Durban - With every second car company these days seemingly hell-bent on “dropping everything” to focus on high-profit SUVs, it’s refreshing to come across a brand that still devotes so much of its energy to creating small and affordable cars.
And yet Suzuki’s new Swift, launched to the South African media this week alongside its Dzire sedan sibling, is more than just compact and affordable - it packs some serious design flavour and smart interior packaging.
The latter you can attribute to Suzuki’s modern Heartect platform that also underpins the Baleno and Ignis. Using fewer joins than a traditional monocoque, the modern architecture is lighter than a traditional monocoque, a whole 95kg in the case of the Swift - which tips the scales at just 875kg!
The new hatch is 10mm shorter and 40mm wider than before, while the wheelbase grows by 20mm. Its clever new packaging not only improves rear legroom and headroom, but boot capacity has swelled by 58 litres to total 268 litres. The hatch now has a decent boot, in other words, addressing one of the key criticisms levelled at its predecessor.
This has necessitated a squarer and ultimately more conservative tail design, but things do get a whole lot groovier from other angles, with a fin-shaped C-pillar, hidden rear door handles, large grille and distinctly chiselled front bumper giving the Swift some serious attitude and making most rivals look dated and dowdy.
The new Dzire sedan, though clearly more conservative in appearance, is in its own right a huge improvement over its awkward predecessor, with the boot - also somewhat larger at 378 litres in capacity - looking more integrated this time around. It’s also set apart from the Swift by a unique, almost retro-looking chrome-surrounded grille.
Under the hood, Suzuki’s familiar 1.2-litre normally aspirated K12M engine carries over, producing 61kW and 113Nm. Granted, it’s actually lost 2kW, but the car’s aforementioned ‘diet’ more than makes up for that.
The media launch saw us spending a few hours in both the hatch and sedan on rural roads north of Durban. The cars felt reasonably quick off the mark, but struggled a bit at highway velocities where the gearboxes needed some stirring to maintain pace. Overall performance felt adequate at the coast, but the jury is of course still out on how the 1.2-litre motor will cope with reef altitude.
At this stage there are no plans to offer the more powerful 1-litre ‘Boosterjet’ turbo engine that many overseas markets receive, as our cars are sourced from India where that option is not available. Could Suzuki just import from elsewhere then? Not impossible, but then that would certainly push prices up significantly. That said, the new Swift Sport, powered by a 1.4-litre turbo motor, will get a spin on local soil, but it will no doubt come at quite a premium.
Back to our newly-launched 1.2 models, the engines are mated to either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automated manual (AMT), the latter only available in GL guise. We didn’t get to sample the latter at the launch, but the smooth-shifting manual proved a cinch to operate.
The ride was supple too, and the road holding neat and predictable. It was actually quite entertaining to boot through some of the twistier sections, with good feel and feedback through the variable ratio steering rack, but the skinny 14-inch tyres do put a squealing damper on things as they start to lose traction in faster corners - and if that matters to you it might be worthwhile accessorising with bigger rims.
Of course, what’s going to count more to most buyers is that comfy ride and spacious interior.
The cabin does lose a few marks for ambience, however. Yes, it looks all nice and modern, but many of the plastic surfaces are of the hard and shiny variety - even more so in the Dzire, which also gets triangular centre air vents rather than the circular units you find in the Swift. But aren’t cheaper finishes forgivable at this low price point, particularly given that overall build quality seems decent? In our book yes, but do realise that there are signs of cost cutting throughout. Even the seats feel like a cost-cutting compromise, with bolsters simply carved out of the same mass of foam as the rest of the seat. They seem comfortable enough, but side support is virtually nonexistent.
The level of ambience also depends on what spec grade you opt for (see spec diagram below for the full picture). You get more silver and chrome accents on the GL model, for instance, as well as stylish Alfa-like instrument cowls.
There’s a notable styling difference on the outside, the entry-level GA looking a bit sad with its uncovered steel wheels and they haven’t even blacked out the A- and B- pillars to create that ‘visor’ look that is one of the Swift’s traditional design brags.
The GA’s not too deprived on the inside, the only notable omission being a sound system, which you could easily fit yourself. Standard spec includes an aircon, power steering, front and rear electric windows, remote central locking, Isofix child seat anchors, dual front airbags and ABS brakes.
In addition to all the extra styling goodies, the GL adds a radio with Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel controls and electrically-adjustable mirrors.
A higher-specced GLX version, likely equipped with niceties like alloy wheels and a touchscreen, is reportedly scheduled for later this year.
The after sales plan for all Swift and Dzire models includes a five-year/200 000km mechanical warranty and two-year/30 000km service plan.
PRICING VERSUS RIVALS
|Hyundai Grand i10 1.0 Motion||48kW/94Nm||R154 900|
|Kia Picanto 1.2 Start||61kW/122Nm||R155 495|
|Suzuki Swift 1.2 GA manual||61kW/113Nm||R159 900|
|Honda Brio 1.2 Trend||65kW/109Nm||R160 900|
|Nissan Micra Active 1.2 Visia||56kW/104Nm||R161 500|
|Kia Picanto 1.2 Street||61kW/122Nm||R170 495|
|Toyota Etios 1.5 Xi||66kW/132Nm||R171 000|
|Renault Sandero 0.9T Expression||66kW/135Nm||R171 900|
|Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL manual||61kW/113Nm||R174 900*|
|Honda Brio 1.2 Comfort||65kW/109Nm||R176 500|
|Ford Figo hatch 1.5 Ambiente||82kW/136Nm||R177 600|
|Toyota Etios 1.5 Sport||66kW/132Nm||R178 800|
|VW Polo Vivo 1.4 Trendline||55kW/130Nm||R179 900|
|Suzuki Swift 1.2 GA auto||61kW/113Nm||R189 900|
|Honda Brio 1.2 Comfort auto||65kW/109Nm||R191 000|
|Kia Picanto 1.2 Style auto||61kW/122Nm||R194 495|
* Suzuki dealers have been offering a launch special of R169 900 for the Swift 1.2 GL.
|Suzuki Dzire 1.2 GA manual||61kW/113Nm||R161 900|
|Honda Brio Amaze 1.2 Trend||65kW/109Nm||R175 700|
|Suzuki Dzire 1.2 GL manual||61kW/113Nm||R177 900|
|Ford Figo sedan 1.5 Ambiente||82kW/136Nm||R178 800|
|Toyota Etios sedan 1.5 Xi||66kW/132Nm||R179 500|
|Tata Bolt sedan 1.2T XT||66kW/140Nm||R179 995|
|Toyota Etios sedan 1.5 Sprint||66kW/132Nm||R184 400|
|Honda Brio Amaze 1.2 Comfort||65kW/109Nm||R188 200|
|Suzuki Dzire 1.2 GA auto||61kW/113Nm||R191 900|