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Tested: Suzuki Swift

2008-07-25 08:25
Suzuki Swift 1.5 GLS

Suzuki Swift 1.5 GLS

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Suzuki
Model Swift 1.5 GLS
Engine 1.5-litre, 16v DOHC VV-T
Power 74kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 133Nm @ 4 000r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 10 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed 175km/h
Fuel Tank 43l
Fuel Consumption 6.1l/100km (claimed)
Weight 980kg
Boot Size 201-litres
ABS Yes, with EDB and BA
Airbags Yes, six
Tyres 185/60R151
Front Suspension Macpherson strust
Rear Suspension Torsion beam
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 4 year/60 000km
Warranty 3 year/100 000km
Price R131 900
Rivals Mazda2, Opel Corsa, Daihatsu Sirion, Toyota Yaris

Lance Branquinho

What’s is about

Suzuki is back locally, and aiming to gain a market share in the severely competitive small hatchback segment.

One of the most innovative Oriental manufacturers – from its diminutive yet capable 4x4s to challenging the 1-litre superbike class with 750cc GSXs – Suzuki is pinning hopes for the bulk of its local sales to be generated by the Swift hatchback.

Well specced, with Eurocentric styling and clever engineering, Swift will be keen to temp fiscally-stressed South African customers who are buying down in a market strained by rising interest rates. It’s hardly a new car though, having been available in Europe since the beginning of 2005.


With short overhangs and clean front styling – especially the curved bonnet and distinctive, rectangular headlights – the small Swift (3.75m) cuts a refreshing figure amongst the gaggle of regular small hatches such as Opel’s Corsa, the Mazda2 and Daihatsu’s Sirion.

Not as cute as Mazda2 or rakish as Corsa, Swift's styling is distinctive without resorting to Pokemonesque Japanese small-car design language.

Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Swift is well kitted out, especially in GLS trim. Weighing in at only 980kg, the 1.5-litre engine, breathing through a double-overhead camshaft head with variable valve timing, provides ample performance with 74kW and 133Nm driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox – though there’s a four-speed automatic available too.

The low mass renders the use of drum brakes at the rear entirely reasonable and, with ventilated discs up front, the entire system boosted by ABS and brake force distribution and brake assist. Safety is further boosted by the presence of six airbags.

On the inside

Comfort, convenience and safety are well catered for with steering wheel satellite controls for the four-speaker MP3-enabled CD changer (with speed sensitive volume adjustment), air-conditioning and six airbags.

Interior design is minimalistic, with a simple, uncluttered centre console sporting open, clean design surfaces. Essential switches and stalks fall easily to hand, and ventilation controls are still of the chunky turn dial variety.

A surfeit of stowage spaces is available, with a large utility bin under the CD-player augmented with slide out utility trays under the front seats – useful for storing documents.

It’s not awfully roomy though. The hatch's load bay is not particularly capacious either at only 201 litres, down on a Corsa’s 224 litres, for instance, but it’s on par for the class.

The seats are a bit tight though – more Japanese than South African spec – and they lack lumbar support for those of above-average build. Regarding the interior as a driving environment the gearlever is positioned too low down – even with the seat adjusted.

All local Swifts are pre-fitted with Altech Netstar's Sleuth tracking system, which can be activated at an optional, monthly fee.

On the road

With low mass, a short wheelbase and taut chassis the Swift is fun to drive. The steering box, lower control arms of the MacPherson strut front suspension and rear engine mounting are attached to a separate front sub-frame which adds to torsional rigidity.

Although the rear suspension is typical of a small car with a torsion beam set-up, the overall ride and handling balance is both benign and composed, especially for a small car. The steering is not overly light – the bane of many over-assisted small car power steering systems - and the chassis responds in kind when hustled along at speed.

I drove the Swift on sweeping mountain passes – the king-of-the-hill Gydo pass outside Ceres was one of them – and over stretches of dirt road and it impressed with road-manners befitting a larger car.

City cars can be tiresome to drive cross-country for long distances with their short wheelbase dimensions rendering choppy ride quality and unnerving high-speed emergency avoidance characteristics too. The Swift just keeps on cruising at speed, displaying C-segment long-distance driving resolve.

The 1.5-litre engine displays a duality of character though. Square in architecture – with equal bore and stroke ratios – it moves the lithe Swift around with reasonable enthusiasm.

Producing 74kW at 6 000r/min and 133Nm at 4 000r/min might give it an on-paper appearance of low-rev breathlessness, in reality though it prefers to be short-shifted just above 3 000r/min in urban driving.

Equipped with variable-valve timing the Swift has a point of audible harshness around the 4 000r/min torque peak which is then seamlessly broached as it revs freely to the 6 500r/min red-line. Open road cruising if effortless in fifth, and overtaking performance is entirely reasonable for something its size whilst still retaining 7.5l/100km overall economy.

Despite adjusting the driver’s seat every which way possible I found the gearlever located too low for my liking, yet the throw is short and positive, suiting the urban cut-and-thrust driving environment Swift was designed for.

In town, with its nimble handling (the turning circle is only 4.7m), communicative steering, diminutive dimensions and able low-down torque spread, the Swift slips into its role of urban commuter effortlessly.


Japanese cars, especially the smaller ones, have a notorious reputation for oddball styling and even stranger model names. The Swift redresses these characteristics with its clean styling and pronounceable name.

Don’t expect interior design wow-factor – it’s a three-year old car remember – but you’ll be enamoured by the purity of the engineering, especially the dynamics. Suzuki’s engineering heritage – which includes superbikes and outboards – shines through consistently, reminding one of another Japanese manufacturer who has a similarly broad internal combustion engineering portfolio…

Build quality appears to be redoubtable too, with dirt-roads leaving the trim integrity unbothered, whilst dust-insulation is secure and the doors close with a reassuring thud.

It not be particularly roomy – you knew that though, it’s a city car – but around town it’s endearingly nimble and on the vast rural byways of South Africa it remains fun to drive, confidently tackling 600km journeys without bother or toil to occupants.

The Mazda2 is a more contemporary design, although quite a bit more expensive on comparative spec. Fun to drive, decently built with tidy engineering, good equipment levels and very keen pricing, the Suzuki Swift makes a very compelling case for itself.

  • Suzuki Swift 1.5 GLS R131 900


Clean styling
Tidy chassis endows it with great ride/handling balance
Very well priced


Small inside
Seats could be better


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