Suzuki's Swift supermini has been improved. But not beyond recognition. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
With the current generation version of their Swift supermini, Suzuki have stayed true to the design principles that have long served them in the small car sector, low running costs, high quality and a spacious cabin being the highlights. For the latest model year, the range has been refined and extra equipment added. Other changes in recent times have included the addition of a 4x4 model and a five-door Sport bodystyle. Plus there's a frugal 1.2-litre Dualjet petrol engine as an option. Overall, it's all enough to ensure that this Swift still remains an appealing package.
Buying a car from a budget brand isn't usually something anyone does by choice. But the cost savings over more familiar options are often hard to ignore, especially when it comes to superminis. So what if you could pay budget brand prices, yet get mainstream quality? That's exactly the proposition this little Suzuki Swift aims to serve up. Previous Swift models have certainly been convincing in this way, selling over 1.8 million examples before the version we're looking at here arrived in 2010. That previous generation Swift had an almost MINI or Fiat 500-like cheekiness that Suzuki wanted to keep in this current model - and continues to maintain in the lightly facelifted version we're looking at here. Evolution, nor revolution, sums up this Japanese brand's approach. So to add to the spacious cabin, clean frugal engines and smart safety that the current generation version of this car brought to market at its launch, we've also these days got the option of all-wheel drive and the availability of an extra five-door bodystyle for the Swift Sport hot hatch. Plus the option of a frugal Dualjet 1.2-litre petrol engine with stop & start. All for a useful chunk less than you'd pay for a comparable Corsa or Fiesta. Does it all stack up? Let's find out.
Nearly all UK Swift customers choose 94PS 1.2-litre petrol power in this car - so many in fact that the old 1.3-litre DDiS diesel unit has been discontinued. Thanks to an advanced variable valve timing system that controls the intake and exhaust valves on each cylinder to optimise performance, the green pump 1.2 is reassuringly high-tech. Its useful output is a lot for a 1.2-litre engine, as is its 118Nm of torque. The 0-62mph trial takes 12.3s and the top speed is 103mph. As an alternative to top-spec SZ4 customers, there's also a torquier, greener 90PS 'Dualjet' 1.2-litre petrol powerplant. Customers of the Swift Sport hot hatch get a 1.6-litre petrol unit good for 62mph in 8.7s on the way to 121mph. As for the 4x4 version, well it too offers both of the 1.2-litre petrol units. The 4x4 drivetrain features a proven and simple fully automatic and permanent 4-wheel drive system which transfers additional torque to the rear wheels when required via a viscous coupling. Great for those living in rural areas who don't want to stretch to a small SUV.
Design and Build
If you haven't checked out this Swift for some time but are familiar with the model, you might notice that the latest versions have been lately treated to a minor wash 'n brush-up running to things like a revised front bumper and grille and silver detailing to the lower front bumper. For added safety and style, an LED high level brake lamp has been added. The interior design has been given some thought too, with better quality seat fabric featuring black as its keynote colour, with lined accents of blue and grey. Otherwise, in both three and five-door hatchback forms, this remains a neat piece of design, with nice features like the curving bonnet and the blacked-out pillars that create a 'floating roof' effect. Take a seat in the rear and you'll find one of the bigger cabins in the supermini class but this car's short tail means that bootspace isn't quite as impressive and the stiffer body has necessitated a reduced-sized hatch opening through which the 204-litres on offer must be accessed. Fold the 60/40-split rear seats and this is extendable to 528-litres. Behind the wheel, though some of the plastics used are a little hard to the touch, you certainly don't get a bargain brand feel. Though the steering wheel is reach-adjustable only on plusher models, you do get seat height adjustment so it's pretty easy to find a comfortable driving position. Plus the deep windows and narrow pillars mean you've a very good view of the road ahead.
Market and Model
Affordability has always been a Swift strength and like so much else, that hasn't changed with the latest car. Price-wise, it's positioned at the lower end of the supermini market and even looks attractive next to some citycars from a value for money point of view. There's a choice of either three or five-door bodystyles and prices start at around £9,000, with most of the range based around Suzuki's usual 94PS 1.2-litre petrol powerplant. All variants get seven airbags and ESP, as well as a front passenger airbag deactivation facility, electric front windows, remote central door locking with deadlocks, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, plus a MP3 / WMA compatible CD tuner with USB port and steering wheel mounted audio controls. All versions bar (rather curiously) the top Sport model get LED daytime running lights. And top-spec SZ4 models now get sat nav and a DAB radio. At top SZ4 level, customers looking at the five-door bodystyle have the option of a more frugal, torquier Dualjet 90PS version of the 1.2-litre petrol engine. The Swift 4x4 variant gets either the standard petrol 1.2 in SZ3 guise or the newer-tech 1.2 petrol Dualjet unit if you go for the plusher SZ4 variant. Either way, you get a five door bodyshape with manual transmission. It's only the SZ4 version you'd recognise as a 4x4 derivative though. It has a more rugged appearance and offers extra protection over rough ground by adding front and rear skid plates, black wheel arch extensions and black side skirts.
Cost of Ownership
While the Swift has always been cheap to buy and reliable, its fuel economy and CO2 emissions tended to let the overall cost of ownership down a little. That's no longer the case, with the latest model achieving some standout returns at the pumps. Though there's no longer a 1.3-litre diesel engine on offer, the 94PS 1.2-litre petrol engine comes up with 56.5mpg on the combined cycle. Emissions are 116g/km. If you want to do better than that and don't mind a five-door moel in top SZ4 spec, then Suzuki also offers a torquier, more advanced 'Dualjet' 1.2-litre petrol unit for a £1,100 premium, this one with 90PS. It manages 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2 with the aid of features like stop & start. The Swift Sport's 1.6-litre petrol engine returns 44.1mpg on the combined cycle and 147g/km of CO2. As for the 4x4 version, well it's based on the older 94PS petrol 1.2 and with the AWD mechanicals adding just 65kgs to the vehicle weight, the impact upon running costs is minimal, this variant still returning 126g/km of CO2. Insurance groups across the Swift line-up range between 8 and 19.
Does this Swift's low key evolutionary approach in the supermini sector matter in a market full of higher-profile choices? Not really. You don't need to spend long with this improved version to realise that it's a more grown-up proposition than many of its rivals - and a very competitive alternative in its class. You come away from a drive in one thinking that Suzuki deserves a higher profile than it currently enjoys in the UK - but maybe that's the way Swift owners like it. This isn't a supermini that most of those who'll settle for a Fiesta or a Corsa will ever consider. But it's an alternative they should have tried before signing on the dotted line. Here's an affordable car that doesn't feel like one. And a well kept secret that doesn't deserve to remain that way.