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Car reviews - Suzuki - Swift - 5-dr hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Improved refinement, mature dash, more efficient drivetrain, reduced NVH, better ride, roomier cabin, greater safety
Room for improvement
No cruise control, samey styling, only a four-speed auto, need for more low-down torque

7 Feb 2011

HAS it really been six years since we quietly had our minds blown away by a Suzuki passenger car?

Back in February 2005, the then all-new EZ Swift was like nothing we expected from the esteemed motorcycle manufacturer, but maker of terminally dull or defiantly cuckoo micro cars nobody seemed to want – at least in Australia).

Speedy, sassy, affordable and fun, the third-generation Suzuki light car singlehandedly turned the company’s reputation – and fortunes – right around globally, leaving demand comprehensively outstripping supply and critics raving.

Even the notoriously parochial UK CAR magazine – which once famously said of the earlier Swift, “We’d rather swallow!” – awarded it a Car of the Year gong.

So you get the picture – the last Swift is a modern classic. But what of the new one?

Disappointingly, Suzuki has done a 911 on us by basically regurgitating the same old styling. Only when compared side-by-side does the newbie look sufficiently different (and larger) to actually notice. At least the rear is cleaner than before.

Happily, there are bigger differences in store once you feast your eyes on the very Kizashi-esque dashboard. Gone is the stylish and simple – but lightweight and somewhat flimsy feeling – fascia of old (including an awful passenger airbag outline), replaced by a far more sophisticated and higher quality item.

Harmoniously designed and logically presented, it still says ‘Suzuki’ and should therefore hold together for years. On the other hand, you won’t mistake the interior for a Volkswagen’s, and nor will you keep caressing the plastics once their smooth hard surfaces have been touched.

Of more interest is the lack of a tacho on the new base GA model – what’s going on, Suzuki? You fit a smaller, revvier engine and then make a rev meter optional? – not to mention steering wheel controls, front passenger vanity mirror and lord knows what else.

That reveals that the new GA base model is really a new stripper model (with less painted exterior trim another giveaway), brought in to compensate for the higher standard safety spec that helps push the price of the larger and more refined AZ equivalent of the outgoing EZ base model – the $16,690 Swift GL – up by $400.

Nevertheless, the GA is hardly a poverty pack, since it does include the full complement of airbags, ESC, ABS brakes with EBD and BA, air-con, remote central locking, power windows/mirrors/steering, radio/CD/MP3/USB audio and other conveniences. And the $700 jump to GL (restoring the missing items of the old Swift) is not monumental.

We were gratified by some of the attention to detail on offer, such as the lane-change indicators, louvered outboard vents, elegant instrumentation font and grippy little steering wheel. But no cruise control availability is a definite drawback.

Inside, it is clear Suzuki has done its homework, with significantly more room in the rear for adult legs and knees, and a slightly larger luggage area. But don’t get too excited – the boot is still small, even for a supermini, thanks to that pert posterior.

Still on that tail, it is worth mentioning that the higher bumper and altered hatch door aperture apparently reduces repair bills in the event of a rear-end collision.

Moving on to the business end, the engine seems smoother, sweeter and less intrusive than before, which is just as well since nothing much happens unless you are willing to rev it past about 2500rpm. Having said that, every Swift we drove showed less than 500km on the odometer, so we expect a few more kays might loosen things up.

Regardless, even with the green GA’s slightly sticky five-speed manual (the GL we drove later was slicker), the performance seemed impressively lively for a 1.4-litre car once the 2500rpm mark was reached. On the go, this powerplant easily feels a match for a previous 1.6-litre.

Better still was the small Suzuki’s steering and handling.

We were pleasantly surprised by the sharpness of the steering – courtesy of a new rack by Australian company Bishop – with the Swift tipping quickly into a corner with no hesitation or waste. Indeed, a novice might be caught slightly unaware by the speed of the new ratio.

Plus, the Swift has lost none of its eager handling and grippy roadholding, even though the ride and general road isolation is measurably improved compared to the noisy old one. Body control is kept tightly in check.

While the new Swift is up there with the class-leading Ford Fiesta, Mazda2 and VW Polo for dynamic prowess, the GL auto showed that – while tons better than the old Fiesta 1.4 – the four-speed transmission is now off the pace compared to the slick (if jerky at times) Polo seven-speed DSG and the smooth though unremarkable Ford six-speed Powershift unit.

Drive it sparingly and the self-shifting Suzuki is no ordeal, but inclines or sudden acceleration result in noisy downshifts, while step-off performance is adequate at best.

Overall, there is little cause for complaint, for the Swift does nothing badly and many things exceedingly well for the money, but there was none of the excitement we felt at the launch of the old car in 2005 despite the AZ feeling more refined and dynamic. We blame the samey styling for that.

For sportiness, we think the swoopier-looking Fiesta may be feistier as well as sharper, while the Polo seems just as composed yet may be quieter, more refined and of higher perceived quality.

Yet, from $15,990 and with a five-star ENCAP rating under its belt, the new Swift is now currently the safest new car for the money, out air-bagging the Fiesta, while easily out-manoeuvring the three-door-only Polo Trendline for practicality, so we would still have – and now more readily recommend – a new Swift in a heartbeat.

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