Is there still room for hatchbacks in the world of crossovers?
Hatchbacks are often the alternative to the subcompact sedans that have become a staple in the local market. The thing is, crossovers are becoming within reach for many. From China to South Korea, there are more sub-PHP 1 million of these high-riding hatchbacks available today.
With that, hatchbacks are facing an uphill battle when it comes to value for money. That includes the 2020 Suzuki Swift that we got to test recently.
First launched back in 2018, the latest generation model gets a new look inside and out, more standard features, and a new powertrain. After getting to drive the top-spec GLX and the entry-level manual, it was now time to take a closer look (and feel) of the GL CVT. So, does it offer enough to sway you out of a crossover?
The car may already be two-years-old in the market, but it still looks fresh and cool. Immediately greeting you at the front is a massive hexagonal grille, strips of LED daytime running lights atop the foglights, and the sweptback halogen headlights.
The sloping roofline from before has been carried-over which gives the Swift its unmistakable look. It also comes with blacked-out A- and C-pillars that provide the hatchback with a 'floating roof' design. More prominent LED taillights, 16-inch alloy wheels, and the black rear door handle on the C-pillars further accentuate the Swift's sporting looks. With its design and proportions, you might even say it beats crossovers in the looks department alone.
So it has style on the outside, but what about the inside? In terms of ergonomics, everything is where you expect them to be. From the air-conditioning controls to the media display buttons, USB/Aux ports, 12V charging socket, and front cupholders, it's easy to get accustomed to the Swift's controls. Then there's the driver's seat that now comes with a seat height adjuster for better driving comfort.
It doesn't come with leather seats, but the black fabric upholstery does work well with the predominantly dark interior. Providing some contrasts are touches of white plastic trim seen on the dashboard and door panels.
Unlike the GLX with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the GL model only comes with a smaller 7-inch touchscreen display. Despite being smaller, it comes with the usual set of features like AM/FM radio, Aux, Bluetooth, and USB. It even comes with two SD card slots – one for media and one for the car's navigation system.
If there's one particular feature I find cool inside the Swift, it would have to be the hooded gauges. It may not be a hot hatch, but it's a neat touch nonetheless. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is also a nice touch, despite not being leather-wrapped. No automatic climate control here, as the GL only gets manual air-conditioning.
What about practicality? With the rear seats up, the hatchback can haul 242 liters worth of luggage. Not bad for a car that measures 3.9 meters in length. Fold-down the 60:40 split rear seats, and the Swift can carry 546 liters worth of cargo.
Under the hood, the Swift uses a humble 1.2-liter, naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. It may have the same displacement as the previous generation's 1.2 engine, but the new motor makes slightly less power; 82 PS (-5) and 113 (-1) Nm of torque. While this may look (and sound) like a downgrade, the new Swift is lighter than its predecessor.
That's thanks to the new Heartect platform that is also seeing duty in the Ertiga and XL7. Unlike the previous generation that already weighed at a light 990 kg, the new-generation hatchback is lighter at 860 kilograms. With 130 kilograms off its curb weight, the engineers were able to use a more efficient engine. They were even able to swap out the old (yet proven) four-speed auto for a CVT.
What is it like to drive? Just like the (now-discontinued) GLX and GL M/T we tested before, the GL CVT is a zippy hatchback. Off the line, the 1.2-liter motor feels punchy if you put your foot down.
What it lacks in sheer torque, it makes up for in plenty of revs. The CVT is geared for fuel economy, but the 1.2-liter and CVT combo will let you have fun if you decide to do so. Set the CVT to Sport, and the revs pick up quicker and linger more at the powerband.
When you're finished playing with the Swift, the hatch reverts into a humble five-door that is quiet, efficient, and easy to drive around. It has good Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) deadening. That means you'll hear little disturbances from the outside. There is also generous legroom at the back that can accommodate even the tallest of passengers.
Handling on the Swift is and always will be one of its best attributes. Turn the wheel in, and the hatch follows through. However, I just wished the electronic power steering (EPS) delivered more road feedback as it felt too numb at times. On the flip side, the light steering makes it easy to maneuver around town or on tight roads. Thankfully, it stiffens up when you're at highway speeds.
For fuel economy, it's one of the most efficient in its class. In normal city driving conditions, it's easy to average between 10.0 – 11.0 km/l with the Swift. Take it to the highway, and it will be able to return between 19.0 – 20.0 km/l.
Efficient the Swift may be, do remember that it only comes with a 37-liter fuel tank, 5 liters less than the previous generation's 42-liter tank. If you're going on a road trip with the Swift, make sure there are several gas stations along the route.
As for the ride, it's a mixed bag for the Swift. When seated at the front, the hatchback rides relatively okay and is not as bouncy. Sit at the back, however, and it has a stiffer ride quality. Go over potholes, rutted streets, and pockmarked roads, and those seated at the rear may find themselves bouncing around.
Some might say the short wheelbase is to blame, but the older Swift from before didn't suffer from such a jarring ride. Perhaps Suzuki could have used softer dampers at the back to make the ride comfortable. Mind you, the factory tire pressure for the rear seats is at 36 psi when not fully laden with passengers or cargo.
There's also room for improvement with the Swift's brakes. While they can effortlessly stop the Swift dead in its tracks, the pedal itself could use better modulation. At times, the pedal feels numb - that doesn't exactly inspire confidence when slowing down from highway speeds.
At PhP 799,000, the Swift GL CVT is a good buy when you're looking at a small hatchback. It comes with plenty of safety features like anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, ISOFIX anchors for child seats, and front SRS airbags. It doesn't come with rear parking sensors or a reverse camera, but given its size, it can do so without them.
But with other brands like Chery, MG, and even Kia now selling crossovers at very competitive prices, the Swift GL CVT is locked in a fierce battle with these affordable high-riders.
So no, it's not as practical as a crossover, nor is it as capable. But the trump card of the Swift is with the way it drives. If you're willing to sacrifice ground clearance for driving pleasure, do consider getting the Swift. Besides, most crossovers cannot offer the drive, maneuverability, and handling of a hatchback.