A Suzuki Swift “for every member of the family” – it’s an interesting payoff line and one aped by many a manufacturer for various models they feel suit a wide target audience, but Suzuki have some genuine weight behind their claim. It’s a model family with a R106 400 span between its cheapest and most expensive variants; a substantial spread given the entry level 1.2 hatch is priced from R137 500. But within that R100k spread there’s something for just about everyone – whether it’s a budget buy, or a weekend track car, the answer is always Swift.
Suzuki tasked us with exploring the Swift range over a period of 10 days, starting with our choice of either a 1.2 hatch or Dzire (sedan), before swapping out for the 1.4 GLS and ultimately spending the weekend with the Swift Sport – decked out in GSX-RR racing colours for added effect.
Suzuki Swift 1.2 Dzire:
Unfortunately just a day before our #SwiftWeek began, we received notification that our scheduled Swift 1.2 Dzire had been involved in a full-frontal accident with a Mercedes-Benz and had come off worse for it. Sadly for the purpose of this test, we’ll have to reschedule some time with the Dzire in 2016, but as the entry point to the Swift range it deserves some mention.
The Swift 1.2 is available in hatch and sedan guise, the latter badged as the Dzire. The Indian-built entry-level model is the basis of the Swift line-up, priced from R137 500 for the hatch and R139 900 for the Dzire. Power is served up by a 1.2-litre K12B engine plating up a claimed 63kW and 115Nm.
In our previous experiences with this engine (in the Swift 1.2 and the Splash road test, which you can read here and here), we found the 1.2-litre mill to be lack-lustre and a touch tiresome, requiring frequent wringing out to get the most out of it. That said, it is frugal; consuming 5.2l/100km in real-world conditions. Despite the impressive consumption, it isn’t the best of the Suzuki Swift range – that honour goes to the 1.4 which doesn’t require as much revving to get around comfortably, whilst beating the 1.2’s consumption figures – as an entry point, with a budget price tag, the low consumption will be welcome.
The Swift 1.2 Dzire isn’t the prettiest of the Suzuki Swift family – the boot doesn’t do the design language justice – but with 170mm ground clearance, 14-inch steel wheels and high profile tyres it more than makes up for its ungainly appearance with practicality and ability to handle South Africa’s ever-deteriorating roads. The addition of the 300-litre boot also offsets the unappealing visuals of the exterior – but in adding a boot Suzuki have disabled the folding of the rear seats, which makes the Dzire a lot less practical than it might seem. For reference, the 1.2 hatch with rear seats flattened boasts a 533-litre carrying capacity.
It has its flaws, the 1.2, but it offers a cheap way of getting into a brand new Suzuki Swift without compromising on economy, reliability, and safety. The 1.2 features ABS with EBD, and dual front airbags as standard features, scoring 4 stars in NCAP testing. It also has the basic features as standard – manual air conditioning, radio with CD, USB etc.
Of course if you want a bit more style, a bit more in the way of features, and the addition of a more potent, and more frugal engine, you’d do better to look at the Suzuki Swift 1.4…
Suzuki Swift 1.4 GLS:
In 1.4 GLS guise, the Swift in our tenure is the top of the range non-Sport Swift available. It gets a full compliment of features – air con, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a Bluetooth equipped audio system with steering wheel mounted controls, electric windows, and keyless entry are all standard on the GLS – as well as the full safety spec of ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, and 6 airbags.
With a lower ground clearance (140mm compared to 170mm for the 1.2), stylish alloy wheels, blacked out A and B pillars, and LED daytime running lights, the Swift 1.4 GLS is a stylish option in the market segment. It looks good; with short overhangs and a floating roof playing off the compact dimensions and almost cartoonishly large head- and taillights.
But with the compact dimensions (3.85m long and 1.695m wide) comes a compact interior too – boot space is limited to 210-litres in standard configuration, although with the rear seats dropped this raises to 533-litres. Rear leg room is ample for shorter passengers, but adults may struggle on longer journeys; whereas up front there’s more than enough room for the driver with good forward and rearward visibility.
The Swift 1.4 offers a good seating position – perhaps not quite low enough for taller drivers, but sufficient – and good reach and height adjustability on the steering wheel. The cloth-clad seats (leather isn’t an option, even on the Sport variant) are supportive and comfortable for both short and long distance travel.
