Gather here for story time young'uns:

Here's the story of an automaker, long famous for making affordable transportation for the people. One day, it decided to add a new sedan to their line-up. This sedan would be bigger and more expensive than anything that came before. Despite the distractions with a potential takeover from a German competitor, they went full speed ahead.

Many previews and exciting concepts later, the car finally arrived, to the delight of every car reviewer, praising the car very highly, but also bemoaning in the same articles how no one would buy this car, how no one would know about it and the car is positioned on a higher market with better brands on a size it doesn't belong to. As expected, sales didn't happen according to forecasts. Sadly, the car doesn't even last 4 years for sale in the U.S. market.

Soon after, the automaker's executives describe the car as a headache and as an investment that hasn't paid off yet. CEO remains silent. Every year it's demise is rumored and predicted, yet every year (so far) the car continues in foreign production.

What is the car in the story?

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And the answer is: What is the Suzuki Kizashi? (Kizashi-3 concept above)

So, as (bad) luck would had it, a month ago the wife's car had a nasty fender-bender that totaled her base 2008 Nissan Sentra - and after trying to keep us as a single-car family, a month of ride sharing of opposite sides, different hours, etcโ€ฆ it had become too much. There were some candidates and criteria, and based mostly on budget, I settled on a 2013 Accord base Auto CVT and was about to get it, when a random search on that price range via CL (yeah, rookie move there) popped an unicorn โ€“ This was a 2012 Suzuki Kisashi SLS AWD fully loaded with 50K miles in the odometer & about 60 miles away from me. 2-owner clean Carfax. I had to go see it. This is what the production Kizashi looks like:

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The Kizashi had been reviewed and highly praised on their 2010-2011 versions, and the six-speed manual was the weapon of choice of every reviewer โ€“ and on that version, this car was better than excellent. However, no one reviewed the fully loaded AWD model with Navi, (it wasn't available until late 2011) and that should've been a red flag. There is a FWD CVT, which barely performs from stop-to-go, but has all the other good stuff and has great gas economy, then you can have the fully loaded SLS AWD (Auto with manumatic and shift-paddles) with all the bells and whistles. (Parking sensors, rearview cam, BT for phone, dimming rearview mirror, memory seats) This one was the fully loaded model โ€“ sticker was $29,800 (!) 3 years ago when new. Sold from MY 2010-2013 in the US until Suzuki bid adieu via bankruptcy.

My Jalop boner took over my rational brain too soon when I saw it. I hadn't seen a Kizashi in the flesh since 2 years ago at a car show around these parts, so it's certainly very unique. I did a 5 mile test drive, and the car performed very well, however, there are day-to-day things that one cannot test on a test-drive. The car was immaculate, clean, and the interior was, as promised, a revelation. I overpaid by over $1,200 over average prices out there (lack of recent pricing research), but since I had apparently decided that the world needed more "cool" cars and less Honda Accords, I pulled the trigger...

Let's chat about the car itself, The Suzuki Kizashi is a 4 door sedan, AWD on-demand equipped with a 2.4L 4 cyl engine, (only one available) that puts 180hp with the CVT โ€“ which has a 6-speed manumatic with shift paddles available. You get maybe 2-3 very loud and whiny extra horses of horsepower when merging in highways and frantically jerking the manumatic. Use the shift paddles instead, they do work very well. No other car shares this platform, it was a new chassis developed by Suzuki. It sits awkwardly in size between small and mid-size. Neither there, nor here. Visually, in profile, it looks like a shrunken version of the 2nd gen Infiniti G35 sedan but it makes it work. (Others say it looks like a superdeformed version of the Kizashi 3 concept โ€“ the one everyone loved)

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The rest of the car, is indeed, a new level for Suzuki and earns its unicorn status โ€“ a quasi-Teutonic interior, good looking materials, amazing steering and a very composed chassis. The steering wheel is a revelation, and its controls feel a grade or two above its class. Comfy seats and decent rear seat space and trunk. The dual climate unit is an study in great car design - works as intended, no manual needed to operate. Simple and efficient. It eats highway with ease and it's composed at 90-100 MPH. The Rockford Fosgate speaker system is great. Keyless entry and Keyless Start/Stop button with wireless keyfob are very nice touches in this class.

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Once it gets going, (0-60 in almost 10 seconds on auto) the car is darty and drives very composed in the highway, although the AWD button has no consequence in the driving dynamics and drive feel. This AWD is for work, not fun. The few toys that work are OK, but frustration lies ahead with them. If you were expecting a Japanese version of an Audi A4 2.0T Quattro on this AWD, you will come up short, but have fun anyway. It's a very solid contender, but a LOT less than the sum of its parts with the AWD setup.

However, all the goodness mentioned above can be had in the base versions of the Kizashi, and having your friend manuel along for the ride will (for all I've read) put a smile to your face for sure. My advice if you don't want to read the rest? Get a manual Kizashi or walk away. There it is, after 2 weeks with it, I must admit, my unicorn turned into a dog of car in the real world โ€“ Now I gotta love it as-is.

So, what's wrong? Where does the Kizashi SLS AWD go so wrong?

