Swift by name

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The previous two generations of this model have gone gangbusters and it has been the country's top light car since 2005. Photo: Suzuki

Three times a charm is all very well, but unruffled success for three generations of any car is a big order few can fulfil, so there's no doubt the latest Suzuki Swift has a lot to live up to.

The previous two generations of this model have gone gangbusters and it has been the country's top light car since 2005, and remains Suzuki New Zealand's top-selling product and a favoured private pick. All good for a brand which is running hot, with 45% growth over 2016. The biggest threat to the New Zealand-new Swift isn't the Vitara, Honda Jazz, Toyota Yaris, Holden Spark or Mazda 2, but the Swift itself; that is, pre-owned imports from overseas.

Around 500 pre-owned examples are coming in every month, an influx that impacted on the previous model and also means that, of the estimated 77,000 Swifts on our roads, only 32,000 were sold new by Suzuki NZ.

It's easy to see why this Japanese tyke has been such a safe bet. While not completely without flaws, it has plenty of space and reasonable equipment and offers cheeky, chic driving fun and decent value. Hence, perhaps, why two-thirds of buyers are female and more are under 30 than over 70.

Still, it's one thing to get to the top, another to stay there. How well does the just-arrived third-generation Swift keep the faith?

The new range spans three specification levels, with a new RS taking leadership. There are two fresh engines - a 1.0-litre three- cylinder turbo for the RS and a 1.2-litre four-cylinder for the rest - and three transmissions (bespoke six-speed auto for the RS, a single manual in the entry level 1.2 and a constantly variable transmission).

Prices have risen by $500 (GLX) to $1000 (GL), and the RS has a $490 premium over the previous SE flagship, but it recompenses by being better equipped for the money, not least in the safety sphere.

A brief introductory drive in the RS suggested that, for all the talk about this being a new car from the wheels up, a high degree of familiarity carries over.

It's likely the only initial quibble might concern the revised styling. A sense of the look that has proven incredibly timeless still remains, but the evolution, which intends to create more emotion and enhance its youth appeal, makes it more of a curiosity.

That it appears slightly bigger is a trick of the eye. Going to the new Heartect platform, shared with the Ignis and Baleno, means the car sheds weight (the underpinnings themselves are 30kg lighter than before, but there's an overall 120kg reduction that takes claimed kerb weight to between 890kg-980kg), but it also enhances interior room, even though the car is smaller.

Is it as adorable as before? There will be debate, but it remains highly identifiable as a Swift. The black A-pillars and floating-roof look are retained, but they are dressed up with new LED DRLs and tail-lights, carefully contoured flanks and a matching C-pillar with hidden handle.

Given the car is designed to appeal to the youth market, it is a shame the cabin is less adventurous than that of the Ignis. It looks and feels modern, and the build quality is great, but there are too many hard, black plastics. Everything is intuitively laid out and clearly labelled and it has better seats and a superior driving position than the previous model.

The longer wheelbase benefits interior room, but extra space in the back also comes from Suzuki having lowered the rear-seat base. It all makes just a few centimetres' difference, and it's still a cosy car for four adults, but entering and leaving the rear is easier and there is more head and legroom. The boot has expanded to a a commendable 242 litres with all seats in place.

The company has also added sound-deadening materials and talk is that it is quieter at highway speeds than before. That might be so, but we did think the surface- generated din from coarse chip was quite noticeable.

The inclusion of Suzuki's ‘‘advanced forward detection system'' as standard on the GLX and RS is an important plus. This set-up builds around an automated emergency braking system (AEB) and uses a monocular camera and radar to detect potential crash scenarios and auto braking if need be.

The inclusion of an AEB's has allowed Suzuki to include another core ingredient not previously seen on Swift - adaptive cruise control. Also fitted are a lane departure warning and ‘‘weaving alert'' functions that calculate your driving pattern and issues audio and visual warnings if it detects the driver is fatigued.

The entire range has Bluetooth, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors and LED driving lights and, above the base manual, automatic headlights, adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree surround-view camera and a reversing camera.

Touch screen sat nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are available on the RS and GLX. The GL and GLX have manual air conditioning while the RS, which is expected to be the strongest seller for now, steps up to a climate-control system.

The 1.2 is a familiar Dualjet normally-aspirated petrol unit, shared with the Ignis, meaning it has 14kW and 40Nm less pep than the three-cylinder, whose output is 18kW down on the old 1.6-litre, also now out to pasture, but torque remains identical. It's the most expensive choice of drivetrain until the Swift Sport arrives with a gruntier new 1.4-litre Boosterjet.

There's a sense this Swift is as nippy and zippy as before. There's an agile road feel and, while light, the now variable-rate steering is responsive. Whether it has the same intensity as the preceding car, which won kudos for its chirpy nature and almost kart-like cornering capability, will have to await a proper test.

The three-cylinder engine isn't as aurally characterful as the similar- capacity unit Ford uses in the Fiesta, but the three-cylinder soundtrack still sounds pleasant and it has lovely verve - the torque delivery is smooth and generous, and though it seems to love being revved, there's a sense that it will be just as pleasing when driven in more sedate style.

Swift by name
At a Glance

SUZUKI SWIFT

Price: $19,990 (GL manual) to $25,990 (RS)
Engines: 998cc three-cylinder direct injection turbo petrol,
maximum power 82kW@5500rpm,
maximum torque 160Nm@1500-4000rpm;
1242cc four-cylinder multipoint injection petrol,
maximum power 66kW@6000rpm;
maximum torque 120Nm@4400rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, CVT (1.2);
six-speed automatic (RS)
Brakes and stability systems: Front disc, rear drum brakes,
ABS, AEB
Safety rating: No Ancap test yet
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 175/65 R15 to 185/55 R16
Fuel and economy: 4.6 (GL manual)/4.8 (CVT)/5.1 (automatic)
litres per 100km; capacity 37 litres
Emissions: 106g/110g (1.2), 119g (RS) of CO2 per kilometre
Dimensions: Length 3840mm, width 1735mm, height 1495mm