Suzuki has finally built an all-new Swift, which is the successor to the Japanese brand's best-selling product in South Africa. We sent our UK correspondent Wayne Gorrett to the South of France to drive it before the newcomer arrives on the local market later this year.
Guided by the "Suzuki Next 100" plan announced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2015, Suzuki – the 2016/17 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards Brand of the Year – is currently on an international product offensive developing an entirely new range of what it does best - small city cars.
Two years ago, with the demise of both the Alto and Splash models, the roomy and frugal Celerio made its appearance. It was followed last summer by the impressive Baleno and earlier this year, it was the return of the Ignis name in the form of a quirky but refreshingly different micro-SUV – pure character on wheels.
According to Suzuki SA, a little over 16 000 Swifts have found homes in South Africa since its introduction in 2008. Now, the all-new third (global) generation Swift is on its way and should reach our shores late this year.
The new Swift in profile. It shares a platform with the Ignis and Baleno.
The 2017 Swift rides on the recently developed "Heartect" lightweight platform first introduced under the Baleno and Ignis. This new platform is 30 kg lighter, which has contributed to the lightest Swift in the new line-up registering a kerb weight of just 890 kg, which is 104 kg lighter overall – impressive, considering no one realised the excess weight was there in the first place.
The engineers have also spun their magic on the new car’s dimensions. The Mk3 Swift is 10 mm shorter overall than the outgoing model, but its wheelbase is 20 mm longer. Tucking the wheels even further into each corner means that there is more interior room, including a 20% bigger boot (at a claimed 265 litres – 54 more than the outgoing Swift). The new car is also 15 mm lower and 40 mm wider, which accentuates its bullish stance.
In the current Suzuki model line-up, the new Swift will slot in between the funky Ignis and more sober Baleno.
The external package
With 5.4 million Swifts sold worldwide since 2005, Suzuki knows a winning formula when they create it. The 2017 Swift is a familiar shape and very much a smoothed-off, buffed evolution of what went before, with the wrap-around windscreen, similarly shaped light clusters and the sloping roofline
It certainly makes a statement with its aggressive grille, muscular arches and very distinctive shoulder line. The blacking-out of the entire A- and B-pillars along with the top half of the C-pillar, makes the roof appear to "float".
Rear door handles are hidden in the C-pillar to give it a 3-door appearance
Suzuki has discontinued the 3-door Swift derivative in most markets because of low take-up and, while the Swift in the photos might at first appear to be a 3-door, the more eagle-eyed will have noticed that the rear door handles are concealed in the black plastic trim of the C-pillars.
In the UK, the new Swift offers 10 fashionable exterior colours and full personalisation options both inside and out and, in doing so, target a more youthful demographic.
The good work done by the exterior designers is mostly continued on the inside. The interior has been completely redesigned and features a new dashboard with a V-shaped layout and revised vents. The dash design is neat, but nothing like the effort given to the Ignis.
Below is a 7-inch touchscreen replacing the radio unit and numerous buttons and knobs found in the previous model. The manual HVAC controls just above the centre console are also new, now including modern buttons with new graphics.
Interior has had a major overhaul and appears more modern, but some of the plastics still feel low rent.
The instrument cluster is an improvement and features separate covers for the speedo and rev counter and a new digital display in the centre. The steering wheel has a circular centre section (boss) with chrome detailing, controls on both spokes, sporty grip areas and a flat-bottom lower section.
There’s more interior room, comfortable front and rear furniture and a bigger boot to aid practicality. However, plastics deployed in critical touch zones look and feel a bit cheap.
Engines and transmissions
This far ahead of its South African launch, choices by Suzuki SA on engines and transmissions have yet to be announced. However, at its pan-European launch, a pair of petrol-fuelled engines were available to assess, coupled with 5-speed manual and 6-speed automatic gearboxes.
The first, a 1.2-litre four-cylinder 67 kW Dualjet engine offers CO2 emissions of 98g/km and combined fuel consumption of 4.3 L/100 km. This is the same engine as in the current Swift and will be in the new Ignis when it arrives soon. Deployed in the new Swift Lite, the engine offers noticeably more entertainment than before, which is good news. But wait, it gets better…
Naturally aspirated engines are available although we are uncertain what versions will make it to SA.
The real star of the show is the cracking 83 kW three-cylinder 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine, which Suzuki claims sips an official 4.6 L/100 km. This engine is also available with Suzuki’s SHVS mild hybrid system (Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki), although the combined unit is unlikely to make it to local shores. It loves revving and proves willing throughout the gearbox.
Both engine options drive the front wheels through a 5-speed manual as standard, while the 6-speed automatic and Suzuki’s excellent ALLGRIP 4WD are options with the 4-cylinder 1.2-litre Dualjet.
Performance, ride and handling
The turbocharged Boosterjet engine, with its 83 kW output is 16 kW more than the larger capacity 1.2-litre Dualjet unit, making the smaller-engined car faster to 100 kph by 1.3 seconds, yet it returns 4.6L/100 km, just 0.3L/100 km behind the 1.2.
Best of all, it’s an engine that shows eagerness and willing–it pulls strongly from low down the rev range (like a petrol engine shouldn’t) which proved a boon around the mountainous roads and hairpin bends around Monaco and along the French Riviera.
The car rides well and smothers the worst bumps, though extended lengths of uneven surface can make it a little skittish. Its cornering performance is excellent – the Swift turns in exactly where aimed and maintains its poise with good feedback from the wheel and little discernible body roll.
Larger wheelbase has made more space for passengers and luggage but hasn't affected the Swift's fun-to-drive chassis.
You don’t spend your time thrashing the 3-pot Swift just to keep up with traffic. It’s decently quick through 2nd and 3rd gear of the excellent 5-speed manual gearbox.
The Swift Boosterjet also has a highly appealing audio performance, just enough to make it sound interesting, without ever becoming harsh or sounding like it is wheezing towards the red line. It piles on the revs quickly and sweetly, belying its turbocharged status, which all helps to make the car feel so lively.
Again, as you would expect this far in advance of its South African introduction, no prices are available for the new Swift, but in the UK, the five-model range starts from £11 000 (R190 000). Anything between R180 000 and R220 000 seems within range, but it's purely speculation at this time.
The Suzuki Swift has always been an easy car to like and this 2017 iteration continues that attraction. With its smart design that builds on the cute looks of its predecessors and some appealing efficiency figures.
The new Swift is a genuinely capable little car. Not only does it cover all the important city car bases – it’s efficient, comfortable, good looking and well equipped–but it’s just as fun to drive as the class-leading Ford Fiesta. But critical parts of its interior finish are no better than the class average.
Overall though, the new Swift is a good car and–depending on final trims, engines and prices for the local market–will continue to be competitive in a busy class where it’s notoriously difficult to stand out.