The Suzuki Swift is one of only a handful of nameplates that needs no introduction. With worldwide sales hitting two million units this month, the Swift is certain to go down in history as an iconic car of our times.
But wait, there is a new one. The current Suzuki Swift, which has been on sale for almost seven years, has finally been replaced.
When I say replaced, you might be looking at the photos and wondering if I've lost my mind. Yes, the 2011 Suzuki Swift does look remarkably similar to the old one, but that's the point. Why change such an iconic shape? Despite its familiar appearance, it's a totally new car with prices starting from just $15,990 for the Swift GA.
The outgoing Suzuki Swift has been an outstanding seller in nearly all of the 80+ countries it's been sold in. In Australia, however, it was exceptionally well received. More than 65,000 Suzuki Swifts have been sold here, making it one of the more popular cars on our road. When it comes to private buyers, the little Japanese car is still the best performer in its segment.
Research has shown that the Suzuki Swift has a 90 percent population awareness in Australia, which is remarkable given the number of different cars on sale today.
If you have a product that is incredibly popular, would you change it? Think about the Porsche 911. You can recognise its iconic shape from its original incarnation back in 1963. The design philosophy has always been more about evolution than revolution and that's increasingly becoming the norm among car manufacturers. If you have a design that sells, keep it, but modernise it.
The story behind the design of the new Suzuki Swift is actually rather interesting. A good five years ago the Japanese company sent two teams of designers to Europe for six months. One group stayed in France and the other took residence in Italy. The French and the Italians have arguably designed some of the best looking cars in the world, so it's self-explanatory why they based themselves there.
The French team designed a car which was candidly different to the current Swift, while the Italian team decided to stick with the theme of the current model and modernise it. As you can see from the pictures, the Italian team got the nod of approval from head office.
At the Australian launch of the new Swift, Suzuki's chief engineer, Mr Naoyuki Takeuchi, told CarAdvice the Swift's design philosophy is to not be affected by trends. Hence creating a timeless shape.
From the front you can see the new Swift has grown up as it now sports a much sharper look than before. The back also gets the same treatment with sharper angles and a much more defined stance. The once 'girly' Suzuki Swift has come of age.
Speaking of girly, Suzuki says a few years ago nearly three quarters of all buyers were female; these days 42 percent of buyers are male. That's arguably due to the Swift becoming the ever popular choice for first time car modifiers and let's not forget the Swift Sport, one of the best handling cars in its segment.
What can one expect from a car that starts from just $15,990? Suzuki has spent considerable amounts of money developing a new engine (K14B) to power the mighty Swift. On paper alone the new Swift has less power and torque than the old one, plus it weighs more. You might be thinking that's not much of an improvement, if not a step backward altogether.
Sometimes the details of a car's specifications are meaningless when it comes to real-world driving. Despite the engine having downsized from 1.5-litre to 1.4-litre, power being reduced from 74kW to 70kW and torque throttled back to 130Nm from 133Nm, the new Swift is a far better drive than the old one.
The all-new manual gearbox is now better suited to the smaller engine, providing better ratios that allow for a much smoother drive. You'll find it rather difficult to tell the new Swift is down on power because it actually feels quicker (no official 0-100km/h times) out and about.
It also happens to use just 5.5L of normal unleaded fuel per 100km, down 0.8L from the previous car. This was tested during our drive around the Mornington Peninsula as my co-driver and I managed economy figures of 5.2L/100km (manual).
Suzuki is manufacturing new Swifts with extensive use of higher-strength steel for a more stiff and safer chassis. Although it weighs a tad more than the old one (1025kg), the new Swift comes with more features too. Most important of all is the inclusion of standard seven airbags and electronic stability program (ESP) across all three variants. This has led to a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, which is essential for a light car.
The new Swift is 95mm longer than before and it has used most of that extra space for a more comfortable interior. It's still certainly not a car designed to carry five average sized adults, but it can if the need be. It's best suited to four adults and kids can easily fit in the back.
