Like the Holden Barina I just handed back, the Swift has been on the market for the same amount of time, since the mid-1980s. The Swift is in its third generation, which was released in 2010. It seems longer than that for this generation, as there are just so many Swifts on the road – you see them everywhere. That’s because while it’s on the third generation, the second generation looked almost the same, and that model came out in 2004.

With only minor updates in the last 5 years, can the Swift get a top rating in our $20K Challenge?

First Impressions

The Swift is a good-looking small car. It has just the right proportioning. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the better looking cars in the entire $20K Challenge. It hasn’t got that stumpy, cut-off rear-end look some of them have. It just looks good and when you see one of the Sport models on the road, they stand out from the crowd.

2015-suzuki-swift-autoclique-1
Is the Swift a good looker? The chicken thinks so, and even crossed the road to check it out.

The 15” steel wheels with hub caps on the GL model are not the norm in our $20K Challenge, but still look just fine – and are cheaper to replace if you scrape them on the kerb.

The interior of the GL Swift does not look cheap and the plastics, while still quite hard, look classy and not like they will fall apart anytime soon. In fact our test Swift had 11,000ks on the clock after being used by a basketball team (well, probably not the whole team), and really didn’t show any signs of wear at all. No rattles or bangs or squeaks from anywhere.

2015-suzuki-swift-autoclique-5

The interior of our test model was black, and that along with the black plastics made the interior a bit dark. Suzuki could check out the Fiat Panda or Barina Spark we recently tested to see how they do a cheap car interior but make it look bright and welcoming. Not that the Swift was bad, just dark.

It was good to have an instrument cluster with a temperature gauge, so many cars now just have a warning light. Then again there is no rev counter, which again is out of the norm even in this price range. There is a basic trip computer, but the fuel consumption is shown in Km/L, which again is out of the norm when most others are using L/100km as a measure.

2015-suzuki-swift-autoclique-11

One word that springs to mind for the Swift GL, is Basic. Don’t expect too many goodies on this base model. It’s an easy call to say it’s got the least equipment in our $20K Challenge. Want to know what the temperature is outside? You’ll need to put your hand out the window. Steering wheel controls for the stereo? Yeah, nah. Reversing camera, or rear sensors? Not in this model. It’s just a very simplistic car, and for that I can see the attraction. No bells and whistles really, just a nice engine and a nice shape – and the fact that it drives great is a bonus.

You do get a height adjustable driver’s seat, Hill Start Assist, a single disc CD audio with USB input, but no Bluetooth for hooking up your phone.  However all windows are powered, with auto-down on the driver’s door. Manual air-con you do get, but no Tiptronic or paddle shifters, just a good ‘ole “OD Off” button on the gearshift. The Swift shows its age on that one, but that OD Off button is just so handy for a bit of engine braking, or stopping the transmission hunting up and down.

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Safety on the Swift is good, with seven air bags, and a high-for-the-class 5-Star NCAP rating. Well done, Suzuki. Add to that a 5-year warranty and the Swift starts to look pretty appealing, even with the basic equipment levels.

What’s it like to live with

I get it now. I get why there are so many Swifts on the road. They are a brilliant small car. In fact, I kept comparing it to the Jazz I had a month or so ago. The Swift GL just seems like a slightly smaller, cheaper version of the Jazz (the Swift GL, at least).

In some sort of weird coincidence, the day before I picked up the Swift fellow reviewer Rob Clubley and I were discussing the progress on the $20K Challenge. At almost the half-way point, this was a good time to check on the cars we have had so far. Rob’s view? That really it was the engine/transmission combo which made him like (or not like) a car. Not the extras, or the looks or comfort. It’s all down to how nice it drives.

And then came the Swift. A 70-Kw, 1.4 litre engine with a 4-speed auto. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much at all. I had just handed back the Holden Barina Spark 1.2 litre, 4-speed auto, and that was not fun or quiet. But oh how the Swift surprised me! The drivetrain is a pearl – the engine smooth and relatively quiet, and the auto, while really needing another gear, was a world away from the Barina’s auto. The Barina seemed to have a huge gap in ratios between third and fourth gear, where the Swift’s ratios were much closer, so it just works. Sure, you still get a change down to third on the motorway if you push the gas too hard, but it’s just so much better an engine/transmission combo than the Spark.

