Suzuki Swift Driving Impression
DELMAS, Mpumalanga – The third-generation Suzuki Swift Sport has finally arrived in South Africa and the local arm of the Japanese company decided to launch it on the twisty Red Star Raceway on the East Rand. Is this latest version of the warm hatch as exciting as its first two generations?
Gone is the naturally aspirated 1,6-litre engine, replaced by a new 1,4-litre turbopetrol known as the "BoosterJet". Although power has increased by a mere three units to 103 kW (offered at 5 500 r/min), maximum torque has jumped by a massive 44 percent to 230 N.m (on tap between 2 500 and 3 500 r/min).
In addition, Suzuki says it has lowered the weight of the car by some 90 kg. In an era where companies are compelled to build cars that are safer, quieter and crammed full of technology (all adding mass), the claimed kerb weight of 970 kg is a notable achievement. The claimed fuel consumption, meanwhile, has also been improved to 6,1 L/100 km. So far, so good, with the new Swift not putting a foot wrong.
There are a number of external elements that grab your attention when you first see the car. These include the small front splitter, various bold exterior colours ("Burning Red" and "Champion Yellow" stand out) and the 16-inch alloy wheels. However, it's the rear of the car that proves the business end, complete with a cheeky roof spoiler and a faux-diffuser housing a pair of exhaust pipes. There's certainly no mistaking this for a standard Swift.
Behind the wheel
In a world filled to the brim with sports-, super- and hypercars, the new Swift Sport arrives as – to paraphrase a highly respected journalist – a veritable palate cleanser. Hot hatches have transformed into super (even hyper?) hatches, with the new 310 kW Mercedes-AMG A45 S leading the pack. But it's cars like the Swift Sport that allow us to learn pretty much all there is to know about the basics of driving quickly (think understeer, lift-off oversteer and just how important a lack of weight is in terms of making a car fun to drive).
We didn’t have the chance to drive the new Swift Sport on the road, but did spend some time on the tight and twisty track that is Red Star Raceway. And it was a perfect proving ground for this little hatchback. As before, the seating position is spot-on (even for someone 1,87 metres tall), affording the driver perfect command of the controls and a great all-round view through the glass.
The six-speed manual gearbox (interestingly, a six-speed automatic transmission is also offered) is slick in its operation and the shift action is short – two vital features for driving enjoyment. The moment I leave the pits and put my foot down, I realise the urge from the engine is vastly superior to that of the old model. As I lean on the brakes and flick the car through the first few corners, the low weight is obvious. The Sport feels light, nimble and changes direct sharply.
Although now turbocharged, the engine is still eager to rev, but you also soon realise you can save the time you'd otherwise use changing a gear and rather leave to ‘box in third or fourth gear, making use of all that added torque.
As expected, there is notable understeer (as is the case with the vast majority of cars), which forces you to be patient when applying the throttle as you leave a corner. However, when you do hit the accelerator, the inside wheel tends to spin thanks to the extra torque. This was fun for the first lap or two, but I quickly realised that if Suzuki offered the optional 17-inch wheel and tyre combination (not yet available here for a number of reasons), a little more grip would be available.
Apart from the latter, this is a really enjoyable front-driven hatch. The brakes feel strong and there was no doubt in my mind the Swift Sport would survive the day of on-track punishment; that's not often the case with road cars, even those retailing for 10 times as much as this model.
The Swift Sport has a small handful of competitors in South Africa, some far more expensive (think Volkswagen's Polo GTI) and some not quite as fun (I'm looking at you, three-door Opel Corsa GSi). Sadly, the latest Ford Fiesta ST is not destined for our shores, which leaves the Swift Sport as one of the most affordable daily drives in this segment. What’s more, the Sport feels quicker than its claimed 0-100 km/h time of 8,0 seconds suggests.
In short, the new model is exceedingly difficult to fault. Indeed, Suzuki should be commended for offering a vehicle capable of serving up this much fun at this end of the market. Long may the success of the Swift Sport continue!
MUMBAI, India - In 2017, Suzuki Automotive South Africa broke its monthly sales record no fewer than three times. By year’s end, the company could be proud of a whopping 57% increase in sales, selling 8 847 units (up from 5 628 units in 2016). That meant an increase in market share from 0,9% to 1,6%.
But even that impressive improvement pales when compared with what the brand does in India. Over the past few years on the sub-continent, Suzuki has been able to up its market share from round 30% to the high-40% mark. From 1983, when the company sold its first car in India, to 2018, Suzuki is on track to gain an unheard-of 50% market share. You can see it, too. On a launch route that took us from Mumbai through to countryside, there were Suzukis wherever you looked. Clearly, the company is doing something right over there.
