Everyone, at some point, should experience the pleasure of driving a tiny car with fun handling, a neat and simple engine, and a good ol' manual gearbox.
Yes, there are many who want to drive something that has a powerful and advanced engine, electronically controlled suspension systems, or dual clutch gearboxes with superfast shifts, but nothing really compares to a small economy car that has all the fundamentals for a fun drive.
That philosophy, I believe, has always been found in one model: the Suzuki Swift.
I've spent quite a bit of time behind the wheel of the past two generations, and both have been exceptionally enjoyable to drive. The 2006 model was fun, but the 2011 Swift was the one I really liked simply because it surprised me since I had such low expectations of the smaller 1.4-liter and the rather old-school (by today's standards) 4-speed auto. Now Suzuki has an all new model, and after spending a week behind the wheel of this base manual version, I'll gladly and honestly say that I already miss driving it.
By my preferences, the new generation Swift strikes my interest. Many have commented that since the second generation of the nameplate, the the Swift is somewhat Japan's interpretation of the classic Mini Cooper, and I agree.
The overall shape (particularly the silhouette) definitely borrows some cues from the classic Issigonis design like a body that's wider than the structure above the beltline. The wheels are pushed out to the far corners of the Swift to generate as little overhang as possible, another Mini hallmark that continues to this day. The illusion of a floating tub of a roof is very Mini too, and even looks good with a Union Jack decal, though I'd prefer the Japanese meatball... with rays.
This fourth gen model is the best looking so far, at least in my opinion; always felt that the third gen 2011 Swift was too much of a mild evolution compared to the second gen model I drove from 2006. I like the new face with the more modern headlights, that big black grille, and the smiley-ish lower grill. There's just something quite uplifting about it.
The rest of the look is likewise neat, particularly the way Suzuki tried to complete the floating roof illusion with the blacked out portion on the C-pillars. I also liked how they blended the black rear door handles into the C-pillars; it creates the look of a 3-door hatch with a 5-door's ease of entry and exit for the rear passengers.
The back of the Swift breaks away from the older look, as the designers were a bit more liberal this time, ditching the taillights that somewhat resembled hockey sticks. I'll go so far as to say I actually like the decals and other accessories they slapped on this unit... well, except maybe for the faux carbon fiber covers on the scalloping for the doorhandles.
Suzuki's design team also seems to have had a bit more fun with the interior, particularly the dashboard. It's a far cry from the rather bland, clearly plasticky look of the previous model's dash. They put in a lot more effort into creating a more fun demeanor with the feel of the cabin; sure, it's still mostly plastic, but that doesn't mean it had to look unremarkable.
I like the central multimedia unit; perfectly placed and has all the features I want like Apple Carplay and Bluetooth. The A/C is the manual dial type and not a push-button climate control system, but that's OK; this is technically a base model. Thankfully, you're not left wanting for power features like power windows, electrically-adjustable mirrors, assisted steering and the like. They didn't skimp on safety features either as you get dual airbags and the ever-so-essential anti-lock brakes. Parking sensors and the reverse camera are features saved for the top spec model though.
What truly surprised me about this new Swift happened when I settled into the driver's seat: it was remarkably soft, much softer than many of the competitor models. That cushioning actually helped me settle in very well, and it's something I wouldn't mind getting stuck in traffic with. The other seats are the same way. Cargo space is decent; you have about 242 liters for bags and stuff. With the rear seats down, that more than doubles to 556 liters. Not bad, but the exceptionally spacious Jazz shouldn't have to worry just yet.
The steering wheel has a rather sporty D-cut shape; it's great for driving, and makes it easier to scootch over and settle into the seat. I like the dual binnacle gauge cluster, and there's a multi info display in the middle for things like range and fuel economy. But perhaps the feature I was looking forward to the most was the not some fancy new bit of technology; the Swift doesn't have much of that.
