The Suzuki Swift may be a lightweight in stature but it’s a heavyweight in terms of new car sales. Since 2005 when the compact hatch first reached our shores it’s battled hard with the much-loved Toyota Corolla for new car sales supremacy. Some months it won, some months it finished runner up but along the way more than 20,000 Swifts found their way into kiwi garages. That’s an impressive figure, but it’s just a fraction of the more than 2 million Swift’s that have been sold globally. So how did a one-time minnow car company like Suzuki do it? Simple really, with the Swift, Suzuki got the value-for-money ratio absolutely perfect. Now for 2011, the next-generation Swift has arrived in NZ and is already generating sales of more than 10 vehicles a day. Car and SUV joined the masses in getting behind the wheel of a new Swift to find out if Suzuki can really improve on a winning formula.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is how the old saying goes and it must have been in the minds of Suzuki designers when they penned the new model. The design is a safe evolution of its predecessor and only a keen eye will catch the differences at a glance. But take a closer look and the new model is more curvaceous and dynamic with a new front end including new wave-shaped headlights and a widened front grille. Along the flanks the glass profile narrows from the front windows to the rear, giving the Swift a more athletic stance. A- and B-pillars are still blacked out for a floating roof look and side mirrors and door handles are smartly colour matched. Rear design is defined by new red and clear tail lamps that push towards the back doors, a subtle hatch spoiler and bulky bumper. Our tested high-spec Swift Ltd was further dressed up with 16-inch alloy wheels and front fog lamps as standard kit. The Swift is available in 7 different colours with our test subject looking particularly dapper in ‘Boost Blue’.
The Swift body shape has increased in size in most directions and is 90mm longer, 10mm higher and the wheelbase has expanded 40mm. Despite the bigger body, the Swift’s weight has dropped 25kg-35kg over its predecessor.
The increase in body size translates into a roomier cabin with the added space ready to be enjoyed by passengers. Rear seat legroom has expanded by 27mm and while three adults will still be a squeeze, with correct adjustment of the front seats two adults can ride comfortably. A durable charcoal cloth trim is used all round, the front seats are well bolstered and the driver’s seat is height adjustable. The tall body allows for ample headroom and there’s good visibility from the front while the rear view is more limited.
The dashboard and switchgear is nicely executed and puts everything close at hand. It’s a busy dash with plenty of small storage options and contrasting silver trim to break up the acres of black. The plastics don’t have a Euro-soft feel to them but have a durable feel and are an improvement over the older model. While some of the materials have a budget and hard look to them, build quality is sound and the cockpit looks impressive for a vehicle at this low price point. Instrumentation is conventional and well presented with four-dials surrounding a small digital screen that displays trip and vehicle information. The leather-wrapped steering wheel on our test vehicle was a particular highlight, using a three spoke design it feels thick to the touch and houses audio buttons. Other standard equipment includes a nice-looking four-speaker CD stereo with USB input, electric windows all around, air-conditioning, trip computer and remote door locking.
Carrying cargo isn’t exactly the Swift’s forte with a small 210-litre capacity in the hatch. There’s a hidden lower compartment in the Ltd model for hiding things away and a 60/40-split rear seat for loading larger items. With the rear seat face down capacity expands to a usable 533 litres, which will easily gobble up two sets of golf clubs. But when both luggage and three passengers need to travel at once this supermini may be caught short.
Under the bonnet the Swift has a 1.4-litre engine downsized from the 1.5-litre mill in the previous model. The smaller motor produces 70kW of power and 130Nm of max torque; these figures mark a marginal decrease in power and torque in favour of all-important fuel economy. The new engine is lighter and has lower internal friction helping it to an impressive 14% increase in fuel economy with a new frugal figure of 5.5 litres/100km for the manual and 6.2 litres/100km on our tested auto model. Acceleration is handled by an electronic throttle system and while the Swift is no rocket off the line, it’s certainly responsive. Push it hard and the engine will rev to 6500rpm with mid-range urge being its strong suit, low rpm torque remains a weakness. That said, the Swift has great drivability, easily keeps up with traffic round town and is capable if not ideally suited on the open road.
The new Swift is available with either a five speed manual stick or a four-stage auto box, which was fitted to our test specimen. A four-ratio transmission could be seen as one or two gears short in the current environment but the Swift’s auto box works in well with the engine and transfers power to the front wheels diligently. It’s receptive to driver input and will quickly chop down a gear when prompted. For steep hilled terrain lower gears can be held through a traditional straight shift gate, but there is no real option for manual changing.
If the Swift is left wanting in terms of raw power it redeems itself with resolute handling dynamics. With a wide track, short wheelbase and increased body and suspension rigidity the Swift keeps flat during cornering. Tight turns and short straight bursts make for engaging driving in the Swift and its light weight and low stance mean it tracks through corners predictably. What was an already well-sorted chassis/suspension set up has been further improved in the new Swift.
Steering is accurate using a variable ratio system that responds quickly when it’s near centre and lightens up nicely when making bigger turns for parking.
The ride is firmer than some but isn’t particularly harsh. Comfort is good on most roads but broken or gravel roads can send shudders through the cabin. During regular suburban duties this shouldn’t be an issue.
The new Swift has gone straight to the top in its segment for safety. A total of seven airbags are on watch including sides and a driver’s knee bag. Stability and traction control systems are a welcome inclusion as are ABS brakes and side impact beams. There are also some handy features like an engine immobiliser and hill hold assist to prevent rolling back on steep slopes.
Overall, the Swift is an excellent package that’s been further improved with the new model. With its budget price point considered, it’s easy to see why sales have been very strong and will remain so. To make a car as successful as the Swift better while not contaminating its winning formula isn’t an easy task and Suzuki has done a remarkable job. The exterior updates may be too tame for some tastes but the improvements to the interior quality and design are much more dramatic and effective. The new powertrain won’t win over the boy racers but its drivable and achieves thrifty fuel economy. Dynamically, the Swift has jumped ahead and new owners won’t be disappointed here. Bottom line is when it comes down to bang-for-your-buck the new Swift is the biggest firecracker on the shelf.
Price: From $19,990 as tested $24,990
What we like:
- Fun driving dynamics
- Can’t beat it on price
- Improved quality interior
- Frugal engine
What we don’t like:
- Limited cargo area even for a small hatchback
- Could use a touch more power
- 4-speed auto box is a ratio short
Who will buy this car: All sorts of people but mainly female, with its pricing, equipment levels and modern looks it will continue to win fans in all walks of life.
Cool Factor: Depends on perspective, for some ladies it will be the coolest ride around. For teenage boys borrowing their mum’s car – not so much.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo