Johannesburg - Whereas many of the usual suspects in the compact game have become larger, swankier and a whole lot more expensive over the years, Suzuki’s Swift has pretty much marched to its own beat, and to this day remains an affordable but solid hatch with cheeky looks and a relatively entertaining driving experience.

And now we have a completely new one. Not just a rehash of an old platform, mind you, the fourth-generation Swift is in fact hewn around Suzuki’s latest - and oddly named - Heartect modular platform. The use of modern high-strength steel in strategic places and fewer joints, makes the car stiffer yet up to 95kg lighter than before - with the GL model featured here tipping the scales at a paltry 880kg.

Equally impressive is how well packaged this car is.

The Swift is still relatively small - at 3840mm in length, it’s longer than an Etios and shorter than a Figo. In fact it’s 10mm shorter than its predecessor, yet somewhat bigger inside. There is plenty of leg-stretching space in the back - more than in many bigger cars - and the boot, widely criticised in the previous model, has grown to a more handy 268 litres. There’ll be less elbow bashing too as the new Swift is 40mm wider and 10mm lower than before, and that gives the car a more hunkered-down stance.

On that note the stylists did a proper job of modernising the Swift, blending traditional motifs like the blacked out windscreen pillars with a new fin-like C-pillar design, while the repositioning of the rear door handles to the top of the door allows the car to flaunt its curvier haunches.

It’s attractive up front too, with those swept-back headlights and large grille, but the back end looks a bit plain - you did want that bigger boot, no?

Also keep in mind that if you opt for the base GA model, the A- and B-pillars are not blacked out and you get industrial-looking uncovered steel wheels.

Cabin styling is not the new Swift’s strongest point. 

Yes, you get a beefy looking flat-bottomed steering wheel and deep-set instrument cowls (on the GL) that could well have been pinched from an Alfa, but the rest of the design is a bit Plain Jane, especially compared to its Ignis cousin with its contrasting colours and spunkier finishes. Although it’s by no means unpleasant inside the Swift, there’s just too much dark grey plastic and much of it seems of the cost-cutting variety.

The seats, while comfortable, lack side support as there is no solid structuring in the bolsters.

These drawbacks are forgivable at the price, however, and the car is relatively well specced.

All versions pack air conditioning, remote central locking, electric windows, dual front airbags and ABS brakes. The GL adds an audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, multi-function steering wheel, electric mirrors and additional piano black and chrome interior trimmings. There is no high-spec derivative available at present - although one is said to be on the way - so no fancy touch screens or cruise control here.

You won’t find a reach adjustment for the steering either, although that didn’t prevent me from getting comfortable behind the wheel. The only real ergonomic bugbear is that there’s no auto-locking function on pull-away, so you have to hit a switch to lock the doors and then again when you’re getting out as the inside door handle is not connected to the locking mechanism.

Other than that, the Swift is really painless car to live with and easy to drive, thanks to an exceptionally light clutch and gear shift action, while the steering is light enough for easy parking yet still feels communicative through the corners.

You can really feel this car’s lightness in its agility, and it’s rather fun to chuck around.

The power source takes the tried-and-trusted route. Once again, pricing is the crux here and our cars are sourced from Suzuki’s Maruti division in India and are consequently fitted with a 1.2-litre normally aspirated petrol motor carried over from the previous range, rather than the new 1-litre turbo that European buyers get.

Its outputs of 61kW and 113Nm are on par with class norms, and given how little weight it has to lug around, performance is quite acceptable, even at altitude. It feels fairly nippy in the first three short-ratio gears, and is surprisingly easy to keep on the boil at highway velocities - just don’t expect miracles here as steeper hills and overtaking manoeuvres will require a bit of gearbox stirring.

The Swift cruises quietly on the open road, and unlike many budget cars this one is not under-geared, so the rev needle doesn’t venture too far past the 3000rpm mark at 120km/h.

Most impressive though is how seldom you’ll be asked to buy it a drink. After nearly a week of purely urban commuting, the onboard readout settled around 6.0 litres per 100km, and after being reset for a short freeway run it sipped just 4.8 l/100km, so expect to average somewhere in the region of 5.5 in mixed driving conditions.

VERDICT

The Swift is up against some accomplished rivals at this end of the market, with VW’s Polo Vivo offering a smarter cabin and Renault’s Sandero a huge boot and turbo power. But if you’re looking for something that’s stylish, fun, extremely frugal and reasonably practical, the Swift could easily charm you away from the other alternatives. It’s a highly attractive option at this price point.

Drive360