".the driving experience is up with the very best"
Suzuki's latest Swift has the difficult job of persuading supermini buyers that it's a better destination for their money than the likes of Ford's Fiesta, Vauxhall's Corsa and the Renault Clio. Not easy. It gets off to a solid start with styling that's distinctive but has more than a passing resemblance to the poster child of the supermini market, the MINI. The foursquare stance, the curving bonnet and the blacked-out pillars hold definite similarities to BMW's retro masterpiece but you won't pay MINI prices for the Swift.
Inside the car, the Swift adopts an uncomplicated approach, with slabs of dark plastic that's sturdy but doesn't have the tactility of the soft touch trim employed in the class leaders. Some will see the clean, uncluttered lines as boring and overly simplistic. Others will be impressed by the pared-down feel and the absence of gimmicks
Our long term test car is the five-door Swift in 1.2-litre petrol guise with 93bhp, but you can also talk to your dealer about a 75bhp 1.3-litre Fiat-sourced diesel. Our petrol variant is priced from around the £10,000 mark, which seems like decent value. There's a choice of three and five door bodystyles and three trim levels, SZ2, SZ3 and SZ4. All models get ESP stability control and seven airbags as standard. That's a good haul of features at this price point.
Our car's 1.2-litre Euro 5-compliant petrol engine is the one that most Swift buyers will choose. It replaces the 1.3-litre unit in the previous model, yet despite its smaller size, the improved technology of this powerplant means that it's more powerful and efficient. Thanks to an advanced variable valve timing system that controls the intake and exhaust valves on each cylinder to optimise performance, it's reassuringly high-tech, producing 93bhp - a lot for a 1.2-litre unit - along with 118Nm of torque. The 0-60mph trial takes 12.2s and the top speed is 103mph. Despite these impressive figures for a small engine, it has sometimes proved a little tardy at low revs, requiring frequent use of the gearbox to maintain progress.
The engine then, is generally a good one but the main reason for the Swift's popularity on our long term test has been its ride and handling. There are plenty of larger and supposedly more sophisticated superminis out there that have nothing like the Swift's fun factor. If driven quickly on a twisty road, it displays exemplary body control and the firm suspension refuses to be unsettled by changes in direction or undulations in the road.
The pedal weights and the snappy gear change are very well judged, bringing an urgency to the experience. The small, chunky steering wheel feels good in the hands and although a little more feel and weight from the helm would be a bonus in extra urban driving, its light weight does simplify urban journeys. The Swift's small size and stubby bonnet also help around town, even if seeing out of the back isn't always easy, especially with the rear headrests extended.
From a comfort point of view, the seats are firm, if lacking a little in lateral support, and there's plenty of adjustment to allow even taller drivers to get comfortable. Despite it's stocky external appearance, there's a huge amount of headroom for front seat passengers and plenty in back so long as you're not well over six-foot. Legroom in the rear is more of an issue than in some other superminis. A six-foot passenger can just about sit behind a six-foot driver with their feet tucked under the seat. Travelling with three across the rear bench would be a bit of a squeeze.
The boot area is unusual. It doesn't offer too much outright space by the standards of the supermini class but then the Swift is shorter than a Ford Fiesta and something had to give. The rear seats split 60:40 and fold down with the release of just one catch to form a surface that's flush with the load floor cover. Big shopping trips may require the rear seats to be pressed into service but Suzuki has made the most of what it's got.
The Swift's compact dimensions also tell in the lack of storage space in the cabin. The thin doors leave room for only the most measly of door pockets and the glovebox is already at bursting point with only the owner's manual shoved inside. It leaves a couple of cup holder pots and a shelf below the centre section of the dash, so if you're the sort of person who keeps a lot of stuff in the car, there may be issues.
With sprawling dealer networks and vast budgets directed at advertising, marketing and PR, it's hardly surprising that the major names maintain such a higher profile in the minds of motorists. It also helps that they pump billions into research and development to make darn sure that their products live up to the hype. Without the same level of resources, a smaller brand like Suzuki has its work cut out but it would be nice to believe in the meritocracy of the market. That a model like the Swift could grab major success if it were good enough.
Our long term test has revealed a little car that does things differently from the major supermini players. It's a little smaller and it concentrates on the basics rather than getting bogged down with trendy design and high tech features. It's very attractively priced and if you like your superminis sporty, the driving experience is up with the very best. Should buyers give the Swift a chance? We'd have to say yes.
Facts at a Glance
FACTS AT A GLANCE
CAR: Suzuki Swift 1.2
PRICES: £9,995 - £13,245 - on the road
INSURANCE GROUPS: 3-6 [est]
CO2 EMISSIONS: [1.2] 116g/km
PERFORMANCE: [1.2] 0-60mph 12.2s / top speed 103mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: [1.2] (combined) 56.5mpg
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: seven airbags, ABS, ESP
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: length/width/heightmm 3850/1695/1510