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The handling of the Swift is O for Awesome. I took it on one of my favourite twisty bits, which has some gnarly 1st gear, 20km/h corners and let it have its reign. It sat almost flat, and before it headed to understeer, the tyres would start to let go. Not only that, it was fun doing it. The steering had reasonable feel – not great, but certainly not bad either. This is one of those cars where the chassis could do with more power. More than once I felt it really needed a bit more oomph to reach its best. Downhill was fine, and fun, and uphill was great but at times that 4-speed auto left a bit of a hole between gears. But – that’s minor compared to the overall handling. Flat, fun, fast. A grin-worthy drive if you are on your own and the road allows it.

I would have loved to have tested the top-range 1.6 litre model, but at $27,500 that’s well out of the range of our $20K Challenge.

The ride, at any speed, impressed me as well. It doesn’t seem to get the jitters over small bumps like many small city cars do. It really felt like a heavier car, soaking up the bumps nicely.

A need to go to Ohakea from Wellington and back in a day would surely test out comfort levels on a longish trip. With four of us on board, the Swift made it a breeze. Again, at times the engine could have used a bit more power, but overall it did brilliantly. The seats were comfy there and back, fuel economy at 4.7 l/100km was excellent I thought. On the whole trip there and back (about 300km) it was extremely windy, to the point where I was keeping a careful eye on any cars towing caravans, but the Swift was surprisingly stable. I had really expected it to be thrown around – especially after the Spark, which was affected by strong cross winds. The Swift does seem to sit lower than others in this class, or perhaps it’s just the suspension design that has it sitting so well on the road.

Leg room in the rear is just average for the class, and the boot is in the lower end of space. One thing I did struggle with in the Swift, is the pedals to steering wheel relationship. I could not quite get it right – the pedals were too far away for comfort, or the pedals were closer but my chest felt like it was in the steering wheel. On that long trip I didn’t notice any discomfort, but it was a weird sort of setup for me.

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What it’s up against

As the Suzuki Swift is part of our $20K Challenge, you can check out its rankings on the updated table here.

The good and the bad

ProsCons
  • Build quality
  • Drivetrain
  • Driveability
  • Handling
  • Design
  • Fun factor
  • Dynamics
  • Equipment levels
  • Price at the top end of our challenge
  • 4-speed auto

What do we think?

When I spoke to Matthew Foot, Dealer Principal at Brendan Foot Motors in Lower Hutt, he nailed it on the head. “The Swift is bullet-proof,” he said. It does seem that way. It’s solid, and feels heavier than it really is – but in a good way. It feels like it will last forever. I know Matthew was talking about the Swift’s motor, but overall it just seems so well made.

The Swift is at the top of my list for the challenge so far, I liked it that much.

But…it’s also at the top-end of our cut-off for pricing. For such a basic car, there are some much better equipped cars for many thousands less. Even five thousand less! I am a gadget man – I’ve said that before – but after driving the Swift as compared to say the Barina Spark or the Fiat Panda – the driving experience is a world apart.

I have to give the Swift 4 Chevrons. I’d like to give it more, but the equipment levels mark it down, and the transmission, while ok, really needs another gear in it. The manual model may well be the way to go here.

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Newsflash! There is now a Swift GL Plus limited edition model, that comes with cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity with steering wheel controls, 16” alloys and other upgrades, for the same $19,990 (auto or manual). Now that is the model to buy!

Autoclique would like to thank Brendan Foot Motors in Lower Hutt, Wellington for supplying us with the review car.  Visit their website here.

We would not have been able to complete the $20K Challenge without Brendan Foot Motor’s kind assistance.

brendan-foot-motors-general

Read more about the Suzuki Swift on Suzuki New Zealand’s website

Vehicle Type5-door Small City Car
Starting Price$18,990 (manual)
Tested Price$19,990
Engine1.4 Litre 4-cylinder DOHC petrol, 70Kw/130Nm
Transmission4-speed automatic
0 – 100 kphna
Kerb Weight1025 Kg
Length x Width x Height3850x1695x1510
Cargo CapacityRear seat folded: 533L

Rear seat raised: 210L

Fuel Tank42 Litres
NCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
Warranty5-years, with Roadside Assistance
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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