Now into its third generation, the Suzuki Swift has carved out a niche as a fun, reliable first car. As little cars have become more grown-up, the Swift has remained a lightweight, unpretentious offering – albeit an offering with all the safety equipment and infotainment tech modern buyers demand.
The 2019 Suzuki Swift GL Navigator with Safety Pack you see here arguably best epitomises that approach. Priced from $19,690 drive-away, it sneaks below the magical $20K marker without skimping on features.
Standard equipment is generous. For one, the safety pack brings low-speed autonomous emergency braking and forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and high-beam assist, making this Australia's cheapest way into a car with radar cruise.
It's a five-star car tested under 2017 ANCAP conditions when AEB is fitted.
There's a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen in the middle of the driver-oriented dashboard, complete with smartphone mirroring, navigation, Bluetooth, and a reversing camera. The folks behind MBUX won't be losing any sleep over the Swift's in-car tech, but it's full-featured and easy to use.
It's also relatively quick to respond once it's started, although the navigation takes what feels like an eternity to get started when you turn the car on. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also bug-free once you're connected, but getting them started can be a bit hit-and-miss.
Best case, the car registers a phone and instantly gets things going. Worst case, you need to plug, unplug and try again a few times to make it work. Not a deal-breaker, but a bit frustrating – especially considering the Swift is aimed squarely at 'digital natives' (ugh) in Australia.
The two-speaker stereo feels a bit stingy, as well, and gets rattly as you crank up the volume.
Although you don't get a digital speedometer, the standard dials are crystal clear, and the monochromatic screen between them offers some useful information like your range and fuel economy. Still, a digital speed readout would be nice.
Beyond the shiny spec sheet stuff, the Swift packs excellent fundamentals into its compact cabin. Front passengers are cradled in beautifully soft, supportive seats trimmed in comfy cloth, while the pleather-trimmed steering wheel adjusts for height. Even without reach adjustment, it's not hard to find a comfortable driving position.
On the practicality front, the door pockets are spacious enough for a large water bottle, there are cupholders and a phone-sized storage space under the dashboard, and the glovebox has space for enough gloves to keep the special octopi in your life happy.
Don't let your cephalopods get cold hands, that's octopus ownership 101.
Rear seat passengers are well catered for in the Swift. There's a surprising amount of knee, foot and head room onboard given its diminutive footprint, and the lovely soft feel of the front pews has been translated to the rear bench.
It's not all roses, though. The Swift is remarkably light for a modern car, tipping the scales at 900kg. It's easy to see how Suzuki managed to hit that Lotus-aping figure from inside.
Forget soft-touch plastics, everything the light touches is cheap, shiny and hard in the GL Navigator. The door trims are flexy and house just a skimpy piece of fabric as garnish, while the visors feel as though they'd melt if you left them in the rain, such is their similarity to cardboard.
You get the sense it's all hard-wearing and durable, there's just very little excitement to be found – golf ball dashboard trim aside.
The main flaw with the Swift's cabin is the boot, though. At just 242L it's absolutely tiny, down 44L on the Toyota Yaris and a whopping 108L behind the Volkswagen Polo. It's deep and relatively wide, but carrying a big load isn't the Swift's strongest suit. Folding the rear seats frees up 918L, and there's a space-saver spare wheel beneath the floor.
Power comes from a 1.2-litre petrol engine (which is started with a key, not a button) making 66kW and 120Nm mated with a CVT transmission. That doesn't sound like much, but remember the Swift doesn't weigh much.
The 100km/h sprint takes a claimed... Actually, there's no claim. Suffice to say it isn't world beating, but the little Swift is surprisingly peppy around town. Power delivery is linear and smooth off the line, and the CVT is really good.
It doesn't flare or drone like the most frustrating CVTs, instead hovering below 3000rpm unless you absolutely pin the throttle when you're accelerating. What's more, the engine's diminutive outputs are masked by the transmission's ability to keep it on the boil. It never feels slow or underpowered.
We averaged 6.1L/100km throughout a week of city driving, including lots of time idling for photography and videography.
The keen engine is matched by the car's nimble handling. With light, direct steering and soft suspension, the GL Navigator is brilliant fun to sling around, even though there's nothing overtly sporty about it. It's amazing what stripping weight from a car does for the handling.
Coupled with 16-inch wheels, the Swift's soft suspension makes for a comfortable ride around town. It feels relaxed over speed bumps and potholes, and glides over small imperfections without breaking a sweat.
It doesn't come at the cost of body control, though. Because the Swift is light, there's no need for rock-hard suspension to keep things in check.
It's settled on the highway, with a planted feel belying its compact footprint and lightweight body. The only real complaint is the brake pedal, which is soggy and vague at the top of its travel, and never really inspires much confidence in the driver. Even around town, it's unnervingly squidgy.
The Swift is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and requires maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km. The non-turbo Swift now costs $897 to service for its first three years, making it $57 more expensive than a Toyota Yaris.
The value equation is where the Swift really falls down. It's brilliant fun to drive, practical enough inside and cute to look at, but it's competing with a strong batch of rivals.
The grown-up Volkswagen Polo can be had for less than $19K, and offers a significantly more upmarket interior and 'big car' drive, while the bigger Kia Cerato sneaks below $20K drive-away. Mazda is pushing the little 2 as a more luxurious proposition than ever, too, and it's priced right in the Swift's neighbourhood.
If you value the driving experience and aren't fussed with any pretence of luxury, the Swift makes a lot of sense. But its cheap cabin goes a long way to undermining the value equation.