Suzuki Swift: yet another startlingly capable supermini from JapanWed, 12/04/2017
The Suzuki Swift it a popular little car, and for good reason! This report tells you all you need to know about this light, quick and stylish hatchback, and just what makes it so special.
Andrew English, The Telegraph, reports:
Suzuki makes pretty good small cars. That was one of the reasons why Volkswagen took a 20 per cent share in the Japanese manufacturer in 2009. Small cars exemplified by the Swift supermini that appeared in 2000, although it was the second-generation Swift of 2004 which brought an appealing blend of European looks, mixed with light weight and stiff construction, small, peppy engines and excellent reliability. More than a million Swifts have found homes in Europe since 2005, 127,000 of them in the UK (although Ford sells about the same number of Fiestas in just one year).
It took Suzuki five years to buy itself out of VW's ownership, but the Swift in its Mk3 guise continued to win hearts. This car, which replaces it, is based on Suzuki's high-strength-steel-rich “Heartect” underbody, which is shared with the Baleno and Ignis. The platform is 30kg lighter and more rigid than its predecessor and is claimed to reduce noise, vibration and harshness.
How light? Very. The lightest Swift is a mere 890kg, the 1.0-litre mild hybrid model driven here is 925kg and even the 1.2-litre 4x4 version weighs only 980kg. That's about 100kg lighter than most supermini rivals.
It goes on sale on June 1 and while it retains the wrap-around windscreen, upright headlamps and smiling lower air intake of its predecessor, the new Swift is 10mm shorter, 15mm lower and 40mm wider and has a 20mm longer wheeelbase.
The 109bhp/125bhp, 998cc, three-cylinder Boosterjet - such a fantastic name - tested here is a new engine. It comes as a front-wheel drive, with a choice of five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Next year's Swift Sport will likely get a 1.4-litre version of the Boosterjet.
The 89bhp, 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine comes with a five-speed manual gearbox and the option of four-wheel drive via a simple viscous coupling.
Both engine options are available with an optional mild hybrid system. This uses the car's deceleration to charge a 0.37kWh lithium-ion battery under the floor via a starter/generator , which restarts the engine more quietly than a conventional system. It also assists the petrol engine with a barely discernable 2kW for a few seconds. This set-up reduces CO2 emissions by 7g/km, improves the EU Combined fuel consumption by 4.3mpg and saves £20 on first-year VED, although on the Baleno the system costs about £700.
The redesigned interior has more comfortable seats and a new facia and there's more space thanks to that longer wheelbase, with lower seating positions for the driver and passenger. The boot is 25 per cent larger, displacing 265 litres. It’s nice to see a proper mechanical handbrake, too, which is fast-disappearing device in small cars.
There's no three-door model any more, with the rear doors having their handles hidden in the trailing edge just like Walter de Silva's 1996 Alfa Romeo 156 of 1996 and much copied since.
There’s no longer a SZ2 starter spec, so the range starts with the £11,000 SZ3, with steel 15-inch wheels, DAB radio, Bluetooth, the 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine and air-conditioning.
Next up is SZ-T, which will represent about half of all UK sales and introduces the three-cylinder turbo, 16-inch alloys, a rear parking camera and a Smartphone link.
The range-topping (for now) SZ5 has a new monocular camera/laser sensor system, which detects slowing and stationary traffic ahead and warns and/or automatically brakes the car to a halt. There's also automatic headlamp dipping, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and a weaving sensor, which warns inattentive drivers. The SZ5 also gets all-round disc brakes (the others have rear drums) a 4.2-in central display in the instrument binnacle and a central 3D satnav/entertainment touchscreen. Prices for top models are expected to be about £14,000.
The upgraded cabin is attractive, with a clear facia, simple rotary controls and contrasting panels on top models. Build quality, fit and finish are exemplary, but the materials choice isn't a match for some rivals. You also need to get to learn the inscrutable screen icons and, at a time when the UK's constabularies are eager to add six points to anyone's licence caught using a mobile phone on the move, why isn't smartphone connectivity standard across the range?
The front seats are comfy and largely supportive, although the storage space is mean and the glovebox is ludicrously small. The split rear seat accommodates two full-grown adults with leg and head room to spare, while the boot will hold a couple of airline carry-on cases.
The three-cylinder thrums merrily. Suzuki hasn't fitted a balance shaft to calm the triple's inherent vibrations and has instead deliberately unbalanced the crank counterweights, turning side-to-side vibrations into vertical ones, which are dialled out with clever engine mounts. It's a good system and only at a couple of periods on the rev counter do you feel a buzzing through the steering and pedals.
It's remarkable how well these small-capacity turbo engines pull and the Suzuki is no exception, with eager performance from just below 2,000rpm. If you exercise it, however, you'll pay at the pumps. Against an EU Combined consumption of 65.7mpg, we achieved 52mpg driving gently but only 34mpg driving fast.
That strong performance means you don't have to row in along on the gearlever, which is just as well since the five-speed manual isn't outstanding, with stiff changes and long gaps between the lower ratios. Apparently it was used in preference to a six-speed gearbox for weight purposes, though cost is likely a determining factor, too. The six-speed auto, however, is terrific and you don't pay much for it in terms of fuel economy.
Suzuki says it's done a lot of testing on UK roads for steering response, ride and handling, and it shows. There's a slightly nervous weightlessness on the 16-inch tyres in a straight line, but it immediately disappears when you turn the wheel. The nose dives eagerly towards the apex and while the variable ratio steering is over-assisted, it's accurate, with a pleasing sharpness.
Body control is good and though there's a fair bit of roll through corners, the tyres grip well and the chassis balance is well judged. The Swift feels like some Italian saloons of the Fifties and Sixties; not outstanding in any single aspect, but brilliantly more than the sum of its parts - and lots of fun.
The ride quality is firm, but it handles most bumps well, although the unsophisticated twist-beam rear clatters over broken surfaces and sharp-edged bumps. The brakes are simple swinging-arm calipers and while they stop the car strongly, they grab at very low speeds.
Last year, the Swift was Suzuki's second-bestselling model after the Vitara with sales of 11,115. With the new Swift, Suzuki wants to increase that the 20,000 in a full year, which would move it up from its current 18th place in the supermini sales chart to eighth.
On this showing at least, there seems little reason to suppose that won't happen.
Suzuki Swift 1.0 Boosterjet SHVS 2WD
TESTED 998cc, three-cylinder turbo petrol, five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE from about £11,000 to £14,000/June 1
POWER/TORQUE 109bhp @ 5,500rpm, 125lb ft @ 2,000rpm
TOP SPEED 121mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 10.6sec
FUEL ECONOMY 65.7mpg/58.8mph (EU Combined/Urban), on test 52mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 97g/km
VED 91-100g/km (£120 first year, then £140)
VERDICT Another fine supermini from Suzuki, light, brisk and unpretentious fun, with a balance between the engine/chassis and price reminiscent of small, vivacious Italian saloons of the Fifties and Sixties, but with Japanese reliability.
TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five
Honda Jazz, from £13,645
A bigger car all round and the pensioners' favourite is refined and easy to drive, but its amazingly flexible interior comes at the expense of driving fun and sheer vivacity.
Kia Rio, from £10,345
Admirable South Korean product, with flexible and smooth petrol engines and commodious accommodation, but it's far from an enjoyable driving machine.
Citroën C3, from £10,995
Taking the Cactus themes of specific luxury, with fine engines but questionable ride quality, the C3 is likeable and practical, but could have been so much more.
If you’re looking for a small car that’s great fun to drive, perhaps the Suzuki Swift is worth a test after all!