The interior is a bit antiquated in design and manufacture – hard plastics and a simple dot matrix radio fascia are prominently displayed – but it feels solidly screwed together and refuses to rattle and creak. It’s a forgivable flaw as everything works flawlessly and the main points of contact, such as volume dials and aircon controls, feel weighted and solid.
But there’s a fun side to the Swift that other commuter hatches lack. Weighing just 1025Kg, Suzuki have been able to tune the chassis and suspension to be elastic and pliant over all surfaces, whilst being firm enough to combat body roll and inspire confidence through corners. The balance and lightness pair with a playful attitude that makes the Swift 1.4 GLS both enjoyable on the daily commute and incredibly talented when thrown about.
A brief shunt through the Magalies out to Hartbeespoort and back highlighted supreme body control, chassis balance, and consistent steering feedback. The Swift offers such composure through curves and over changing road surfaces that it’s easy to find yourself chasing after hot hatches with reckless abandon, as the Swift will have your back even when chasing the limits of its ability.
The steering is well weighted and loads up proportionately to cornering forces, communicating accurately what the front wheels are doing, whilst the gear shift action of the 5-speed manual is firm and polished, enabling smooth shifts that don’t unsettle the small hatch. The brakes do a good job too, supplying good feedback and bringing the featherweight to a standstill abruptly and without fail.
Drivers seeking thrills will enjoy the ability to control the Swift’s placement through a corner with nothing more than the throttle – eking out oversteer with a brief lift or a dab on the brakes, or relying on the elastic levels of grip to carry speed through corners in a most delightful way.
Yet speeds will never really get out of hand – the 1.4-litre engine makes sure of that. The numbers it generates seem decent – 70kW @ 6000rpm and 130Nm @ 4000rpm – but on the road it tends to feel a tad lacklustre in its delivery. They are, and it isn’t, really. Despite not feeling potent, the engine will happily run past the 6000rpm mark to deliver all the goods. Couple that with a light kerb weight and overtaking manoeuvres are sweetly handled and speeds are easily maintained. It enjoys being wrung out too – something that can’t be said for a handful of commuter hatches on sale today.
But for all that, it never loses sight of its goal to be light on the pocket. Astonishingly, the Swift 1.4 GLS returns fuel economy figures of 5.0l/100km consistently. The most spirited of driving won’t see it rise above 6l/100km, and with considerate driving it is possible to achieve less than 5l/100km (our figures of 4.8l/100km were only spoilt by the blast through the Magalies). The Swift 1.4 is the most frugal vehicle I’ve tested – beating out even the most high-tech turbocharged triple-cylinders on the market. It’s also one of the few vehicles on sale that will not only match, but beat the manufacturer’s claimed figures.
Now the only 1.4 Swift available in the range, available in 5-speed manual (on test) or 4-speed automatic (which won’t achieve the same consumption figures), the Swift 1.4 GLS is priced from R203 900 for the manual variant. It’s a solid all-round package with impressive features and a fun-loving demeanour. It feels honest, uncomplicated, and highly capable – in fact it’s so well sorted it begs to be something more…
Suzuki Swift Sport:
“Simplify, then add lightness” – Colin Chapman
That’s the foundation of a long line of Lotus sports cars that have set the precedent as driver’s cars; but it’s a philosophy present in the engineering of the Suzuki Swift range too, and in no model is it more blatant than the range-topping Sport.
The Suzuki Swift Sport is powered by a 1.6-litre engine boasting outputs of 100kW and 160Nm – but weighing only 1048Kg it boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 95kW/tonne, almost aping that of the original Mk1 Golf GTI. It also follows the front-wheel drive ideology of the original Golf GTI, in this case through a notchy short-throw 6-speed manual transmission.
It’s the last vestige of the naturally aspirated performance brigade; with a redline of 7200rpm and a tachometer addicted to chasing that redline. With light weight as a foundation, the engine delivers its torque sweetly, with an additional kick above 4000rpm when the variable valve timing takes effect.