The base model Swift GA starts at $15,990 and is aimed at those looking for a basic runabout that doesn't compromise on safety. It comes with the bare essentials such as a four-speaker audio system with USB support, power windows and mirrors plus air-conditioning and remote central locking. It's only available as a manual but for some strange reason, misses out on a tachometre. Suzuki has also neglected to include Bluetooth technology as a standard feature but it's available as an option (about $500).
An extra $700 will move you into the mid-range Swift GL. A small price to pay for leather steering wheel with audio controls, two additional speakers and a tachometer. If you pay more attention you'll also notice the addition of body-coloured door handles and side mirrors plus side indicators in the mirrors. Money well spent, however, it still fails to come with Bluetooth. $1,700 to upgrade to the four-speed automatic.
The top-of-the-range Swift GLX manual starts from $18,990 and gets all the kit: 16-inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, keyless entry and push button start system, climate control air conditioning and front fog lamps. It also gains Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.
It's a shame that Bluetooth technology doesn't come standard across the range, given that cars cheaper than the Swift (Nissan Micra, Hyundai Getz) have this standard. Either way, I suspect the majority of buyers would tick the option to have it fitted. On a similar matter, the steering wheel on the GA and GL models is not telescopically adjustable (push in and out), a feature only available on the GLX. A rather useful feature to leave out of the entire range.
The stereo system natively supports iPod/iPhone via USB and allows for track changes via the car's audio system. An easy system that even your grandmother could use and a big tick to Suzuki for allowing full charging while also reading music.
The interior is relatively similar to the old car, except that it no longer has the centre mounted information readout that used to tell you your fuel economy. That has moved into the instrument cluster, which - as far as I could work out in my few hours behind the wheel - means you can't view the trip meter and the fuel economy at the same time.
On the plus side, there is noticeably less cabin noise than before and official figures say that there has been a 3dB noise reduction at 120km/h. The automatic transmission still whines when you're full throttle but it's not as intrusive as before.
If you put everything I have written so far aside, here is what makes the Suzuki Swift, a Suzuki Swift: ride and handling.
The Swift has won three of the four Junior World Rally Championships (JWRC) it has competed in and has earned a reputation for itself as one of the best handling light cars on the market today. The all-new Swift only improves on this remarkable characteristic.
With a new steering system, more rigid front and rear suspension plus better brakes, the new Swift now contends with the Volkswagen Polo for the award of best ride and handling in its class. That shouldn't worry Volkswagen too much, given the German company owns nearly 20 percent of the Japanese manufacturer.
Around the twisty mountain roads of country Victoria, my co-driver and I put the Swift through its paces. Interesting fact: my co-driver just happened to be Ed Ordynski, former Australian Rally Championship winner and a legendary driver in his own right. If he thinks it handles well, you can bet your house on it.
From corner to corner the Swift behaves exactly as it should. You simply point it in the direction you want it to go and it will obey your command with the nanny controls hardly interfering. If twisty mountain road driving (on a budget) is your idea of fun, you really can't look past a Swift. It begs for more power and I suspect the new Swift Sport will cater for that.
Speaking of which, the team from Japan was very hesitant to discuss the Swift Sport, hinting that it's coming but giving very little away in terms of engines or performance figures.
Despite its few shortcomings, the all-new Suzuki Swift is a brilliant little car. It's everything the old one was plus a lot more. It has more safety, more technology, more real-world performance and a hell of a lot more fun built in. I'd recommend test driving it against the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz.
The fairy tale story of the old Swift has allowed the once relatively unknown Japanese manufacturer to gain a strong foothold in the growing Australian car market. The new one should only strengthen that position.
- Swift GA Manual $15,990
- Swift GL Manual $16,690
- Swift GL Auto $18,390
- Swift GLX Manual $18,990
- Swift GLX Auto $20,690