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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.
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.

What's new?

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.

Summary

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.
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?

What’s new?

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.

Design

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.

Summary

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!

Latest Resutls for Suzuki Swift

Full Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 5
  • Split rear seat: Standard
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: front + rear
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Brake assist (BAS/EBA): Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 2
  • ISOFIX child seat mountings: outer rear
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Multifunction steering wheel controls: Standard
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • CD player: Standard
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: Standard
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Daytime driving running lights: Standard
  • Frontfog lamps lights: Standard
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Rear fog lamps lights: Standard
  • Rear spoiler: blue
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: petrol
  • Fuel range average: 755 km
  • Driven wheels: front
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 5
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Front tyres: 165/80 R14
  • Reartyres: 165/80 R14
  • Length: 3840 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1735 mm
  • Height: 1530 mm
  • Wheel base: 2450 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 145 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 9.6 m
  • Load volume / capacity: 268-579-953 L
  • Load volume / capacity: 953 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 875 kg
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1315 kg
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 37l
  • Fuel consumption average: 4.9 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 116g/km
  • Power maximum: 61 kW
  • Power maximum total: 61 kW
  • Power peak revs: 6000 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 71.3 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 113 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 4200 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 113 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 129 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: 12.0s
  • Maximum top speed: 170 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 1197 cc
  • Engine size: 1.2l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.2
  • Engine + detail: 1.2
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Variable camvalve timing: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 3
  • Warranty distance (km): 100000 km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 2
  • Service plan time (distance): 30000 km
  • Roadside assistance time: 3
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Service interval (time): 1
  • Brand: Suzuki
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 59007081
  • MMVariant: SWIFT 1.2 GL
  • MMintrodat: 2018-05-21
  • Limited edition: ltd ed
  • Introdate: 2018-05-31
  • DuoportarecordID: SuzuSwif2h02

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Used Swift 1.2 GL Special Edition availbale from the following auto dealer:
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