Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos | posted September 26, 2011 22:10
It's the fundamentals, baby
I really wasn't expecting much from the new Suzuki Swift.
After several days behind the wheel of it, however, I really, really want one.
Let's rewind a bit. On my way to the Suzuki head office in Pasig, I wasn't all too excited about picking this car up for the simple reason that I just wasn't impressed with the "new" design. Its hard to tell the difference between the new model and the old model, except that they've stretched the headlamps and taillamps a bit. The side profile is pretty much the same, and the front and rear bumpers are very similar to the outgoing Swift as well. It's a very underwhelming look, lending me to initially call this a Swift version 1.5 rather than 2.0. The Swift doesn't look bad, but they certainly could have done more to the body to give the car more character.
The outside, however, is where the disappointment ends, as everything else about this car is simply great.
Sitting inside for the first time, I get the feeling that I'm in a cabin that seems to be punching higher than its price tag would normally allow. The steering wheel -something many consider to be the official "handshake" of any new car- looks good and feels great to wrap your fingers around; more so because it's wrapped in leather. The plastics, composites, piano-black trim and brushed metal accents have an air of quality and feel great to run your fingers through. I'm glad they did away with the gate-type automatic transmission shifter in the old Swift and went with a more conventional one, not to mention that it has a rather cool, up-market leather shift boot. In terms of interior design and quality, the Swift scores.
For features, this new Swift packs a few nice ones too. Apart from the standard power amenities and safety features (ABS, dual airbags), the stereo is fully integrated and is fully compatible with your iPod's playlists via a USB port. There are controls for the audio system on the steering wheel for added convenience, and I like the fact that the LCD between the gauges has complete readouts for fuel economy, range and average speed among other things. I have to admit, the Fiesta's (1.6 Sport hatchback) Bluetooth and voice control systems have set the bar high in the class for features, but the Swift does seem to follows closely behind. In terms of interior space, it's up to the class standards, unless you count the Honda Jazz; though the latter is really an anomaly when it comes to max cargo and passenger space in the segment.
If there's one improvement that the Swift needed, it was in the powertrain department. The old one had a 105 horsepower 1.5 liter engine and a 4-speed automatic, a pair that looked good on paper but never really delivered as well as I hoped back then. I was really looking forward to this new model to take it up a notch, or maybe even three. When I saw the brochure of the Swift, I was well and truly surprised, as the Swift now gets a 94 horsepower 1.4 liter engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission. Say what?
Yes, that's right, Suzuki has gone in the other direction that many expected as the new Swift gets a smaller 1.4 liter VVT over the old 1.5 and a seemingly similar 4-speed auto. What gives? Suzuki says the engine is better than the old, even though the power and torque figures say otherwise. Taking it out for the first time, however, it's easy to see what they meant. The Swift truly feels light on its feet around the city, as expected, but any car can do that. When I took it out on the highway, my opinion of this car's engine and transmission changed... in a very good way.
Nail the accelerator and the Swift will lunge forward smoothly and be unexpectedly quick about it. If you like to be a bit more adventurous with speed, it will do 160 km/h at 4200 rpm in 4th gear. Yes, that's right. 160... and there's still plenty left in the tach needle's arc to go. And it's not like its straining itself to get up there, in fact, overtaking on the highway is easy with this car. Pull out of the right lane, step on the throttle and the tranny intuitively kicks down a gear for you. The transmission doesn't second guess anything, and there's no huffing and puffing or any kind of indicator that the powertrain is having a tough time getting the up to speed. The Swift is confidence inspiring and very impressive on the expressways. More points then.
Of course that's not all, as fuel efficiency is foremost on many people's priorities. While cruising at a sedate and steady 80 km/h, the Swift (via the LCD fuel economy readout) was doing a consistent 23 kilometers per liter. Excellent figures for those who don't want to spend any more than they have to on fuel.
Another unusual factor is the high level of comfort in this car. I love the seats of the Swift, though my opinion on them might be affected by the fact that I had just stepped off the Honda Jazz; a car that we don't really recognize has having comfortable seating. The ride quality, too, is very well sorted out; something that is unexpected of a short wheelbase car. The suspension does a very, very good job of keeping things smooth; even when the car ends up running over the occasional rough patch on the road at speed.
And finally, there's the handling of the car. I've had my misgivings about the drivetrain of the old car, but the old Swift delivers the goods when it comes to a challenging racetrack or a twisty mountain road. I'm glad to say that this new model is every bit as good. On turn in, it's not as crisp as the old one, but it's got plenty of grip to play with, almost egging you on to push just a little bit more every time. Thanks to the highly improved engine and transmission, once you clip the apex and begin to feed in more throttle, the new Swift will reward your efforts handsomely.
The pricetag? Well, it undercuts the top of the line variants of the Fiesta and the Jazz at PhP 769,000, and given that the locally sold Swift is made in Japan and not in Thailand, it pretty much seals this deal.
In this business, we get to drive new cars and write about them. You can always tell if we don't like a particular car by how our reviews are worded, as we'll often end up spouting all sorts of brochure-speak either just to have something to say or avoid saying something bad. Not so for this new Swift.
Sure, the exterior isn't all that impressive -if it even is at all- but the Suzuki Swift really delivers on the fundamentals so well that in a direct comparo, I won't be surprised if it takes many of its competitors to school.