The previous-generation Suzuki Swift started a revolution in the light car segment, but has the new one upped the ante once again?
If you're a movie buff you'd well and truly know how irritating it is when Hollywood decides to make a horrible sequel of your favourite film. Starship Troppers is a good example, the first movie was pretty good, but the second one left a lot to the imagination. Predator 2, Superman Returns... the list goes on.
What about cars? When a car company nails a certain look, feel and hence starts a trend in an entire category, it's very difficult to maintain momentum and bring out the next-generation of the same model that continues with similar levels of success.
The Suzuki Swift was the first of the new-generation of light cars that went for the cutesy look, but also provided serious ride and handling characteristics with great practicality, build quality and reliability. I liken it an affordable Japanese built Mini Cooper. It was arguably the first of the light-cars that even young men found okay to be seen in (that's a big call). Nearly seven years has gone by since the last-generation Swift went on sale in Australia, resulting in more than 65,000 sales.
Back to our sequels analogy. Why do some movie sequels suck? Generaly it's because they lack the same big-name actors, the story is pretty poor and the budget is about 1/10th of the original. Lucky for Suzuki, the new Swift is more like Iron Man 2. Everything you loved about the first movie but more action, more goodies and if you happen to be female, more Robert Downey Junior. Essentially just, more Swift.
From the outside it looks relatively similar to the old one, which is good for many reasons. One, because it will keep the good resale value of the old model (it's always a good sign when a brand cares about its existing customers). Two, because everyone loved the original unique design, and three, because good car design philosophy has changed somewhat to be more evolutionary than revolutionary.
Suzuki had the option of going for a more radical design but decided to stick with the same theme. The big question though, is whether or not it will stand the test of time. The original design is now more than seven years old and this evolutionary update will no doubt carry the nameplate for at least the next five years. Will it still look good then? Only time will tell.
Prices for the new Suzuki Swift start from $15,990. For that you get a Swift GA which is the bare bones of the model range, it comes with a basic stereo and is available in manual only. Best suited to fleet buyers and the extremely price conscious. The best option, if you're on a budget, is to pay an extra $700 for the GL which gets leather steering wheel with audio controls, a six-speaker audio system, body-coloured door handles and side mirrors plus side indicators in the mirrors.
Both these two variants lack a few key ingredients which are worth noting. Neither have Bluetooth phone or audio connectivity (but do have USB for audio and Bluetooth phone as an option) nor do they come with a telescopic steering wheel (in and out movement). The very base model also lacks a tachometer, despite only being available as a manual. The ideal variant you'd want to buy is the one I have had the pleasure of spending a week with. The Suzuki Swift GLX.
The top of the range GLX starts from $18,990 for the five-speed manual and gets proper Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, telescopic steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels and rear disc brakes (instead of drum).
It also gets very useful technology like a new style of keyless entry which allows for the driver to just walk up to the car, press the button on the door handle to unlock (if the key is with you). This is extremely handy when your hands are full and you can't go searching for the key in your pocket or handbag.
It works by simply detecting the key within proximity. A very useful feature that essentially means you'll never have to actually use the key, so long as you carry it with you.
You can unlock, lock the doors and start and stop the car without ever having to physically touch the key.
The wireless audio streaming system is also very handy if you have an iPhone or another smartphone capable of streaming audio wirelessly via Bluetooth. Once set up, it will simply wirelessly stream the last song on your iPod application the second you turn the car on. Your phone can be in your pocket or in your gym bag in the boot, so long as it's within range.
It will cut out the music if the phone rings and then feed the phone call through the same system. Once you've hang up, the music starts up again. This isn't exactly new technology (in fact, the Hyundai Getz has had it for years), but it's amazing that most European cars still lack this functionality.
The interior of the Swift is still pretty much how you'd expect it to be, hard plastics for the dashboard and doors. Nonetheless, the centre console is now easier to use and the seats feel more comfortable.
The old Suzuki Swift was a little bit like the Tardis, tiny outside, massive inside. Its interior actually felt bigger than its exterior. Its high roofline and cute box-like shape was an aesthetically and practically pleasing feature, and the new one is no different. In fact, it feels even more spacious. The rear seats are more than adequate to carry two average sized adults but you might have some difficulty fitting in your American friends.
Bootspace is good for a car its size and you can always fold the rear seats down for even more space.
You may wondering if I am ever going to talk about the engine? The new 1.4-litre engine is smaller than the previous model (also has marginally less power - 70 kW and torque- 130 Nm) but you wouldn't feel the difference. It sips just 5.5L of fuel per 100km.
You'd very much be happier if you bought it in a manual as the power is better transferred to the road that way. The four-speed automatic can make the new Swift feel a tad sluggish if you live around hilly areas but unless you're Michael Schumacher, it shouldn't really bother you.
Ride and handling are both superb and you're unlikely to find many faults with the Swift's cornering ability. It's comfortable on bad roads but also very responsive and fun to drive when you get it on a good stretch of winding mountain road. It just needs more power to make it a serious sportscar and that's where the new Suzuki Swift Sport fits in (hasn't been released yet).
It would be unwise to put anyone behind the wheel of a vehicle without side and curtain airbags, let alone an inexperienced driver. So if you're considering buying this for your son or daughter as their first new-car, you may be pleasantly surprised to know that all variants come standard with seven airbags and electronic stability program (ESP). This has led to a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, which is essential for a light car.
If you're interested in a new Suzuki Swift, it's good to point out what this car does best. It's the ideal first car for a young buyer or a mature couple looking at downsizing now that the kids have moved out. It's also the perfect second family run-about and can even accommodate a small family. What it doesn't do so well is offer the same level of rear-seat practicality as say a Honda Jazz (which has a starting price $1,000 higher) – or come with fixed price servicing (Toyota Yaris), or a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty (Kia Rio).
Overall, if you loved the old Swift, you'd find it hard not to love the new one. Just like how Iron Man 2 was a smash hit across the world, the new Swift has already seen Australian sales rise by an incredible 40+ percent over the outgoing model in its first month on sale. The people have spoken, and it's a hit.
Read the launch Suzuki Swift Review if you're interested in more technical and engineering details.