Review: Three-cylinder Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo proves less can be more
The Suzuki Swift has won plenty of plaudits since the fourth-generation car launched in 2004. More than five million have found homes over the past decade, making it the most popular model in the Suzuki lineup by a huge margin. Launched in Geneva, the latest Swift builds on the foundation laid by its predecessors with a grown-up new look and more technology. Does it hit the mark?
The new Swift certainly gets the basics right. Measuring up at just 3,840 mm (12.6 ft) long and 1,735 mm (5.7 ft) wide, it's comfortably smaller than the Mazda 2 and Kia Rio, while its 915 kg (2,017 lb) kerb weight is a throwback to pre-Y2K hatchbacks. Don't be fooled though, the diminutive dimensions cloak a more spacious interior and bigger (242 liter) boot than previous models.
Because it's so light, the fact Suzuki has chosen to fit a 1,000cc three-cylinder turbo engine, making 82 kW (110 hp) of power and 160 Nm of torque doesn't hold the range-topping Swift GLX Turbo back. If you needed proof of just good engineers are at squeezing big capacity performance out of small engines, compare the base four-cylinder Swift with its three-pot counterpart.
Although the more expensive three-cylinder is 250 cc and a cylinder down on the entry-level engine, it's 25 percent more powerful and 33 percent torquier. It also uses barely any more fuel on the combined cycle. This little engine is full of character, with a raspy exhaust note and rev-happy demeanor, undoubtedly helped by clever gearing from the six-speed auto gearbox.
First gear is short – it runs to just over 40 km/h (25 mph) – for perky acceleration off the line, while second and third are more conventional. The gearbox does a good job of shuffling through the ratios unobtrusively in normal driving, but it's also unusually willing to hang onto gears when you put your foot down. The perky little engine and well-tuned six-speeder make the Swift feel, er, swift – especially compared to the relatively sluggish Kia Rio we drove last month.
Like its predecessor, the new Swift is also blessed with a balanced, playful chassis. The steering is light at low speeds, but weights up nicely as the pace rises. Body roll is well contained, the 185-section tires grip gamely and – if you're really keen – you might even be able to get the inside rear wheel cocked. Not that we tried, of course. We're very responsible.
But the biggest improvements to the Swift formula are hidden inside. A lot has changed over the last seven years, and the interior of the previous model was starting to look old-hat, with low-rent plastics and a very basic infotainment system. The new car (partially) addresses those concerns. The touchscreen nails the basics, and the console design is far prettier than you get in the dour first and second generation cars, although the materials are still a bit hard.
There's also an impressive suite of active safety features, supported by a radar unit integrated into the front grille. Auto-emergency braking and forward-collision warning are both standard on the GLX Turbo we tested, as is radar-guided cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Perhaps it's just my driving style, but the auto-emergency braking seemed particularly nervous at night. We had multiple false-alarms, and the car slammed on the brakes when it was spooked by an oddly-placed reflective road sign.
Don't get us wrong, we're all for packing as much active safety gear into cars as possible, but they also have the potential to cause serious problems if they're not tuned properly. Suzuki has done the right thing by including all the hardware on the new Swift, but it could use a bit more fine tuning.
Now, this is usually where we'd wrap everything up, but there's one more act to this Swift review. How does the fully-loaded 2017 flagship compare with two well-used examples? As you can probably see above, the new car isn't all that much bigger than its predecessors on the outside, although it does have a very different look up front. The cabin technology is also significantly improved, something that impressed the owner of the white 2007 Swift you see above.
"It was exciting to see the big jump up with all the new features," says Matilda Edwards, owner of a mint(ish) condition 2007 Swift called Taylor. Yes, as in Taylor Swift. "It was super smooth to drive, I really enjoyed that... It was just pleasant – smooth and pleasant. It felt around the same size inside, mine always feels roomier than it looks, and it's the same for the new one."
That really sums things up here. Like the other Suzukis we've driven, the Swift is an inherently likeable little car, with plenty of punch from its three-cylinder engine. It goes head-to-head with the Kia Rio SLi, but that car's four-speed automatic gearbox makes this an easy choice. If you've got AU$22,990 to spend on a compact hatch, there are few better than the GLX Turbo.
Sorry US readers, Suzuki pulled out of your market last year.
Product page: Suzuki