With the recent wave of subcompact hatchbacks in the market, one can't help but think that their exterior designs follow a certain theme - aerodynamic front end, compact width, miniscule haunches - and more often than not they begin to closely resemble one another. For those who wish to buy a car and grew up with the 1970s British Motor Company (BMC) Mini and the current New Mini, they might feel a little out of step with the times.

Until the arrival of the current (2004-onwards or Mk Four) Suzuki Swift. First displayed at the 2004 Paris Auto Salon and released globally in 2005, the Mk Four Swift shares exterior similarities with the current New Mini, especially with regard to its front end. Blacked out A-pillars, pronounced front side haunches, a prominent grille, a flat roof and a low stance made it a runaway success in the European market. Although the Swift does sell here, it has yet to compete with the likes of the Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris. Exactly why is the basis for this test drive.

Step inside and you'll discover a monochromatic black cabin, with the large dashboard occupying nearly an eighth of the interior space. Buttons, dials and levers are all within easy reach, save for the power-assist window and lock buttons on the driver's side armrest; they should be moved an inch forward so that the driver doesn't need to bend his or her wrist to reach the said buttons. Audio entertainment is great but needs improvement in the treble department; the only problem is the small readouts of its buttons and panel display.

The Swift is no slouch when it comes to storage. The glovebox is big enough to store necessities, while the cubbyhole under the aircon controls can fit all three paperback Jason Bourne novels. Storing luggage is also a plus due to the rear seats' tumbling ability; the rear section (with the rear seats tumbled) can fit a balikbayan box and four medium-sized maletas. The only drawback is if the front occupants are long legged and the front seats are moved closer to the b-pillars, rear section storage is greatly reduced to the tumbled rear seats hitting the front seats' backrests.

Take to the road and you'll find that acceleration from rest can be frustrating due to the hatchback's ECU and four-speed a/t. Powerband entry is high (3500 rpm), and the a/t tends to downshift when the gas is near the floorpan. The results are disappointing (151 kph top speed, 8.71 km/l on four days mixed driving) for a car homologated for the Junior World Rally Championships (JWRC). Perhaps an m/t option or the 1.6L engine from the Euro-market Mk Four Swift Sport would be best for this car.

Speaking of the JWRC, it is a must that the car's handling be razor-sharp, as the different and often tricky turns of the different special stages must be hurdled quickly in order to be a winner. It is in this department where the P755,000 Swift excels, providing excellent stability on turns. The Bridgestone Potenza RE050 185/60R15s break traction at 105kph on dry tarmac (and 85 kph in the wet), but the ride is rather bumpy. Turn-in is sharp but steering overall is blunt, highly unusual for a JWRC-homologated car. Also, the steering feel is light at speed but tends to get heavy during parallel parking and long backing.

Overall braking ability is good (including the grippy handbrake), but the ABS tends to wake up increments instead of stopping in one big push. The headlight and foglight beams light up the road decently at night, but the beams' angles need to be adjusted due to its low positioning.

Despite serious power and loading deficiencies, the Suzuki Swift can be considered as a contender in the subcompact arena due to excellent handling and a low stance, ready-to-race look. In a primarily looks-driven market, this hatchback can be considered as subcompact sportiness.