Every year, I make it a point to have a fun-to-drive car that will make the holiday drive (which is usually in traffic) a lot more tolerable—and dare I hope—actually more fun.
I must’ve been a good boy because Santa Claus gave me (for a week-long test drive) a very perky-looking Suzuki Swift—in a bright season-matching Pearl Ablaze Red. Suzuki’s brilliant little hatchback would prove to be a fun drive, especially when running holiday errands over the Christmas-New Year break.
Gratifyingly, the Swift appeals even more once one gets past its cute and perky looks, thanks to its spacious-for-its-size cabin and spirited go-kart-like performance. But what has made a growing number of people having the Swift on their radar is the car’s down-to-earth price: a very affordable P775,000 for the stickshift and P819,000 for the automatic (and P804,800 and P869,000 respectively, for the Special Edition variants).
Sporty, perky style
The Swift sports large, expressive headlights that run counter to the now-common practice of using slim sliver-thin headlights. The big lights bracket a gaping blacked-out grille that gives the Swift a sporty, aggressive look. A prominent chin spoiler, on top of which a blacked-out strip connects the large foglights (with LED DRLs), round out the characterful front end.
The side view is elegantly devoid of extraneous curves and bulges. The only visual highlights are the high beltline, the subtle curvature that runs along the fenders and doors that give the Swift its wide, muscular look, and the hidden rear door handle on the novel C pillar with its wraparound blacked-out treatment that creates a floating roof effect.
The rear view is low, squat, and wide—with large LED taillights, a visually strong bumper, a wraparound backlight (as opposed to the usual flat one), a subtle roof-edge spoiler, and a pronounced convex shape to the hatch. It’s the look you’d expect of a proper hot hatch.
The Swift wears 185/55R16 rubber. They may seem narrow, but they don’t look undersized for the car. More importantly, they’re perfectly sized for the car’s power and weight. Any bigger or wider and the Swift would lose its delightful nimbleness.
Small yet spritely engine
The Swift is powered by a 1.2-liter 4-cylinder normally aspirated engine developing 82 hp at 4,000 rpm and 113 Nm at 4,200 rpm. That might seem puny, but given the little Suzuki’s lithe 860-kg curb weight, it still manages to deliver energetic performance, especially if you’re willing to rev the smooth, little engine to 4,000 rpm and higher. For number crunchers, a base Mini Cooper’s power to weight ratio is 9 kilos per horsepower; in contrast, the Swift’s is 10.4 kilos per horse—not too shabby.
More importantly, the Swift is a ball to drive—whether you’re trundling along holiday gridlock or tracing sharp cornering lines on your favorite backroads. I got to test the automatic (CVT) version; I expected the CVT to magnify the lack of horsepower from the 1.2 liters, but it proved a willing accomplish, eagerly shifting to lower gears, allowing the engine to spin higher up the rev range. Translation: the Swift may have only 82 horses under the hood, but they’re readily available with a snap of the fingers—or a slight prod of your right foot. I can imagine the stickshift version to be an even greater joy to drive.
Ride quality is excellent—for a sporty looking hatch, the ride/handling balance of the front strut/rear torsion beam suspension is clearly skewed for comfort; nonetheless, there is minimal body roll when cornering. The electric power steering is precise and gives good feedback. Braking, even with rear drums, is confidence-inspiring and is easy to modulate. As I’ve said, driving the Swift briskly is a satisfying experience, especially if there is just one or two people on board.
Interior—spartan yet functional
Inside, you’ll find a spacious yet spartan all-black interior. You won’t find any leather on the seats, steering wheel, shift knob, or door panels. There are no chrome door handles or door locks (except for the shiny trim on the steering wheel and around the gear lever; there is also some silver accents on the dash as well as on the armrests of the front doors). All you get is black plastic on the dash, console and door panels and black fabric on the seats and armrests. At least the plastics are nicely textured and sculpted while the black fabric feels plush on the thickly padded and very comfortable seats. The front seats’ prominent side bolsters deserve special mention as they give superb support in the most enthusiastic cornering maneuvers. They look great, too—as if they came straight from a sports car.
Other notable interior design elements are the meaty, thick 3-spoke steering wheel, with its racy flat-bottom design, and the 70s-era twin circular instrument cluster housing that juts out from the dashboard.
Many cars now have electronic switches or buttons or even touchscreens for their climate control systems. But you won’t miss those needlessly complicated electronic gadgetry with the Swift’s no-brainer three AC knobs (fan speed, thermostat, and air direction). That said, the Swift still has a 7-inch USB/Bluetooth touchscreen infotainment/navigation system with four speakers. The system is easy enough to use although the sound quality would benefit from better aftermarket speakers or perhaps an amplifier.
There are twin cupholders up front and a single one on the rear part of the center console for backseat passengers. There are also bottle holders on all four doors (plus spacious door pockets on the front doors). Extra connectivity and utility come from the USB charger and 12V socket up front.
Notable safety and security features include dual front airbags, four 3-point ELR seatbelts (and a 2-point lapbelt for the middle rear-seat passenger), two ISOFIX anchorages, two additional non-ISOFIX child seat anchorages, ABS with EBD, Brake Assist, rear parking sensors, an anti-theft system, and a cabin air filter. There are also three adjustable headrests for the 60/40 split-folding back seat.
The latest Swift even boasts modern pedestrian-protection systems like impact-absorbing front bumper, hood, and even hood hinges and wiper system.
Of course, one can’t talk about Suzuki automobiles without discussing the company’s advanced HEARTECT high-rigidity body construction that improves not just the car’s crashworthiness, but also its dynamic performance, riding comfort, and fuel economy. HEARTECT employs lightweight yet high-tensile and ultra-high-tensile steel and combines that with a continuous and smoothly curving shape with fewer joints for a truly rigid, safe, and responsive chassis.
Wishlist? An engine start/stop push button, some leather for the steering wheel, and perhaps a +/- gated shifter (or better yet, paddle shifters) for sportier control over the CVT. That’s about it.
But all things considered, the Swift is an exceptionally accomplished small car. It does everything it’s designed to do very well and achieves all that despite an eminently affordable sub-800k price tag. It does not have an overly lengthy features list compared to its direct rivals, but its compelling (and much lower) price and its refined and well-developed driving dynamics more than make up for it.