What is it?
The SZ-L is a new special-edition version of the Suzuki Swift supermini. And what makes it special? Well, it's based on the mid-grade Swift SZ3, so you get niceties such as air conditioning, Bluetooth and seven airbags. However, the SZ-L bundles in all manner of additional equipment, from cruise control, sat-nav and a DAB radio to styling upgrades including gloss black alloy wheels and a rear spoiler.
As a result, it looks pretty fancy - rather like a pastiche of the Swift Sport - but under the bonnet things are more conventional. Fitted with Suzuki’s 1.2 Dual VVT engine, it’ll drag you to 62mph in 12.3sec and just peep over the ton flat out. That may not sound impressive, but it doesn’t stop the Swift from being fun.
What's it like?
As you might expect, it’s not quick, but it is willing. The engine feels hollow low down next to the current crop of torquey turbo superminis, especially beyond first and second gears, but that merely encourages you to give it a hiding. It gets more urgent beyond 3000rpm, then gives you a final burst of multi-valve goodness between 5000 and 6500rpm. It’s smooth, too, so while taking it to its upper reaches may hurt fuel economy, it won’t hurt your ears.
Blatting along an empty B-road, there’s just enough pace to tickle the fun glands in your frontal lobe, but at sensible speeds. The gearbox plays its part by being slick and precise, with a relatively short throw – a good thing, seeing as it gets plenty of use. The problem comes when you encounter someone dawdling along in front, because overtaking requires a strategy and a lengthy gap.
The SZ-L's handling is typical Swift. For such a budget car, Suzuki doesn’t half do a good job on the damping side. The fact that the Swift rides bumps with aplomb doesn’t just make it comfortable, with an uncanny ability to absorb most of the undulations delivered by our woeful roads, but also keeps it stable. Returning to that B-road we were blasting along a moment ago, you’ll find the Swift quite settled where other small cars might get a little bouncy, even when thrown a mid-corner surprise.
It’s also got a decent amount of front-end grip, which, if you trail-brake into the corner to keep the front tyres loaded up, gives enough purchase for the mobile rear to rotate around – in a happy, safe sort of way. It all adds to the enjoyment that you can exploit at your leisure.
The only real issue is with the steering. The rack is sensibly geared, with 2.75 turns between the locks, but there’s no substance to it. Around the straight-ahead, there’s barely any self-centring action, and it hardly weights up as you add on more lock. The result is nothing in the way of feel as a precursor to the front tyres losing grip and no detectable sensation when they do. It’s a real shame, as it slightly nobbles the Swift, and it would be boosted enormously if it were improved.
To a lesser extent, refinement is also an issue. We know the engine is sweet, but with the five-speed manual gearbox you do tend to hear it buzzing at 70mph, along with a fair amount of wind noise. Road noise is a bit resonant over coarse ground, too, but then plenty of superminis suffer similarly.
Bearing in mind the dinky dimensions, the Swift is roomy in the front and pretty comfortable. The seats don’t offer much side support and the steering wheel on this version doesn’t telescope in or out, but both it and the driver’s seat adjust for height.
In the back, it’s tight, yes, but leg room isn’t the worst in the class and only anyone well north of six feet tall will struggle with head room. The boot is tiny, though, so you'll need to drop the split-folding rear seatbeacks if you want to carry anything more substantial than a few shopping bags.
You might also baulk at the cabin’s brittle plastics and the small sat-nav screen with its fiddly icons, but then remember the price. At £10,999 for this three-door version, we can accept some compromises. The silver stitching on the seats and chrome highlights around the vents do help augment the overall effect, though.
Should I buy one?
There are better superminis you can buy, yes, but not at this price. To get an equivalent Ford Fiesta, you'd have to spend several thousand pounds extra. Sure, you can pick up a Hyundai i20 for similar money, but it won’t offer as much fun. And neither rival will give you as many goodies as standard.
To view the Swift as just cheap alternative to the mainstream is to do it a disservice. It has always been a thoroughly decent little car and, as tested, still is.
Suzuki Swift 1.2 SZ-L Dual VVT 3dr
Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £10,999; Engine 4 cyls, 1242cc, petrol; Power 93bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 87lb ft at 4400rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 1005kg; 0-62mph 12.3sec; Top speed 103mph; Economy 56.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 116g/km, 20%