Three's a treat for the all-new Suzuki Swift
It would not be hard to make the case that the current Suzuki Swift is the most loved car on New Zealand roads. After all, it has been extremely popular for quite some time now and the buyers of these perky little runabouts certainly adore them.
In fact, since the Swift's launch in 2005 it has dominated its segment, only being beaten to the top spot by the Toyota Yaris in 2015. But it is not only the light segment that the Swift dominates, it's also the best selling new car to private buyers by a significant margin and that is not even counting the huge amount that have come into the country as used imports.
In fact, Suzuki reckons NZ-new and used-import (the majority, naturally) Swifts combined account for about 77,000 vehicles on our roads.
The Swift's huge success does, however, pose a problem for Suzuki: how do you replace a truly loved car?
The last new model that appeared in 2010 was a perfect example of that struggle - Suzuki played it extremely safe and didn't mess with the formula. As a result the new car looked very much like the previous generation and changed very little.
But now, possibly emboldened by the success of the Vitara and Ignis, Suzuki has taken the brave pills and given the all-new Swift a bold new look (admittedly while still retaining a whole lot of familiar Swift styling cues) and a range of new engines.
While the Swift does boast a new face and all-new styling, Suzuki has been rather clever and retained the Swift's familiar profile, meaning that while the new car looks distinctly different, it is also distinctly recognisable as a Swift as well.
The new Swift is slightly larger than the old car, but only ever-so-slightly: 10mm increase in length, 20mm increase in wheelbase and a 40mm increase in width. Where it has usefully grown, however, is in the boot, with the new car's 242 litres bettering the old car by 32 litres.
The new Swift is on the same "Heartect" platform as the Baleno and Ignis and is as impressively lightweight as those two cars, weighing in between 855kg and 925kg depending on model, or around 135kg less than the old car.
Suzuki has taken advantage of this weight reduction to use a range of slightly less powerful, but torquier and more frugal engines in the new Swift. It will initially come to New Zealand with a choice of two engines - a 66kW/120Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol (the same one that is in the Ignis) in the GL and GLX models and an 82kW/160Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol-turbo unit in the range-topping (for now) RS. There is of course a new Sport still to come.
The four-cylinder engine is hooked up to a CVT transmission, with a five-speed manual option available on the GL spec, but the three-cylinder turbo is only available with a six-speed automatic.
Suzuki claims the GL and GLX with return a combined fuel consumption figure of 4.6 litres per 100km for the manual and 4.8l for the CVT. The 1.0-litre RS will return 5.8l, but will only run on 95-RON petrol.
The GL kicks off the range at $19,990 for the manual and comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, cruise control, a leather steering wheel with satellite controls for the phone and audio system, rear privacy glass, LED daytime running lights and manual air conditioning.
The GL CVT costs $21,990 and also adds satellite navigation, a reversing camera and phone mirroring on a seven-inch touch screen.
The GLX is only available with the CVT and costs $24,500. Along with the GL CVT model's standard spec, the GLX adds 16-inch alloy wheels and Suzuki's new dual sensor brake support system that adds emergency autonomous braking, radar cruise control, lane departure warning and weaving alert.
The RS tops the range at $25,990 and alongside with the different engine and transmission adds polished 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, LED projector headlights with automatic high beam assist, a six-speaker audio system, electric folding door mirrors and climate control.
On the road, the 1.0-litre RS we drove was a strong and willing performer. The small engine does a brilliant job of hauling the lightweight car along and pulls remarkably strongly from down low.
Nicely weighted and accurate steering is in keeping with the Swift's fun and sporty persona, while the chassis is nicely responsive and nimble.
The one traditional downside of the Swift is still present, however, as the open road ride is still somewhat firm and sensitive to irregularities in the surface and the road noise is rather intrusive. Around town though the Swift is comfortable and nicely responsive.
On the inside the RS was nicely laid out, with a fairly conservative, but nicely designed interior. One thing that Suzuki does very well is the infotainment system, with the the Swift boasting the same nicely responsive touch screen used in other models in the range, as well as nice integration of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
There are still many hard plastics present in the cabin, but all the main points of contact are soft-touch and it's pleasantly appointed.
While the bolder styling may not appeal to everyone (we love it), the extra interior room, high level of equipment of the money and, in the RS, at least, brilliant little 1.0-litre engine should see the Swift maintain its healthy lead in the sales charts.
While it still has some slight drawbacks that are hard to get away from in cars in this size and price range, it is still a remarkably complete package that also brings a healthy dose of fun and personality to the mix.