Suzuki Swift up to the challenge

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That the latest Swift appears bigger than the old one is due to styling and a 20mm stretch in wheelbase. Photo: David Thomson

On the face of it, Suzuki can be well-pleased with the initial response to the third-generation Swift.

Accepting that a portion of Swift sales comprises the performance-flagship Sport, which is still the old model, that means Swift continues to reign as the country's most popular conventional car among private buyers. Sure, it's beaten on the sales charts by some light commercial utes and a clutch of mid-sized SUVs, but that is now the established order of life for this country's sales.

Other than the Sport, the current Swift lineup comprises three versions: a range-opening 1.2 GL from $19,990; a mid-step auto-only GLX at $24,500; and a 1.0T RS (again, auto-only) at $25,990. It was the last of these that Suzuki NZ dispatched south for appraisal.

The universals of the latest Swift consist of a new underlying platform, a fresh exterior look and a more spacious interior.

The platform, which is shared with the latest Ignis and Baleno, is lighter and stronger than the previous car's underpinnings, and longer in the wheelbase, too.

Exterior styling is a careful evolution of what has gone before, with a carry-over of black A and B-pillars to create a floating roof look. The nose is more rounded (and quite different from other current models), LED lights make an appearance, and a distinctive fresh touch is the integration of the rear door handles within the car's C-pillar.

That the latest Swift appears bigger than the old one is due to styling and a 20mm stretch in wheelbase. In fact, it is 10mm shorter overall and 15mm lower.

That seeming extra size isn't entirely an illusion, though; climbing aboard the latest Swift, one is immediately struck by how roomy the cabin is.

Garnered in part by the longer wheelbase, but also by repositioning the rear seats, the additional space is most evident in the back. As well as having more leg and headroom, access to the back seats, which are fine for a couple of adults, is easier than before.

While still not class-leading, boot space also gets a boost, up from 210 to 242 litres with the backs seats raised. It increases to 556 litres with the split rear seat backs folded down.

There's also more space up front, where a supportive height-adjustable driver's seat combines with a rake and reach-adjustable steering wheel to give a fine driving position with good visibility. Clearly presented behind the multifunction steering wheel, the main instrument cluster features a rev counter on the left, speedometer on the right, and an LCD screen giving trip computer, time and outside temperature reading in between.

Entertainment and connectivity needs are met by the now Suzuki-standard centre-mounted seven-inch touchscreen. Its colour-coded quadrant home page is the starting point for easy navigation through the various menus for audio, hands-free phone, navigation and smartphone integration via Apple Carplay or Android Auto.

The dash board and interior trimming lacks the originality of Suzuki's Ignis or Vitara, but is visually pleasing nonetheless. A preponderance of hard-touch finishes doesn't stop everything feeling well put-together, and the colour co-ordination of bands of trim across the dash and within the door inserts that match with the exterior colour scheme is a nice touch.

As the flagship of the new generation Swift, the RS comes well-equipped. As well as the features mentioned above, climate control air-conditioning, power folding exterior mirrors, keyless entry and push-button start, and auto-sensing LED headlights are standard. The RS also has the premium six-speaker audio system, along with Suzuki's advanced forward detection system.

This safety system includes automated emergency braking, lane departure warning, weaving alert (which issues audio and visual warnings if a driver's behaviour indicates fatigue), auto-dipping headlights, and fully adaptive radar cruise control.

The quest for strong performance in combination with decent economy has taken Suzuki down an increasingly popular small-engine route to a three-cylinder turbocharged motor. Displacing just 998cc, the Swift RS's engine musters peak outputs of 82KW of power and 160Nm of torque, the latter available from just 1500rpm. Standard cycle economy is rated at 5.0l/100km; that was a figure matched during the highway component of Drivesouth's road test, while the overall return for the test - 6.0l/100km - reflected a high proportion of city motoring and a vigorous back-road blast.

By coincidence, the Swift RS was the second three-cylinder car to pass through my hands in as many weeks, so an affection had already been developed for the offbeat thrum of these motors as they go about their work. In the Swift's case, power is delivered to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shift controls.

The engine-gearbox combination is a standout feature of this particular Swift.

Mechanical refinement is excellent at low revs and light throttle openings, but when asked to the engine pulls strongly from low revs, making it flexible for easy round-town driving and responsive enough for long-haul open road work. Right now, the only other companies that provide small three-cylinder motors this good in New Zealand are European-based brands.

The steering is responsive but light, which is fine for a car of the Swift's ilk. Handling is sure and while not a car built to conquer winding back-country roads, the RS remains pleasant and vice-free, even when pressed to its dynamic limits. It soaks up surface imperfections neatly, too.

Noise levels are well contained around town and engine noise and wind-roar are muted during highway cruising. Unfortunately, our coarse-chip highway surfaces generate a fair amount of road noise within the cabin, a matter which may be addressed by switching from the Bridgestone Ecopia tyres fitted to the test car.

While highway road noise was apparent, it wasn't irritating enough to detract from a test experience that was overwhelmingly positive. Following in the footsteps of a highly successful predecessor is never straightforward, but the new Suzuki Swift shrugs off this challenge with ease.

Suzuki Swift up to the challenge
At a Glance
SUZUKI SWIFT1.0T RS Overall: ★★★★ 

Design and styling: ★★★★+
Interior: ★★★★
Performance: ★★★★
Ride/handling: ★★★★
Safety: ★★★★
Environmental: ★★★★
For: Delightful engine, roomy cabin, fine dynamics
Against: Coarse-chip road noise, interior styling could be bolder
Verdict: Everything a new Swift should (and needed) to be
SPECIFICATIONS

Price: $25,990 (RS)
Engine: 998cc three-cylinder direct injection turbopetrol, maximum power 82kW@5500rpm, maximum torque 160Nm@1500-4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Front disc, rear drum brakes, ABS, AEB
Safety rating: Not yet Ancap-tested
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 185/55 R16 tyres
Fuel and economy: 5.1 litres per 100kmon standard cycle, capacity 37 litres
Emissions:119g of CO2 per km
Dimensions: Length 3840mm, width 1735mm, height 1495mm

RATING (4/5)