The new Suzuki Swift gets the company's thrummy three-cylinder turbo in flagship GLX trim. Can it cut it at the top end of the light car segment?
Despite declining sales, the light car segment is still hotly contested in Australia.
Numerous long-running nameplates still compete in the class, including the Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris and Volkswagen Polo – along with the Suzuki Swift.
This year saw a new-generation arrive in local showrooms, giving the popular Japanese hatchback a more Euro-inspired look, and driver assistance technology that is now becoming a must-have across all segments.
On test we have the flagship Swift GLX Turbo, which kicks off at $22,990 before on-road costs.
Headline features exclusive to the top-spec variant include full-LED headlights with LED daytime-driving lights, polished 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic high beam, along with keyless entry and push-button start.
That's on top of the autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control – which is unique in the light car segment – and lane departure warning included with the 'Safety Pack' option for the lower-spec GL Navigator. Oddly, though, there's no sign of blind-spot monitoring.
Other equipment highlights include a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, rear-view camera, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and privacy glass.
The factory software is standard Suzuki fare in its standard navigation and media functions; it's easy to use and is pretty quick to change between menus. The added flexibility of smartphone mirroring gives the Swift a well-rounded infotainment package that should impress tech-savvy buyers.
Safety kit other than the aforementioned AEB system includes dual front, side, and curtain airbags, two ISOFIX anchor points on the outward rear seats and hill-hold control. The new Swift hasn't been rated by ANCAP, though AEB-equipped versions only managed four stars in Euro NCAP testing – without the safety tech, the Suzuki scored three stars.
It's pretty well-equipped, and you'd hope so considering it's priced at the pointy end of the light hatch segment.
Compared to the vehicle it replaces, the new Swift does away with the cutesy look of its predecessor and swaps in a more upmarket, European look. The sharper lines lend a more masculine aesthetic, and the shape of the headlights and front grille aren't dissimilar to those you'd find on a Jaguar.
While some CarAdvice team members aren't a fan of the hidden rear door handles (looking at you, Matt Campbell), the three-door illusion and the wide rear give the Swift an athletic stance despite its small size. Add to that the 16-inch polished alloy wheels, and you have a very smart-looking little hatch.
However, things are more of a mixed bag once you hop inside. Suzuki has never been a standout for interior ambience, but the disjointed nature of the Swift's interior compared to its classy exterior may leave some scratching their head.
The overall design is actually quite nice, the dashboard is clean, with the large 7.0-inch touchscreen the centrepiece of the cockpit. Few buttons and dials adorn the centre stack bar the climate controls, while the chunky leather steering wheel and red-backlit speedo and tacho dials make the interior somewhat sporty – though there's no digital speedo readout.
What isn't so great, though, are the materials used on said dashboard, along with the doors and headliner. All the plastics are hard, and are almost a little Fisher-Pricey in their look and feel.
Some relief is found in the padded cloth-trimmed armrest inserts in the doors, though the cabin does feel pretty cheap, especially at this price.
Additionally, our tester had a headliner that wasn't even glued properly – if you pushed on the material closest to the window, it moved up and down quite a bit, as if it wasn't affixed properly.
Despite the budget-feeling materials used, the Suzuki's cabin feels very well screwed together (headlining notwithstanding), so the fit is still what you'd expect from a Japanese company – but not the finish.
The cloth-trimmed seats, though, are well bolstered and offer good support, and the chunky side bolsters feel like they're hugging you – and we could all use some of that once in a while.
Front occupants are treated to plenty of head- and legroom, making the Swift feel like a larger car than it actually is.
Meanwhile, the rear pews are pretty good too for a car of this size. There's good legroom, even for taller passengers, though headroom can start to get tight if you're well over six-foot.
Unlike rivals like the Kia Rio, however, the Swift doesn't offer any 12V or USB ports for rear passengers. There's a map pocket behind the front passenger seat.
Behind the 60:40 split second row is a measly 242-litre luggage area, which doesn't even match the 250 litres offered by the Mazda 2.
Fold those rear seats down and the Swift can carry 947L of cargo, but it's still far from class-leading – particularly when its own stablemate, the Baleno, offers a more substantial 355L with the rear bench in place.
Then again, the Swift was never meant to be a little minivan, was it?
On the road, the 1.0-litre three-cylinder 'Boosterjet' turbo petrol engine is the star of the show.
Where most Asian rivals continue with naturally-aspirated motors that lack low-down shove, the Swift's boosted triple has some serious mumbo, and has that signature gravelly engine note that just makes you smile.
The 998cc unit develops 82kW of power at 5500rpm and 160Nm of torque between 1500 and 4000rpm. While those outputs sound fairly modest for the class, the Swift only weighs 915 kilograms (kerb), so it really moves.
Drive is sent to the front wheels via a smooth-shifting six-speed torque converter automatic. While some won't be happy with the lack of a manual option, the Swift GLX Turbo does come equipped with steering-mounted paddle-shifters and a manual mode for those who want a little more control over the transmission.
There's plenty of shove off the line, and has a nice and linear power delivery. It's brisk, almost quick, but you start to run out of that urge once you pass the 80km/h mark. If you want real performance, wait for the 103kW/220Nm Swift Sport.
At highway speeds, the 1.0-litre turbo triple settles into a quiet hum, ticking over at just above 2000rpm. It feels solid and planted on the freeway, and there's enough grunt in reserve to complete an overtaking manoeuvre or squeeze into a small gap.
Once you hit some bends, the Swift's weighty steering gives the little hatch a sporty feel, while the darty turn-in and light body make it quite the nimble handler.
It rides pretty well too, ironing out most of Melbourne's lumps and bumps with little fuss, while also keeping body roll to a minimum in corners.
The Swift doesn't exhibit much road and wind noise around town, though some stints on rougher sections of freeway and highway – take the various surfaces of Citylink for example – demonstrate the Suzuki's light weight has come at the expense of noise-suppressing materials, with noticeable tyre roar coming into the cabin.
It's frugal, too. During our time with the car, we averaged an indicated 6.2L/100km over 400 kilometres of mixed driving conditions. It's a little up on the company's 5.1L/100km claim, but it's an impressive real-world figure nonetheless.
Despite having a tiny 37-litre fuel tank, you could easily expect a range of around 400-450km per fill.
From an ownership perspective, the Swift is offered with Suzuki's three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty. It's lagging behind the seven-year/unlimited kilometre program offered by Kia, though the Japanese manufacturer's reputation for reliability may be enough for many.
There's also five years/100,000km of capped-price servicing, too. Scheduled maintenance at relatively short six month/10,000-kilometre intervals, though each visit will set you back between $175 and $429.
For the first three years of ownership, the turbocharged Swift will cost you $1458.
To conclude, the Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo is a solid offering for those wanting a feature-packed, fun-to-drive, little urban runabout.
We can't help but appreciate the 1.0-litre Boosterjet's charm, and the addition of AEB and adaptive cruise control gives it an edge over numerous similarly-priced competitors.
However, the Swift continues to fall short in the cabin, with materials and finish that don't really match up with its premium price tag, while it also lacks the overall refinement of something like a Mazda 2. Additionally, it lacks the practicality of rivals like the Honda Jazz and its own sibling, the Baleno.