If there is a brand that is known for affordable city cars, it is Suzuki. And with the arrival of the 2017 Suzuki Swift range, the company’s biggest seller has seen some worthwhile changes.
Why? Because unlike those cars, this one feels cheap. That's to say, it feels what it costs, because the Swift GL five-speed manual is listed at $15,990 plus on-road costs (or, more correctly, $16,990 drive-away per Suzuki’s launch deal). There’s a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto available for a grand more.
Mike was suitably impressed with the higher-spec models in the Swift range, and with good reason, but this entry grade Swift isn’t as well equipped as it really ought to be. I mean, steel wheels with hubcaps? No touchscreen? Competitors like the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz have those bits and bobs, but it’s not without precedent – a Mazda 2 Neo doesn’t have a screen or alloys.
But the Mazda has safety goodies to get it across the line: there’s autonomous emergency braking as standard – you have to shop up the range in the Swift line-up for that. And the Mazda has niceties like push-button start and keyless entry, where the Swift gets a regular old key.
In fact, the GL is equipped almost identically to how it was when the previous version came out in 2011. That’s just not how the new car game works any more.
In the years since, we’ve seen brands add touchscreen media systems to cars even cheaper than this – the Kia Picanto and Holden Spark both have screens with smartphone mirroring (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), and Suzuki has that tech available – it can be had in the next spec up, for instance, and in the identically-priced Ignis GL.
In a part of the market where connectivity is arguably as important as the styling of the car, it’s a big mistake by Suzuki. And the stereo system is diabolical – a two-speaker system with no screen (what is this, an AU Falcon ute?) and sound quality similar to putting your iPhone up on the dashboard and trying to bounce the sound off the windscreen. Poor form.
It has USB connectivity and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, but people I called said it was echo-prone. And there’s no digital speedometer, and – while it’s cute at first – the Japanese-spec km/L rather than L/100km readout is a bit silly (you can change it).
Sounds pretty bad so far, right? That’s the frustrating thing about this specification, because the Swift is much improved in many other areas.
The interior, for instance, is quite nice. The white treatment across the dash is intriguing, at least, and the new leather-lined flat-bottom steering wheel is a lovely thing in the hand. It has audio controls and cruise controls (yes, you get cruise!) integrated, and because it’s your skin-on-skin point of contact with the car, it lifts the ambience.
The rest of the interior is improved, too, with better storage throughout, and more space in the back seat. Previously the Swift was a tight spot for anyone taller than about five-foot-six, but now those up to six-foot will at least be able to lever themselves in the back. You sit a touch lower than in the previous model, with notably more knee and head room – but it’s still not as roomy back there as, say, a Jazz.
There is now 242 litres of cargo area in the boot, up 32L but still pretty tight, even by the tiny-tot standards in this segment. You’ll be able to slot in a couple of weekend bags, and that could be just fine for you – but if you need a big boot, you should maybe think about a different option.
Under the bonnet is a 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine with 66kW of power at 6000rpm and 120Nm of torque at 4400rpm – modest outputs at high levels, it must be said, but the fact the Swift weighs just 870 kilograms means it doesn’t feel too underdone. In fact, it’s quite fun to drive, because you’ve got to wring it like a wet towel.
In fact, you can have a lot of fun in second gear in this car, and it'll rev freely and willingly before becoming a little bit bogged down as you upshift, but then as soon as you get it back to 4400rpm and beyond, it pushes along with decent pace. Suzuki claims fuel use of just 4.6 litres per 100 kilometres, and we saw 5.2L/100km on test.
The gearshift is light and the clutch has a city-friendly action, and if you just happen to be commuting rather than cornering, you might find yourself rowing the gears more than in competitor cars that have a little more torque. For instance, I found myself in fourth gear at 100km/h and that felt more comfortable to ensure freeway freedom to overtake. In fifth it still isn't as settled as it could be, revving at more than 3000rpm at 110km/h.
The Swift is one of those cars that has a bit of a following among certain crowds – it has long been known as being a bit more fun than its rivals for the driver – and the new one lives up to it.
It has nice direct and responsive steering in corners, although it can be a little dead on centre, and there’s great balance and controllability through the bends and a nice tune to the stability control as well; it allows you to push the car without it jolting in to distil progress.
The suspension offers a great blend of comfort and body control – it’s not soft, but nor is it too firm, and it deals with speed-humps and sharp edges reasonably well. There can be a little bit of road noise on coarse-chip surfaces and, rather oddly, this is most noticeable at speeds below 60km/h.
The steering is well sorted at low speeds, nice and light to make parking moves simple – but with no rear-view camera and not even parking sensors to help out, you’ll be guessing your way into some spots – and the now-bulkier C-pillar makes over-shoulder vision a bit tough.
Suzuki has retained the same three-year/100,000km warranty for aeons now, but it is – anecdotally, at least – one of the least-problematic brands for long-term ownership. The brand also has a capped-price servicing campaign spanning five years/100,000km, but maintenance is due every six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first. The average cost per year/20,000km works out to $476 – not that cheap for an affordable car.
So, it’s safe to say that the 2017 Suzuki Swift GL manual isn’t the model we’d suggest you choose. Unless you desperately want a Swift manual, you’d be silly to choose it, because it’s not competitively equipped or priced.
This is the first letdown in a while from Suzuki. But thankfully, higher-spec Swifts definitely make up for this entry-level car’s shortcomings. In fact, we'd go as far as to say that spending the extra for the GL Navigator auto model could be the best two grand you ever spend.
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