1) VERY LOW MPG โ€“ Here is the dirty secret of the AWD โ€“ it adds over 300 lbs of weight to the vehicle with little benefit. This translated to a city MPG of 19~! Yes, that's from a 4-cyl engine made in 2012 with a CVT in 2WD mode. In the highway it may get to 30MPG, but usually you are gassing the car a lot more often than expected (small 16 gallon tank doesn't help). Yeah, the SLS has 18" wheels vs. the 17" standard size, but the MPG is way too low still. Keep in mind that the manual will give you 24MPG and the FWD CVT 26MPG in the city. This is supposed to be our daily driver for Bay Area traffic, and it only does 2MPG better than my 2005 VW Phaeton in city driving โ€“ WTF? DON'T BUY A KIZ WITH AWD UNLESS YOU NEED THE AWD BEYOND WINTER TIME OR GAS GOES BACK TO $2/GALLON.

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Pictured above - my MPG after 70 miles of HIGHWAY cruising (!) City was 19 MPG last week.

2) OEM NAV/INFOTAINMENT (Late 2011-2012 only)โ€“ The worst offender in the uselessness sweepstakes is this Kenwood-sourced OEM navi unit. It has completely unnecessary shit (e.g. customizable backgrounds, video aux, DVD player) yet it lacks basic Bluetooth streaming and simple audio AUX ports (get this, it has a external video port plus, the iPhone cable solution here the one before the iPhone 5 โ€“ so its useless now) No amount of firmware updates will help. Also, there is NO inputs allowed to the Navi while driving, not even with a passenger. Again, it offers DVD playback but only works when the car is at a full stop (emergency brake required- WTF?) and the unit has the shittiest UI available. Lots of functions are crippled. The Infotainment UI is very confusing, with multiple menus within the screen. The NAV is a Garmin system from 2008. I went out of my way to but a Kiz with Nav, and I should've not. The 2013 Navi unit is slightly better I've read. But I wouldn't get it. I will change this Navi when I have $$ for sure. It's that bad.

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Above - one of 5 different screens, just to control the radio tuner, and look at the graceful clock in the upper right corner. The only way to tell time in this car - Pure class.

3) CAR COMPUTER CLUSTER โ€“ The speedometer and rev counter look very nice, but there is a dot-matrix digital screen in the middle of the cluster, made with the best technology sourced from 2002 โ€“ All it can display is the always-wrong computer MPG results, The always-wrong Trip speed average, inaccurate range left in tank, and has a useless 'real time' MPG bar chart that goes up and down from 0 to 60 MPG like a child's toy and has no bearing on reality. It is also duplicative, as all it does it deliver bad news, by adding a descriptive sentence to the indicator that lits up on top. So you get 2 'diagnostic' lights for every error, one on top of the digital screen (with regular dashboard icons) and the same one in the digital screen. It looks cool but delivers so little in real value and except for mile counters, open door indicators, and tranny gear count, the rest of the info you get is wrong. Really , Suzuki's weak spot is electronics, they can't do'em right and they can't source NAV right. Get the Kiz without Nav โ€“ it will do all you need and will be less frustrating.

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The digital cluster doesn't even display time or any radio info! To top it all off, the Kiz has an 'old school' cluster brightness adjuster โ€“ those long plastic switches that you must twist for brightness. Why? No one does this now.

4) FIT & FINISH โ€“ The interior is excellent so far, but avoid the sunroof, it robs your rear passengers out of two inches of height. The Kiz has a couple of slight dashboard rattles at 50K miles. The exterior could use better workmanship for sure. The panel gaps and panel alignments are no better in the Kiz than in your average Suzuki Esteem. This car was supposed to be better. Specially the trunk hatch alignment, that looks off. Also, the trunk hatch feels so light and fragile in one's hands. (The doors feel good though) The hood needs an old fashioned metal pole to hold it open. It also comes with some questionable auto body decisions, such as requiring the bumper to come off to change lightbulbs on the headlights. Some earlier 2010-2011 had some paint problems. So check yours closely.

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I know that you must be thinking โ€“ "Your fault, you moron โ€“ why didn't you pick the manual?" But this was the wife's car replacement (she hates manual), we live in the Bay Area and that means taking family & friends to visit SF regularly, and those hills kill clutches faster than anything, so for this car, even I was on board for an Automatic. Plus, we wanted AWD if possible for the 4-5 visits to mountains in the Tahoe area a year. The Kiz check marked the Japanese, 4CYL, AWD, with Nav boxes, in a budget, but delivered a lot less than promised.

Sad to say that what I thought would be a nice jewel of a car turned out to fall short on the few things I needed it to work well. All the reviews are great, but nobody reviewed in detail the AWD version. For a car intended to be a daily driver in Northern California, I certainly picked the wrong choice with the AWD Kizashi. Now, I am in the process of loving it anyway, and will try next year to improve its mechanics with some limited after market parts available for the Kiz that can solve a few issues with power. And a new Navi unit for sure. It is certainly unique, so far haven't seen another one besides mine in 2 weeks. There is a lot to love, but I still think I picked the wrong version. The lesson of the story is: Not all unicorns are good, so when you find yours, make sure it's the real deal and not a dog in disguise.

Want one? Forget AWD - Buy this one, in proper red, no Navi, with Manuel smiling at you: Go here

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