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Suzuki Kizashi Detroit to Chicago - The Back Way

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author photo by Autotrader February 2011

The back way is for those who avoid the mainstream and set their own path instead. It’s rarely the fastest or easiest way, but is often the scenic route. That was certainly the case on our drive from Detroit to Chicago in the Suzuki Kizashi. On the interstate it’s possible to make that trip in less than five hours; our meandering route took more than 11. We could have driven from Atlanta to Chicago in that time. But along the way we enjoyed a panorama of snowy countryside and small town charm. And it gave us the opportunity to thoroughly test the Kizashi in a variety of scenarios.

Our trip began before dawn at the Atlanta airport. The Hard Way Kizashi was waiting for us in Detroit. Suzuki is clearly serious about maintaining its hard-earned intercontinental patina. The car was caked in dirt and grime, while a sign inside implored, “Please do not wash.”

It’s not small – no, no, no!

With stomachs grumbling we drove into Detroit’s Greektown neighborhood for authentic hummus and gyros. Many formerly midsize sedans like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima have swelled over the years to full-size proportions. The Kizashi is closer in size to compact sedans like the Volkswagen Jetta and Subaru Impreza, which came in handy when we were lucky enough to find free street parking downtown. The Kizashi doesn’t feel small inside. Interior dimensions are close to those bigger sedans, with plenty of space up front for two six-foot-plus guys to spread out. Kids and short adults will be happy in back; taller adults will find it adequate for shorter trips.

From downtown we headed west on Michigan Avenue through Dearborn. In Ypsilanti, Michigan we stopped for directions to the home of automotive innovator Preston Tucker. Tucker certainly set his own path, and likely would have appreciated the Kizashi’s outsider status.

In Ann Arbor we took a brief tour of the University of Michigan. For full disclosure it must be noted here that we hopped on I-94 for about 40 minutes to make up time. This also gave us an opportunity to evaluate the Hard Way Kizashi at highway speeds. We found it to be quiet, solid and rattle-free. This is especially impressive given the 7,500 miles of abuse this particular vehicle endured on its drive from Tokyo to LA. The ride is fairly firm as you might expect in a car with sporting aspirations, but the suspension soaked up most of the cracks and potholes in Michigan’s notoriously bad roads.

Snap, crackle & pop

The extended drive made us appreciate the Kizashi’s long list of available premium features. Dual-zone climate control and heated seats kept the sub-freezing temperatures outside at bay. The USB input made iPod/iPhone integration plug-and-play easy, although the radio’s small display screen disappointingly cut-off artist and song names. Musical tastes may vary, but the 10-speaker, 425-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo sounded rich and clear regardless, and steering wheel controls make it easy to skip past that embarrassing Britney Spears song in your playlist. The leather seats were supportive and comfortable even after 11 hours.

Complaints are few. Several wrong turns made us wish Suzuki had fitted the Hard Way Kizashi with the optional $1399 navigation system. We would have also liked brighter Xenon headlights (not available), though it’s possible the headlights’ perceived dimness was due to the car’s caked-on layers of dirt. The CVT automatic transmission can be buzzy during aggressive acceleration. Heated windshield washer jets would have kept them from freezing up.

Breakfast of champions

There’s a good chance your breakfast cereal came from Battle Creek, Michigan, home to both Post and Kellogg’s. Unfortunately it’s no longer home to the Cereal City Museum (apparently low attendance is a cereal killer). Dejected and cereal-less we drove on to Kalamazoo.

There we experienced our only issue. While idling at a stoplight we heard a few rhythmic vibrations and then the car lurched into gear when we moved forward. The noise never returned, and we suspect it may have more to do with this particular car’s rough past than a larger issue. Any potential concerns should be somewhat allayed by Suzuki’s transferrable seven-year/100,000-mile warranty on the engine, transmission and rest of the powertrain.

Follow your nose

From Kalamazoo we headed down to South Bend, Indiana and the University of Notre Dame. With about 100 miles left to go, the sun setting, a heavy snow falling and bed beckoning, we elected to forgo back roads in favor of survival. We drove the rest of the way through a blinding blizzard on a slick and icy highway.

This is where the Kizashi really shined. Whenever treacherous roads threatened to put us in a ditch, the available all-wheel drive system stepped in to keep things straight.

He likes it

The Kizashi’s mix of upscale features, confidence-inspiring all-wheel drive and attractive price make it an intriguing alternative to mainstream midsize sedans. Less than $23,000 will buy you an all-wheel drive Kizashi with push-button start, Bluetooth and dual-zone climate control. Adding the sunroof, thumping stereo, leather seats, rain-sensing wipers, backup sensors and other options found on our Hard Way car costs about $5,000 more. The Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry cost more for less features, and none offer all-wheel drive.

We took the road less traveled, and found the Suzuki Kisashi to be a competent and comfortable companion, especially when the going got rough. No matter which way you choose to go, the Kizashi is worth a look.

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 Detroit to Chicago - The Back Way - Autotrader