Sunday, 12 August 2012

REVIEW - Suzuki Swift SZ4

The world of small cars is, ironically, getting bigger. They are becoming increasingly popular as family cars, because they offer more cost-efficiency than bigger cars whilst maintaining a sufficient level of practicality. For Suzuki, the Swift accounts for over a third of sales, and I wanted to see why. The previous Swift was a bit short of European rivals, and I wanted to see if anything had changed.

Looks -  9/10

There is certainly nothing to complain about with the styling of the latest Swift. On the outside it resembles the old one, but with a more 'curved' feel to both the front and rear. I tested the SZ4 model which had 16" alloy wheels, front foglights and privacy glass; nice features to have. Everything is colour coded and flows together nicely. As an overall package the Swift is a great looking car. It has an almost 'cheeky' feel to it, and just looks like it will be a fun car.

On the inside things get even better. The old Swift left a lot to be desired on the inside, and every single issue seems to have been rectified with the new one. The interior has been overhauled, from the layout to the materials themselves, and it now has a much more 'premium' feel to it. The materials so not feel cheap or plasticky. There are controls for the bluetooth and stereo on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The seats are finished in nice cloth, and the stereo fits nicely into a logically-setup dashboard. All the switches feel solid and you get the impression bits wouldn't fall off after a bit of rough treatment from the kids.

All good news then. The only thing I think could improve the Swift is a more 'sporty' feel, both inside and out. Thankfully there is a Swift Sport which I hope to get my hands on sometime, and this could provide the final mark to a perfect 10!

Handling/Performance -  8/10

The model I tested was the 1.2-litre petrol, with the alternative being a 1.3-litre diesel. The best way to sum up the Swift is: handling - great, performance - inconsistent. I shall explain. The handling is great; the turn-in is sharp and the steering nicely weighted, the whole car feels great through corners encouraging you to throw it on in knowing it will stick. As for performance, well there things are a little unusual. Despite the power and the torque figures of 94PS and 118Nm respectively, the Swift doesn't feel that swift a lot of the time. I found myself down-changing on hills and was a bit baffled because 94PS should be plenty in a car this size.

Luckily, I managed to find the cure. Once you let the revs climb this car really does find its oomph. Get past 4,000 and you really feel like you're in a properly fast car. 0-62mph is dealt with in 12.3 seconds and the top speed is 103mph. But the point is it feels fast and that means a lot of fun. What's more, because this is a small, well-built engine, it will more than cope with being revved. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Swift likes to be driven that way. Once you find this out, the drive makes sense and you appreciate the car for what it is. Often we expect every car to do every speed in every gear, and I must admit it is nice to have to work the car a bit.

The only niggling thing was the gearbox for me. The changes just felt a bit 'notchy' and I wasn't alone in noticing this. It was odd because the gearbox is slick and the ratios are spot on; perhaps it just hadn't bedded in properly yet.

Economy - 10/10

As technology moves forward we find ourselves ever-more surprised at just what the engineers can achieve. The 1.2-litre engine in the Swift produces 94PS yet only emits 116g/km CO2. This puts the 1.2-litre in VED Band C, meaning road tax is a mere £30 per year (free first year). Fuel consumption is great too, with combined economy being 56.5mpg. You really couldn't ask for better when it comes to protecting the family budget, and that's why the Swift scores a perfect 10. Just for the record, the diesel would also score 10, offering 109g/km (Band B, £20 per year, free first year) and a combined economy of 67.3mpg.

Practicality - 8/10

As I mentioned earlier, people are choosing small hatchbacks for family cars because they offer a good level of practicality, and the Swift won't disappoint you here. The cabin is spacious and there is plenty of room in the boot for your shopping. The only thing is when you fold the rear seats down, they don't quite fold flat. The reason for this is their sheer thickness, and I wouldn't sacrifice these comfortable rear seats for a bit more load space.

To live with the Swift is a doddle. It's easy to drive, has a good turning circle and is easy to park. Visibility is good and the keyless system makes life very easy. Simply push any of the opening buttons and if the key is in your pocket the vehicle will open. Same goes for locking it when you get out. Once you're inside you simply push a button to start/stop the car; you never need your keys to leave your pocket/bag.

Fun - 8/10

One thing I do like in a small car is for it to be fun. The Swift seems to just achieve this through everything. It's not just fun to drive, but the styling is fun, and the level of equipment certainly provides fun. The real winner with the Swift is the engine. Being revvy and small, it makes you work for a bit of go. This is epic fun, because it makes you feel like you have to hit each gear perfectly, and keep the revs high going into corners, and then you get the rewards. Sure, you can tootle around in this car, but then you can get on a nice A-road, drop down two gears and have an absolute riot. Only small cars ever really feel like this, because bigger engines don't need working as hard so you never work the gears as much. In the modern times, where cars are getting safer and more economical, it's definitely nice to drive a car like the Swift which puts a huge smile on your face.

Concluding Remarks

So as an overall car, what do we have? Well the swift is nicely styled, has some great engines and won't cost you at the pumps. The SZ4 model I tested will set you back around £13,000 but the list of standard equipment and the updated quality make this a good price. It is still a bit cheaper than its European rivals, but is no longer lacking the quality. Overall, this would make a great family car, but is available as a 3-door for anyone who doesn't need the added practicality. If anybody is in the market looking for a small family hatchback, I'd certainly recommend checking out a Swift.

Total Score - 43/50

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