Volkswagen was then inflicting on the American market ("The power of a four with the fuel economy of a six! Oh, wait ..."), and while the Kizashi was screwed together with obsessive-compulsive attention to detail in Sagara, Japan, U.S.-spec Jettas were built at VW's plant in Puebla, Mexico, where quality control apparently consisted of counting the number of wheels and doors and rounding to the nearest multiple of seven.

Like the Mirage, this is another car with which I had experience. Suzuki granted me a 4-month loan of a Kizashi, and I found it to be a flawless family car. This was the time when Suzuki was just starting to circle the drain, and I recall having to bring the car to the closest authorized Suzuki service center, which happened to be my local Kia dealership. Service went swimmingly once they rummaged through the storage room and found their supply of oil filters.

You all know how the story ends. Suzuki pulled out of the U.S. market at the end of 2012. (Oddly enough, the word Kizashi, which Suzuki said meant, "a sign of great things to come," can also be translated as "omen," "harbinger" or "foreboding.") The Kizashi was primarily designed for the American market, and sales were poor elsewhere, though I understand you can still buy a new one in Pakistan. (Those Pakistanis have all the luck!) A search on Autotrader for used Kizashis finds several examples, and they're commanding reasonably high prices for cars that are basically orphans (though not as much as Jettas of the same vintage). Clearly, people know a good thing when they see it.

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Find a Suzuki Kazashi for sale

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Used 2012 Suzuki Kizashi S AWD
Used 2012 Suzuki Kizashi
$6,288
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Suzuki Kizashi: The Japanese Jetta - Autotrader