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

Our Opinion

We like
Style, value, flexibility, engine performance and driveability, safety features, standard equipment list, fun chassis
Room for improvement
Slightly raw, small boot, tight rear seat, slightly springy steering, road/tyre noise, cheap dash materials, long waiting lists

19 Aug 2005

IN a comeback to rival John Travolta’s in Pulp Fiction, Suzuki is back in a big way.

Never has the Japanese motorcycle, 4WD and mini-car giant seemed so on-the-ball - not even in the late-'80s, when the original Vitara kicked off the light-SUV thing while the Swift GTi was the only affordable Mighty Mouse in town.

A new Grand Vitara is here while a host of fun and affordable crossover vehicles are coming.

But they’ll have to be hot to set the pace of this year’s reborn Swift.

One senior engineer confided that this Swift was the first Suzuki to be seriously engineering-driven, while another admitted that never before has the design, engineering and marketing departments interacted so intensely during all stages of its development.

Rivals like the BMW Mini and Peugeot 206 were its dynamic and packaging benchmarks, while boxes-on-wheels like the Suzuki Wagon R, old Ignis and – presumably – the Honda Jazz were most definitely not.

The latter is as loving of luggage as the Swift – with its meagre 213 litres (562 with seats folded) of boot space – is wilfully and proudly not.

Another Suzuki insider says that the company has listened to its Junior World Rally Championship team – that’s been successfully fielding the Ignis Super 1600 racer for a number of seasons now – on how to improve its next-generation light car.

The bottom line is that everything about interfacing with the car had to be made easier – especially how the performance was accessed and controlled. These are the things that make a winning rally car, after all.

With that in mind it is clear just how far the Swift has come from its pedestrian Ignis predecessor.

Now in the $16,000 to $19,000 light class engines don’t come sweeter than Suzuki’s 1.5-litre twin-cam unit.

Putting out 74kW of power at 6000rpm and 133Nm of torque at 4000rpm, this little screamer will happily sing just past the 6500rpm redline no sweat.

It features VVT variable valve timing to spread what lean torque there is across a fat rev range. It appears low-speed driveability was a priority too, because the Swift will happily tootle about in town in higher gears.

The five-speed manual gearbox tested also makes the most of the power available, with a good spread of ratios available at hand.

Initially the shift quality seems a little notchy but familiarisation soon fixes that, working in tandem with an equally well-weighted clutch.

The steering is another matter. An electric unit, it feels slightly too springy at each initial nudge from the straight-ahead position for complete linearity, but only during small changes in direction – such as in a lane change.

Larger turn inputs reveal a light but tight set-up with eager turn-in that borders on being darty – and that’s a good thing.

So the Swift S – squatting on standard 185/60R15 tyres – handles quickly and cleanly, with impressive body control, plenty of grip for good roadholding and a light-on-its-feet point-ability not really present in small cars any more.

Old GTi owners – be it the Peugeot 205 or SF Swift – will recognise something special here.

The brakes, though drums out back, also seem up to the task.

The downside is that the Swift can feel a little skittish on rougher roads, while a persistent road and tyre drone is also present. Conversely though this isn’t as bad here as it is in, say, a Mazda2 Genki.

, But a Fiesta driver will certainly notice the din. In fact the Swift ultimately trails the capable, stable but not as ‘chuckable’ Ford in the dynamic stakes by a discernible margin.

On bad roads there’s also a bit of a racket going on, but the Suzuki’s demeanour doesn’t seem adversely affected. Similarly, on the open road, there’s plenty of whooshing from the wind and roaring from the tyres to keep you awake.

Still, it’s a happy compromise for all of the Swift’s fun and friskiness.

Can this really be only one generation removed from the Ignis, aka Agnes?

Inside the cabin you might believe it’s leapt two.

First though, here’s a list of the low points.

Some dash materials seem very cheap (the glovebox) and sound hollow (the dash top behind the centre vents), while the passenger airbag’s seam showed through the dash material like a VPL.

Taller passengers may struggle to find adequate space behind the wheel, so footballers ought to try before they buy. Big hands also foul the otherwise nifty steering wheel audio controls.

Meanwhile, behind the front occupants, rear seat passengers won’t find acres of space for longer legs and bigger knees either. Heads should fit in OK though.

But what they will find are three lap-sash seatbelts and retractable full-sized headrests, completing an impressive list of standard safety features that also includes anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution, dual front airbags and three child-seat tether anchorages. Suzuki Australia really deserves top marks for these.

Both models also get air-conditioning, power windows all-round (that drop fully) and mirrors, keyless entry, and six-speaker audio with remote (and leather-clad) steering wheel controls, amongst a plethora of other things.

A simple but stylish dashboard betrays Suzuki’s motorcycle heritage with funky pod-like instruments. There’s also one of the most attractive and grippy three-spoke steering wheels at any price point present.

Other details worth mentioning include subtle metallic accents around the speedo, gear lever, radio interface, wheel spokes and outer vent housing an outside temperature and (gimmicky and distracting) fuel-consumption readout while the Mickey Mouse-sized door mirrors are a boon for parking.

A nicely symmetrical console locates logical vent and audio controls, with the latter featuring thumping six-speaker CD stereo – great for drowning out the rougher-road racket.

You may recall that the Ignis, meanwhile, made a feature of its corrugated-look plastic dash cover.

And the front bucket seats are well-supportive and accommodating items, with the bonus of ratchet height adjustment.

Thus a comfortable driving position is a cinch to achieve, though anybody this side of a Mini may find that peering through the shallow and relatively upright windscreen is a tad disconcerting at first.

But it’s a small price to pay for an affordable new car that, though mixing stylistic elements of the Mini with recent Nissans and Renaults, still manages to make its own definitive and bold design statement.

A word of warning though: runaway demand and short supply may leave you waiting months for some models. Insist on a delivery-date guarantee or your money back if you’re signing up for one.

So where does the Swift fit amongst the fiercely competitive light cars of 2005?

To recap, the brilliantly packaged Jazz is the largest inside. For the most dynamic it has to be the mature Fiesta, with the related Mazda2 somewhere in-between. The roomy and underrated Mitsubishi Colt makes an intriguing Honda alternative – but is no drivers’ car.

Yet the Swift also swings with the charm of the Mini and the tearaway appeal of the old SF GTi.

So it may not be the best at anything but the Swift is a breath of fresh air anyway.

Welcome back, Suzuki.

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