When a high volume mainstream manufacturer drops a new model on the market – every one is important, regardless of the volumes it sells, or lack thereof. However for the relatively small scale manufacturers on the market, some models are vastly more important than others. For a brand like Suzuki, hot on the back of a record breaking 2017, the launch of the Suzuki Swift is massively important. Why? Well for a brand that sells under a thousand units a month, the Swift sells nearly half of those figures on a regular basis and has done so since the brand relaunched in the country.
The Suzuki Swift is a big deal, and there’s a lot riding on the new one, launched officially to the media today in Durban. Unable to make it to the launch – I just got married yesterday, so I feel it’s a valid excuse to miss out – Suzuki graciously gave me a pre-launch test unit for a week’s worth of evaluation.
At launch, just two model derivatives are available – and fans of the Swift might be disappointed to hear that the turbocharged Swift Sport isn’t one of them. In fact at this stage, South Africa is missing out on turbocharged models altogether, for the time being at least. The two 1.2-liter models, GA and GL in name, are imported from Suzuki’s Indian arm of operation, Maruti. As a result they’re engineered and specified for a more budget orientated audience – bear this in mind as you read on.
The model derivative that arrived on my doorstep was a 1.2GL in manual guise. Mechanically, it’s built upon the latest HEARTECT architecture from Suzuki – the same platform that underpins the Baleno and Ignis. Though smaller outside – shorter by 10mm although wider by 40 – a stretched wheelbase of an additional 20mm ensures a greater interior volume for passengers and luggage. The boot – a previous weak point of the Swift, has grown by 58 litres in volume, with the minimum available space now set at 268-litres. In GL specification 60:40 split rear seats can be folded for extra versatility and practicality.
Power is derived from a 1.2-liter naturally aspirated 4 cylinder engine to the tune of just 61kW @ 6000rpm and a paltry 113Nm @ 4200rpm – the same engine and outputs as that of the previous Swift 1.2. Drive is still sent exclusively to the front wheels through a 5-speed manual ‘box, with a 5-speed automatic available on the GL specification.
Importantly though, the HEARTECT platform shaves off nearly 100Kg on a like for like basis compared to the old Swift. At 875kg the 1.2 GL is a proper featherweight of the automotive industry – not like the old one was obese, it too weighed about a tonne. The lightweight principle is one that pays dividends though, in both performance and efficiency, both of which are impressive for the segment.
Suzuki claim consumption at 4.9l/100km on a combined cycle. These figures are often known to be unachievable in the real world; however there are anomalies capable of doing so and the Swift may well be one of them. During a week of real-world testing and less than considerate driving, the dated LCD display read out 5.3l/100km. With a touch less throttle, and a little less enjoying the Swift’s handling dynamics, sub-5 readouts seem highly possible.
Those handling dynamics have become a staple trait of the Suzuki Swift for the past 2 generations – endearing enthusiasts on a budget, and indeed myself, to the model. Truth told, initial impressions of the new model didn’t feel altogether too different from the previous Swift. My now father-in-law bought a previous generation Swift 1.4 GLS at my recommendation (and still let me marry his daughter) and back to back drives felt almost identical from the old model to the new in many aspects.
Initially disappointed with the failure to improve over the old model, a few realisations dawned after a little more time with the new Swift. Narrower tyres, higher profile ones too, would usually hamper a vehicle’s handling dynamics, and yet here, with 100 odd kilograms less to haul and based on a new platform, the new Suzuki Swift 1.2 showed no loss of dynamism at all.
Lighter weighted steering remains just as direct as before; but with less weight to haul around, the turn-in remains as scalpel sharp as ever. But when most vehicles exert a tug at the wheel as their weight shifts outwards, the Swift glides through a turn without interruption – the newfound lightness profoundly improving the ease at which the Swift corners, even at pace.
The reduced weight also aids ride comfort immensely – something the previous generation was renowned for. The Swift remains one of the most wholly developed suspension setups on the market, striking as fine a balance between comfort and control as you’re ever likely to find. The lightness enables suppleness to the ride that sublimely filters out small vibrations, whilst allowing a softly sprung setup to support the Swift over large bumps with aplomb. Changes of direction are met with a modicum of roll followed by immediacy of response to keep the little hatch stable.
Despite meagre outputs, the reduction in weight also bodes well for outright performance, with the 1.2-litre Swift now closely matching the performance of the previous generation 1.4-litre unit.
However it’s on specification that the new Swift fails to advance over the old model, and it’s perhaps in this area that fans will be left most disappointed. Targeted at a budget audience as mentioned above, even in current range-topping 1.2GL specification, the Swift has advanced little. The instrument cluster is still a basic dot matrix display – one that lacks readout of outside temperature and only displays the most basic of information. It’s not that the Swift is entirely without any advancement on this though, as European specification models get the same multifunction colour display as the Baleno.
But perhaps the biggest let-down of the new Swift is the old radio system. Whilst the interior design has been updated, you’d be hard pressed to tell you’re in a 2018 model Swift over a 2008 model. The radio system may feature USB and Bluetooth media capabilities – as well as Bluetooth telephony – but it’s an archaic system that’s a let-down compared to the touch screen systems the Swift features internationally, and even the local touch systems employed for use in the Baleno.
There’s remote central locking, but no keyless entry, air conditioning, but no climate control, and height adjustable steering, with no reach adjustment. The driver’s seat lacks height adjustment too, and is perched just a little high for an ideal driver’s position. It’s these little faux pas that let the Swift down – and I’m sure I won’t be the only one hoping for a GLS model to arrive with all the above mentioned featured, alloy wheels instead of steel wheels, and hopefully a vastly updated media system.
Globally, the Suzuki Swift has advanced and evolved into a feature-rich compact hatchback, and yet locally, it remains a budget-beater – albeit an exceptional one. Priced from just R159 900 for the base GA derivative and R175 900 for the GL Manual (a launch special is available for R169 900), the Swift remains highly competitive; and with a 5 year/200 000km warranty reliability is guaranteed to remain a strong point for the compact hatch.
In the way of safety, those who have followed international releases will know the Swift is available with an array of safety systems such as autonomous emergency braking, 360-degree cameras, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning. But for the local specification, just 2 airbags and ABS with EBD and brake assist is all the safety we get.
Though initially, I was rather disappointed in the Swift’s lack of evolution, I quickly came to realise that the budget model has now evolved to meet the same standards as the previous range-topping non-Sport model. In choosing to focus on the budget-orientated market, Suzuki may well be ostracizing long-time fans who were hoping for a Polo rival rather than a Polo Vivo one – but to those in the market for a budget hatch, the Suzuki Swift still represents one of the best value for money propositions around.
What about the Suzuki Swift Sport?
As long time fans of the Swift, and in particular the Swift Sport, this article wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the most notable exclusion from the current Swift line-up – the Swift Sport.
At present, Boosterjet turbocharged engines are still under consideration for South Africa – and along with them is the new Swift Sport due to its 1.4-liter turbo engine. While Suzuki SA refuses to confirm its arrival, they have said they are trying to bring it in, with an expected launch early in 2019 if they succeed.
The new Suzuki Swift Sport weighs just 970kg, and is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged 4 cylinder with 103kW and 230Nm. Power is still directed to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. South Africa has developed a strong following for the Swift Sport, and as such, its arrival will be greatly anticipated.