As it is in South Africa. Currently, right at the end of its life cycle – the current Swift is already 10 years old – it sells more than 300 units per month. To put that into context, it’s a lot more than the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz … combined. Which bodes well for this next-generation Swift, an all-new vehicle that uses the Japanese company’s Heartect platform (now in its fifth generation), meaning the Swift’s basic architecture is the same as that used for the Baleno hatchback, as well as the funky Ignis crossover.
Although mildly tweaked, says Suzuki, the 1,2-litre powertrain has been carried over from the previous generation and offers equivalent power and torque figures. The five-speed transmission has also seen some mild revisions.
Although boasting a wheelbase increased by 20 mm, width by 40 mm and length by 10 mm, the new, bigger chassis is claimed by Suzuki to be 85 kg lighter. We’re used to hearing of that kind of mass reduction in a new SUV, but it’s rare in small hatchbacks.
In the flesh, the new Swift is visibly bigger, but still within class limits. The familiar design DNA is still clearly there, but this new execution is a more modern, sportier incarnation, with a sharper nose and headlamps, and cinched C-pillars that give it more muscled haunches. LED daytime-running lights emphasise the aggressively shaped headlamps, while the rear door handles have moved to the C-pillars. The result is that the rear quarters are now just that little bit smoother.
Behind the wheel
Climb inside and the exterior’s evolution is reflected in the cabin. The multifunction, flat-bottomed steering wheel (with a glossy plastic insert) matches the Swift’s youthful nature, as does the infotainment system with its 7,0-inch touchscreen. Mounted below the air vents, it offers the usual functions such as Bluetooth and satellite navigation, along with smartphone integration and an SD-card and USB port.
In terms of layout, the rest of the cabin is not a huge departure from the outgoing model – think of it as more of an evolution – with materials that have a solid feel and controls designed with the simplicity that’s such a part of Suzuki’s design ethos. Don’t go expecting Volkswagen-level squishy plastics however; they’re hard throughout.
The redesigned cloth seats are particularly comfortable and, together with the rake-and-reach adjustable steering wheel, allowed me to find a good driving position. Sitting behind my driving position, I had enough legroom but, not surprisingly given the design of those C-pillars, headroom felt more at a premium, Even though luggage capacity has increased (by a claimed 28%), a 60:40-split rear seatback may not be available on all models (more about spec later).
Our actual time spent behind the wheel of the new Swift was disappointingly short, unfortunately; our hosts didn’t want us spending too much time in India’s challenging traffic conditions. Despite this, however, I got a good feel for the Swift’s ride quality and handling ability thanks to roads offering variety in terms of surface quality, as well as a stint along a short mountain pass.
There were at least two adults in the car at all times – and four on the return leg of our test route – but, somewhat surprisingly, this extra mass didn’t deter the Swift’s little 1,2-litre DualJet engine from revving with vigour to the 6 300 r/min redline. Even if you don’t go exploring that far along the rev counter, there is enough power and torque between 3 000 and 5 000 r/min. As before, the gearlever shifts with ease between the five gears. For the moment in our market, it’s unlikely that the new Swift will be offered with Suzuki’s 1,0-litre BoosterJet engine, which is a pity; it would have offered competition to similar offerings from VW and Ford.
The new car’s ride quality is another noteworthy feature. Equipped with 15-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 185/65 rubber, our test unit took all the roads’ undulations in its stride while offering enough cornering grip for some enthusiastic driving. I’d wager a guess that entry-level models on 14-inch steel wheels would ride even better.
Fortunately, the fun-to-drive dynamics – such a hallmark of the outgoing Swift – remains in this new chassis and is an element that most of its competitors lack. Similarly, the Swift has never been as spacious, nor as luxurious, as its competitors from Toyota and Volkswagen, and this remains so.
Suzuki has yet to finalise the spec for SA-bound models and this will undoubtedly be an important factor in terms of how it fares against that competition. At least we do know there’ll be no major compromise on safety and all derivatives will offer ABS with EBD brakes, dual front airbags and Isofix child-seat anchors.
I’d prefer to wait until we drive an SA-spec derivative to make any definitive statements, but first impressions of the new Swift are positive. Rather than trying to be a totally different car, Suzuki has stayed true to the concept of its predecessor. And, like that car, this new, fifth-generation Swift should enjoy a healthy slice of the local small-hatch pie.
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