New Swift outclasses the old
IF it isn't broken, why fix it? That's the question which would have been kicked around Suzuki headquarters when the Swift redesign was on the agenda.
You don't need to look far to see how popular this model has become.
Swift sales have gone gangbusters across the nation since it was launched in 2005 and the Japanese brand has bigger volume expectations from its attractive small car.
But while it looks pretty similar, just about every component is new. Only things like the door handles, fuel lid opening and the rear window channel have been carried across to the new model, which was given a redesign overhaul by an Italian contingent.
Park the 2011 Swift next to the previous model and you can quickly spot the differences, it's slightly wider (5mm) and sits on a bigger wheelbase that helps contribute to a length increase of 90mm.
There's three trim grades, and all share the same engine and transmission configurations.
Most importantly the Swift starts at the same price as it did six years ago, $15,990 – the range topper is the GLX auto at $20,690.
We sampled the mid-spec GL to evaluate the Swift evolution.
Basic yet functional, the cabin is a welcoming environment.
Hard plastics are used across the doors, console and dash but they appear durable and don't detract from the overall finish.
The central dash dials are simple and easy to identify, while our test machine had an aftermarket Kenwood CD stereo with Garmin navigation system (that is being trialled as an official option) which provided a gizmo boost.
Silver on black provides a classy look with the main dials and a leather-wrapped steering wheel provides a touch of luxury.
Both front seats are comfy and supportive in the right places with excellent upper body bolsters while the driver's pew can be raised and lowered.
The steering wheel has height adjustment but there is no reach function. Handy storage allocations are available in front of the gear shifter and also inside the doors, the latter can also hold bottles. A couple of nooks in the console can double as cup holders.
On the road
Improved efficiency has been the focus of engineers, leaving the Swift with a downsized 1.4-litre engine.
Dropping to an output of 70kW and 130Nm Suzuki says the power decline is more than compensated with weight loss and gains in fuel efficiencies. In most conditions we agree, although when it comes time to summons its power, the Swift can feel lacklustre.
The primary criticism of the previous model was the lack of punch, particularly with the auto box. Unfortunately it's more of the same with the 2011 version.
Steep inclines test the little hatchback and you need to apply the accelerator pressure to maintain speed. From above 4000rpm the little Swift really begins to sing.
Those wanting extra oomph would be best to go with the manual while the keen drivers would best wait until the sporting derivative arrives next year.
In the metropolitan areas the ride is firm although it manages to iron out the potholes and bumps with ease.
But hit a winding country road and a new personality of the Swift is unveiled. There is a good sense of control through the steering and there is a great surefooted feel as you quickly change direction.
This model has more rigidity and less body roll which maintains its fun to drive philosophy.
What do you get?
There's no specific badging for the various levels, you just have to spot the design cues to differentiate the models.
In the GA you get air con, power windows and mirrors, 15-inch steel wheels, remote central locking, four-speaker CD stereo with USM port and some impressive safety gear including stability control, anti-lock brakes and seven airbags.
The model we tested adds body-coloured door handles/side mirrors, mirror-mounted side indicators, leather steering wheel with audio controls, two more speakers and a tachometer.
Step up to the GLX and you get 16-inch alloys, rear disk brakes, telescopic steering wheel adjustment, Bluetooth connectivity and climate controlled air-con.
You don't get cruise control even as an option, but Suzuki's Australian contingent is working hard on getting that changed.
The big gun in this genre is the VW Polo ($16,690) that has won just about all awards since launch, along with the Toyota Yaris 5 Door ($17,290), Ford Fiesta ($16,990) and Mazda2 ($15,790).
The boot space remains limited, but the Swift is not alone in this compact genre.
Rear seats fold in a 60-40 configuration, and the child seat anchorage points are easily accessed.
You can also fit three across the back seat, as long as they aren't all big and burly.
Big gains have been made in fuel consumption, with the manual Swifts sipping just over five litres per 100 kilometres. Our automatic version achieved similar to the official figure during testing, just under seven litres/100km.
Insurance costs should also be reasonable for just about all drivers.
This is still one of the best looking compact hatches on the market.
Add a few accessories, along with a set of alloys, and the Swifts are brimming with personality.
Positives of the first Swift have been accentuated, while some of the negatives have been addressed.
Young and old will appreciate the gains in fuel consumption and considering the success of the previous styling it was sensible that the new model was tweaked rather than overhauled.
You regularly need to remind yourself that this is a car which costs under 20 grand.
Keen drivers would like some extra grunt from the Swift to make the most of its dynamics, but we suspect most buyers will favour the style over speed.
Model: Suzuki Swift GL.
Details: Compact five-door front-wheel drive hatch.
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 70kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 130Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
Consumption: 5.5 litres/100km (manual combined average); 6.3 (auto).
CO2: 132g/km; 147g/km (auto).
Bottom line: $18,390.
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