Suzuki’s most popular global model arrives to further bolster this brand’s already impressive line-up...
If there’s a discernable spring in the step of Suzuki Auto South Africa employees at the moment, it’s because the cards appear to be falling neatly into place for this popular Japanese brand. While models like the cheerful Celerio and quirky Ignis continue to welcome an increasing number of budget-conscious South African buyers into the warm embrace of the multiple award-winning Suzuki stable, 2018 is shaping to be the year this marque plays two massive trump cards. Not only is the internet currently abuzz with news of the returning Jimny, but Suzuki’s local product portfolio has also been bolstered by the arrival of an all-new version of the brand’s bestselling model to date: the Swift.
In 2008, the Swift nameplate introduced many South Africans to the thrifty charm of the then-returning Suzuki brand. Over the following decade (and through two model generations), it has cemented its place as a well-specced, frugal and entertaining alternative to the establishment, whether as an entry-level offering in its first tenure, or as a slightly more grown-up prospect with the launch of the (global) third-generation here in 2011.
Sharing the same Heartect platform as the Baleno and the Ignis, the fourth-generation Swift sacrifices some of the distinct neatness that was a hallmark of its forebear’s design in search of increased interior space and improved packaging. Although the new car is slightly shorter than the model it replaces – and despite the inclusion of a darkened C-pillar and a hidden rear door-handle execution – a waistline that’s 40 mm wider than that of its predecessor does make it seem a tad more bloated. Together with suitably adjusted track widths (40 mm in front and 35 mm at the rear), Suzuki has also managed to stretch the Swift’s wheelbase by 20 mm compared with before.
Yet the most significant advantage afforded by this new platform is mass management. As noted with other modern Suzuki hatches we’ve recently tested, model for model the new Swift has shed roughly 100 kg. Where the more compact 1,4 GLS tested in June 2011 tipped our scales at 1 010 kg, the new top-of-the-range GL version (including optional alloy wheels) tested here registered just 872 kg.
Where the aforementioned GLS model assessed seven years ago saw off a Volkswagen Polo and Toyota Yaris, the new Swift returns to its roots by targeting the more budget-friendly segment of the local small-hatchback market. It’s within this segment that the hard plastics and relatively basic switchgear found in the new Swift feel both more acceptable and rock solid by comparison. While Suzuki certainly has access to modern touchscreen infotainment systems in other markets, the presence here of a neatly integrated and intuitive audio system incorporating modern functionality like Bluetooth and a USB port, feels adequate in this cheerfully back-to-basics package.
While the cloth-covered seating is among the most comfortable we’ve experienced in this segment, the inclusion of either reach adjustment on the steering column (to complement rake movement) or height adjustment on the driver’s seat would have been welcomed. That said, despite all the Swift’s seats now placed lower for improved comfort (including headroom), all-round visibility out of the cabin remains excellent. In terms of packaging, a more significant gain over the previous generation has been 72 litres in luggage capacity.
A further concession towards economies of scale has seen Suzuki Auto South Africa forego the introduction of the turbocharged 1,0-litre Boosterjet engine option offered in other Swift markets in favour of the continuation of service for the brand’s venerable naturally aspirated 1,2-litre Dualjet (K12M) engine. Despite a modest 61 kW and 113 N.m of torque, when mated with an impressively precise and easily workable five-speed manual transmission (an automated-manual version is also available in GL spec), it’s an engine that thrives in the new Swift’s welterweight frame.
Free revving and buzzy, this drivetrain combination feels particularly sprightly round town and – despite what the outputs suggest – grants this Suzuki a playful pseudo-hot-hatch persona. Even without a taller sixth gear ratio, the 1 197 cm3 engine is still able to settle into a cruise while covering longer distances. A further feather in this drivetrain’s cap is a registered CAR fuel-route figure of just 5,1 L/100 km.
While the combination of a lightweight variable-ratio electric power-steering setup and an impossibly tight 9,6-metre turning circle make the Swift easy to manoeuvre round the tight confines of a city centre, the somewhat vague nature of this tiller action can prove tiresome on the open road. This is notably around its straight-ahead point and in strong crosswinds, where the Swift’s low mass do it no favours.
Even on optional 15-inch alloy wheels, the Swift’s suspension setup offers an impressively fluid ride quality that should easily cope with most road imperfections, while still boasting respectable levels of balance and body control which, at worst, sees the 1,2 GL default to manageable understeer should the boundaries be pushed.
Feeling suitably light on its feet, the new Suzuki is not only able to change direction with admirable efficiency, but also shed speed with relative ease. With ABS (with EBD and BA) fitted throughout the three-model range, we were able to achieve a respectable average emergency braking time of 3,1 seconds. Also included throughout are dual front airbags and Isofix child-seat-anchorage points at the rear.
Compact and characterful are what Suzuki does best and the arrival of the all-new Swift certainly emphasises this fact. From the Celerio to the Ignis and the underrated seven-seat Ertiga, no one can accuse Suzuki of not covering all of its bases when it comes to offering South Africa's affordable motoring both with a touch of charm and, crucially, a proven reputation for reliability and value for money. A quick glance at this test's accompanying specifications sheet reveals one of the cheapest baskets of replacement parts prices we've ever encountered.
While the larger Baleno is the Suzuki now tasked with taking on the likes of the Polo, new Ford Fiesta and Yaris, the neat packaging and considered standard specification of the new Swift range looks set to help it stamp its authority on the cheap and cheerful sub-R200 000 brigade.
Launched concurrently, the new Suzuki Dzire offers all the charm of the Swift in a traditional sedan layout
While it loses its Swift naming, the new Dzire is, by all accounts, the sedan version of the Suzuki's bestselling hatch.
A R2 000 premium on its tailgated equivalent, the Dzire's GA and GL specifications largely mimic those offered by the new Swift, while the 1,2-litre petrol engine and choice of either a five-speed manual or automated manual transmission is shared through both body styles.
Weighing just 4 kg more than the Swift, the 155 mm longer Dzire's luggage compartment offers 64 litres more packing space compared with its hatch sibling.
It's interesting to note GL specification in the Dzire range adds air vents for rear passengers, a welcome feature not offered in the Swift.
*From the September 2018 issue of CAR magazine...
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Suzuki Swift price and specs here