No, what I really wanted to try out was the shifter: finally, we're going to get to try a Swift with a good ol' 5-speed manual gearbox with three pedals. Actually we've been bugging Suzuki Philippines for about a decade now to activate a press car of the Swift with a manual tranny. Now, we get our wish.
Driving the Swift manual around town is quite a neat little treat. Even in traffic, the clutch isn't uncomfortable to use. It's nice and light though not so much that it feels like a button. The feel of the shifter isn't as direct as we would prefer, but neither is it spongy. I do wish the shifter itself was a little longer and had slightly shorter throws, but that's me just nitpicking. Parking is easy; being a subcompact hatchback means you can easily place this car in a slot, no problem. Maneuverability is superb though; getting around tight city streets is very easy. I often found myself zipping around traffic.
What was unusual was the engine, or at least the size of it as Suzuki has been consistently downsizing the sizes of their engines. The 2006 Swift we drove had the M15A 1.5-liter engine that made 110 horsepower. The 2011 Swift had the K14B 1.4-liter engine that made 94 horsepower. This 2018 Swift has a 1.2-liter K12M engine that makes just 82 horsepower. Sounds like a downgrade, right?
The reason for the power loss is that the Suzuki Swift actually got lighter through the use of high tensile steel (less mass) and a new platform. It's like a keto diet, but for cars. The result is a curb weight of just 860 kilograms compared to the previous generation entry grade models which would have weighed about 945 kilos. When we crunch some numbers, that yields a power-to-weight ratio of 95 PS per metric tonne; the higher the ratio, the better. The older Swift 1.4 M/T would have been at around 99 PS per tonne, which means the new Swift 1.2 M/T is not too far off. And it has a more efficient motor.
In traffic, there is no question about the efficiency of the 1.2-liter Swift. The K12M motor, the lighter body, and the 5-speed manual are collectively able to achieve a great 12.2 kilometers per liter (19 km/h average), and I wasn't even really trying to be efficient. When I did start to be more frugal with my shifting and how I used the gas pedal, the Swift was able to return 14.0 km/l (20 km/h average). On the highway, expect to get numbers north of 21.5 km/l (89 km/h average).
But what I was really excited to find out was how the Swift handles when driven hard. I'll just say that it puts a smile on my face.
The acceleration figures won't impress many; I didn't have a buddy to time my launches, but it looks like the Swift may be getting 0 to 100 times that are around the 12 to 13 second mark. Not impressive, though this isn't about outright acceleration. What was really good about the Swift are the gear ratios they selected; they're nice and short, allowing the driver to maximize the power of the tiny engine all the way up to the redline. That gearbox is perfect for blasting around a mountain road, and we did.
Approaching a corner, my right foot hits the brakes to slow down. This Swift brakes really well considering that the rear brakes are drums, and the nose dive isn't anywhere near enough to be disconcerting. The placement of the pedals makes for very easy heel-and-toe downshifting to the correct gear; given the short ratios, I approached most corners in fourth, drop down to third, turn in and trail-brake (gradually release brake pressure as you rotate the wheel) and pop down another gear to second just before the apex. Despite the puny engine, the gearbox allows you to accelerate out of the corners cleanly.
Taking on a mountain road is a fun exercise with the Swift, and what's more, you're rewarded by a rather crisp turn in for what is essentially an economy car. The lighter body also contributes to the inspiring feeling of agility. You can drive the Swift like this from one corner to another, though you'll have to rest the brakes when you can, lest you want to find out how scary brake fade can be in the twisties when you push a car too hard for too long.
The 2018 Suzuki Swift GL (technically, we drove the car in 2018) is my idea of a fantastic everyday car. The Swift is good looking both inside and out. It has all the basic features are covered, and then some. You've got fantastic fuel economy in the city and on the highway. It's comfortable and easily maneuverable in town, even with a manual. But it was the performance that really surprised us.
And all this can be had for just PhP 755,000. Well, minus the decals.