Fun and frugal Suzuki Swift diesel

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 13:49 25/05/2012

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Suzuki New Zealand has been fielding inquiries about diesel-powered Swifts for years, and it will be especially pleased to be able to tell its punters that at last such a car has arrived here, all the way from Europe.

Swifts have never been particularly thirsty cars, even with petrol engines under their snub noses, but thanks to the internet and overseas reports, Kiwis have learnt of the car's punchiness and fun demeanour and have been asking dealers, and this publication, "Why can't we have a bit of that?"

Well, now they can, and for $25,990 it's only $2490 more than the Limited petrol manual Swift, a car with which the so-labelled DDiS most closely shares its specification. Standard equipment includes smart 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a USB port, a CD, MP3, WMA-compatible six-speaker tuner, heated door mirrors, ESP (electronic stability programme), ABS, seven airbags, and a very handy average and instant fuel computer, albeit in miles on my pre-production model.

You can only get a manual DDiS Swift, but to counter that, there's a very driver-friendly set of pedals. The clutch is well placed and takes up its duties at exactly the right angle, and the throttle is just as easy to use. Thus, you're unlikely to stall this diesel, unlike a lot of less carefully set up units that still sneak into showrooms.

You'll never forget this car's a diesel. Its Fiat-derived 1250cc D13A unit does clatter when cold, and never really loses its compression-ignition sound signature, even when fully warmed, but diesel fans like me won't be bothered, realising it's more a reassuring badge of office than a noisy drawback.

The car's maximum power output is 55 kilowatts, and with the help of a socking great 190-newton-metre wedge of torque from about 1750 revolutions per minute, the car can scamper to 100kmh in 12 seconds.

However, it always felt more brisk than that and especially punchy between 60kmh and 100kmh in fifth gear, where you can surf on that great breaking wave of torque without needing to drop down a ratio.

Nevertheless, you can if you want to, as Suzuki appears to have picked a nice spread of ratios for the DDiS, allowing a smooth 2000rpm 100kmh cruise without compromising the ability to dart and sprint at lower speeds, if you hanker for some faux hot-hatch action and slot-to-slot stickwork.

Suzuki quotes about 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres as the DDiS Swift's average combined urban-rural consumption rating. That is nothing to sneeze at, but I would be surprised if a slick wheelman couldn't duck in to the mid to late 3.0-litre area without a lot of effort. I calculated that I managed such fuel-sipping rates quite easily.

But ignoring the consumption and emissions (109 grams/km) conundrum for a moment, I was pleasantly surprised to find the wee diesel Suzuki tremendous fun to drive.

An added benefit of the heavier engine up front is that it appears to have improved the car's sprung to unsprung weight ratio. Thus, the Swift has excellent suspension control, especially upon impact with bumps and holes. There's also more purchase at turn-in time and the front end feels well weighted and almost sporty in the way it reacts to the wheel.

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With so much torque on tap, I expected there to be a bit of a wriggle from the steering when pressing on, but Suzuki must have the Swift's basic geometry well sorted, for you can always count on the car going where it is pointed, with no unnerving tugs from the wheel rim.

It's a solid, faithful and communicative car, retaining all the exhilaration and nimbleness of the petrol Swifts, while adding some strengths of its own.

The diesel car enjoys all the changes that came through with the Swift during its complete facelift and revamp early last year, which means there's a longer wheelbase, wider tracks and correspondingly improved interior dimensions.

This results in a more useful load area of 211 litres, expandable to 528 litres when you split-fold the rear 60/40 seats. This is below the class average, but much better than it was before.

The rear seat is more usable, although again, you wouldn't want to spend all day there. However, there's now adult space out back, rather than merely room for big kids.

The front chairs are big and supportive and this could be because this new Swift is to be launched into the burger belt of North America soon, and they do appreciate large seats.

As with all new-generation Swifts, our DDiS came with very similar plain and textured corded charcoal trim to that used by mid-range Audi A3s and A4s.

It is very classy and is matched by the revamped Swift's excellent new dash treatment, which has just enough brightwork in it to give a contrast to the high-quality and pleasingly tactile dark vinyls being used.

This most frugal of Swifts is worth looking at, even if its fuel consumption isn't important to you. Without being the tyre-scrabbling tearaway that the recently launched Sport model is, the Swift DDiS is nearly as much fun, and for day-to-day running, its pliant and pleasant chassis is patently superior to the firmer hot hatch's.

Sadly, with New Zealand's heavy bias towards automatics even in this small-car segment, there will be those who will not be attracted to the manual-only diesel Swift. However, knowing you'll need just an oily rag to fuel it and that you'll always have a grin on your face while driving it, this car is easy to master and well worth rehoning your manual driving skills for.

SUZUKI SWIFT DDIS

Drivetrain: Transverse FWD direct-injected DOHC 16-valve 1248cc turbodiesel four, five-speed manual.

Performance: Max 55kW at 4000rpm, 190Nm at 1750rpm. 166kmh, 0-100kmh 4.2L/100km, 109g/km CO2.

Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear torsion beam. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering.16in alloys.

Safety: Electronic stability control, ABS, seven airbags, double isofix mounts 5-ELR seatbelts.

Dimensions: L 3850mm, W 1695mm, H 1510mm, W/base 2430mm, F/track 1480mm, R/track 1485mm, weight 1065kg, fuel 42L.

Pricing: Suzuki Swift DDiS $25,990, petrol-fuelled Swifts from $20,500 to $28,900.

Hot: Punch; build quality; fun factor; equipment; cheapest New Zealand diesel; reputation.

Not: No auto or DSG option; noisy when cold; pays the same road user charges as a diesel Hummer.

Verdict: Frugal, well made and great fun, this is a rewarding way to go green.

- The Press

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