New Suzuki moves Swiftly along
ONE of the nicest things about the outgoing Suzuki Swift was how classy it looked, writes Andrew English.
The wraparound windscreen, sharply defined haunches and big, elongated headlamps seemed in the vanguard of many subsequent supermini designs.
One of the nicest things about this new model is that the looks have been retained, despite an almost four-inch growth in length, two inches into the wheelbase and a slight increase in height. It's bigger, yes, but you'd need to park old and new Swifts together to spot the differences.
Dear little Suzuki. It's been making cars since 1961 and is a noted master of the small car, as well as building some great motorcycles and marine engines. Yet it has been pinged around the major industry players like a shuttlecock.
The cross-shareholding with US giant General Motors has just been unwound and Suzuki is now just under 20pc-owned by Volkswagen. It has a concomitant share of VW.
But how do you explain its eclectic car range (largely aimed at India, where Suzuki is the biggest-selling company) that starts with the tiny Alto, the unlovely Splash and underrated SX4 crossover, together with the Jimny and Vitara off-roaders and this mainstream supermini, the Swift. Somehow, it works.
Spurning the idea of a complete model range, Suzuki makes cars it thinks it can sell. The Swift, for example, is in its third generation with global sales of 1.65 million since May 2005. It was Car Of The Year here in 2006.
Built in Magyar, Hungary, the new Swift arrives next month, in three and five-door guise, with a new 1.2-litre petrol engine.
Next year, there will a 1.3-litre diesel built under licence from the Fiat Multijet design.
Under the bonnet, the 1.2-litre, four-cylinder twin-cam screams around to 6,500rpm, yet also delivers respectable pulling power lower down the revs. Headline urban/combined fuel consumption figures are 46.3/56.5mpg, giving CO2 emissions of 116g/km. That puts it in the lowest road tax and VRT category.
I drove a 109km route across country, not hanging about and using the engine to the full. The result was a highly respectable 49.1mpg. This is partly down to the kerb weight of just over a tonne, which gives a virtuous cycle as far as urban and country road driving is concerned.
Extended motorway work, where aerodynamics start to take their toll, and/or a full four-adult load, which drastically affects rolling resistance and inertia, would pull this down.
The engine is lovely, feeling at once refined and sporting, with a businesslike note. The five-speed transmission has a clearly defined gate and although fourth and fifth gears are overdriven for economy, the engine's gutsy enough to pull (gently) through bends and you can always scream down into third.
There's also a full torque converter automatic transmission as an option.
Some owners might not appreciate the excellent handling, but this an outstanding car to drive hard. If it lacks the ride and handling combination of the Ford Fiesta, it is certainly up there with the Clio and Punto in driver appeal.
MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension are industry standard, but Suzuki has done well to inject a vivacity that's been absent until now. Ease the throttle through a bend and the nose points into the corner progressively, without terrifying the driver. There's not really enough pulling power (torque) to affect the steering, which is much improved.
The ride is pretty good, although initial bump absorption is too abrupt and the wheels crash through larger potholes. With all-round disc brakes, stopping is efficient, with a pleasant pedal feel.
The cabin has been given a workover, too, although some of the dashboard materials are scratchy and harsh. But the straightforward facia layout is attractive and easy to use.
There's a four-dial instrument binnacle with gimmick-free digital displays of fuel consumption and trip distances.
The front seats are comfy and supportive and there is plenty of headroom. The steering adjusts for rake and reach. Rear accommodation is improved, although six-footers will fit where they touch and the boot is only large enough for three airline overhead locker cases.
The rear wheel arch also impedes access and egress, so check it if you are going to carry people in there for long periods.
As a useful runaround, the Swift more than fits the bill, although it's much better than that. The chassis is good enough to accept a lot more power, but there has also been the promise of dropheads, hybrids and all manner of goodies.
You'll not be disappointed with this starter model, though. I found it rather charming.