While the pressure is on for all manufacturers to move to turbocharging, the Swift Sport’s singing NA mill stands in open defiance of such a notion. It’s a theatrical experience – wringing out every last ounce of torque to a crescendo of aural delight from the twin tailpipes. Flat out from standstill, it’ll move the Swift Sport to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds before topping out at 195km/h, but it’s most magical when you’re holding it at 7000rpm through tight second and third gear corners.
That’s where the Swift Sport is in its element, being wrung out to redline as it clips through the apex of a corner. The short wheelbase and light weight make the Sport nimble through corners, whilst the pliant suspension manages weight transfers with just a touch of body roll. Tip it into a corner and the predominant trait is a splash of oversteer – controllable on the brakes or throttle; but use the throttle too heavily and the front-wheel drive hatch pushes into understeer. Manage the throttle correctly, though, and the Swift Sport dances on the edge of a knife-blade, teetering between neutrality and oversteer.
It carries phenomenal speeds through corners, pulling enough lateral G-force to cock a wheel mid-corner. It’s aided by fantastic suspension supporting the weight transfer, even across changing surfaces, where it remains unfazed in its attacking line. The hydraulic steering, direct and communicative, weights up sweetly through corners before unloading linearly on corner exit.
Dab the sharp, resilient brakes ahead of the next corner, match revs with the sweetly placed pedals for a bit of ole heel ‘n toe and repeat the cornering process, apexing later each time and exploring the Sport’s limits, and you’ll find the Swift Sport can be driven at 11/10ths without getting out of hand. The balanced chassis, inherent from the base models, makes the Swift Sport not just an ordinary hatch with a performance Band-Aid to make it better, but a great hatch made even better through solid ground-up engineering.
Because it’ll never get out of hand, you can explore its abilities both on track and on the road without fear; and because it’ll utilise its handling nuances at accessible speeds, it’s a car that can be used to its fullest. It’s a proper everyday hot-hatch in the vein of the Mk1 Golf GTI – not like the modern crop which are only fun beyond illegal speeds.
It’s the most fun you can have at any price point on governed roads, and on track its as much fun, but even more educational as you play with it to learn not only the car’s limits, but your own.
It’s an equally accomplished commuter when not being pushed at 100%. That singing naturally aspirated engine – with its mesmerising soundtrack and sky-high redline – is easily capable of being light on the pocket. Even without a reset after a day on track, the Suzuki Swift Sport’s onboard computer displays consumption figures of only 6.4l/100km.
It boasts all the features of the Swift 1.4 GLS, including keyless entry, cruise control, and a full compliment of safety features – the Swift Sport scores a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating. But in addition the Swift Sport also offers xenon headlamps, cloth and vinyl upholstered sports seats (which are superbly supportive and comfortable), a sports steering wheel, aluminium sports pedals, and the ability to deactivate Traction Control – although the tolerant ESP remains permanently active.
The rest of the plasticky interior remains the same as the 1.4 GLS – one of the Swift Sport’s only failings, along with a sub-par speaker system – but the exterior benefits from a range of upgrades. Sporty bumpers, side skirts, and fog lamp surrounds, as well as a roof-mounted spoiler, and aggressive rear diffuser housing twin-tailpipes are all standard additions for the Swift Sport, while 16-inch alloys wear sporty 195/50 profile Yokohama Advan rubber. A range of 6 Swift Sport-exclusive colour options are available – but if you’re interested in the MotoGP inspired livery pictured on our test model, you’ll be disappointed as it isn’t a factory option.
Plastic dash aside, the Suzuki Swift Sport ticks all the right boxes. It’s fun, stylish, dynamically exceptional, reliable, and at R243 900 it’s affordable too. It captures the essence of hot hatchery, and is possibly the most accessible performance driver’s car available in the last decade.
There’s little to fault here, really, but one thing is for certain – no matter the company it’s pitted against, the answer is always Swift Sport.
As I write this, sitting in the lounge composing my thoughts on such a playful little car, the Swift Sport is cheekily staring at me from behind the curtains overlooking the driveway; goading me to take it for yet another thrilling drive on some new roads I’ve never encountered before. I still have some time left with the Sport, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ll succumb to its charm for the umpteenth time this December and take it for another spin. The Suzuki Swift Sport is simply the most fun you can have for under R300 000, dare I say more.
Words: Roger Biermann
Photos: Roarke Bouffe, Vaughn Humphrey