Suzuki’s best-selling supermini returns in a new guise and with mild hybrid tech

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One brand that has never needed reminding that small cars are big business is Suzuki. The very first Suzuki Swift (or the Cultus, as the supermini was known in Japan) started life as a stillborn General Motors project, sold to the Minami-ku-based manufacturer in return for a 5 percent stake in the company.

Suzuki duly finished the car’s development, plastered whichever name seemed appropriate to the destination on the back and then proceeded to build it everywhere from Bogota to Nairobi.

The more mainstream, rounded design means that the new Swift isn’t as striking as before, although its charming Suzuki iconography is still recognisable

The second generation, introduced in 1988, was still being made and sold in Pakistan last year.

The Swift as we know it departed on a separate tangent long before, solidifying as a recognisable concept in 2005.

That generation and its follow-up 2010-2013 Suzuki Swift established the model as supermini manna: cheap, cheerful and just pretty enough to stand out from the crowd.

Naturally, the big-hitting Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa stomped all over it in broader terms – although that didn’t prevent Suzuki from shifting more than a million units in Europe over the course of a decade, making it the company’s biggest-selling car by some margin.

Its replacement, then, ideally needs to fill the same shoes. New from the ground up and sharing the same platform as the Suzuki Baleno and Suzuki Ignis, the latest Suzuki Swift makes familiar boasts: bigger inside, more powerful, more efficient, lighter and better equipped – and even the prospect of a mildly hybridised powertrain.

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But the 2013-2017 Suzuki Swift model was a purveyor of unpretentious dynamic charm too, and retaining that attribute ought to be just as essential as before in distinguishing the Suzuki from rivals built by Hyundai, Kia, Toyota and every other mainstream manufacturer still in the business of producing inexpensive small cars.

Deleting the three-door option and spotlighting the Suzuki Swift's newish three-cylinder Boosterjet engine are significant decisions.

We tested a top-spec model with the three-pot engine and mild hybrid set-up to gauge the full extent of the Swift’s latest offering.



Suzuki Swift rear

Without being particularly showy, the previous Swift was generally pleasing to look at.

Much like everything else about it, the bodywork was a straightforward affair – but some shrewd, sharp lines and a sense of neatness kept it from seeming too upright and anonymous.

The colour drive computer tells you the condition of the mild hybrid system’s battery, which charge up pretty quickly through coasting. Handy to know if it’s flat and you’re coming into an urban area

The new version does enough heavy lifting to make the nameplate’s transition recognisable, although perhaps not enough to prevent a little anonymity from creeping into the softer, more rounded profile.

Any trade-off in chic has been compensated in the model’s unseen belt tightening, though. Suzuki claims the latest Swift is more than 100kg lighter in its starter guise. Some 30kg of that has been lost in the switch to the cleverer, stiffer Heartect platform – despite the car being 40mm wider and 20mm longer in the wheelbase than its predecessor.

Even the all-wheel-drive version, with the presumably heftier four-cylinder petrol engine, is claimed to weigh less than one tonne.

That unit – the naturally aspirated 89bhp 1.2-litre Dualjet – is a carry-over from the previous Swift; ditto the optional four-wheel drive system, which uses a viscous coupling to deploy torque to the back axle in the event of wheelspin at the front.

The 109bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine drives the front axle via a standard five-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed automatic.

Alongside either engine, the Swift can now be had with SHVS (Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki), a very mild form of petrol-electric hybrid that uses an integrated starter generator to gently assist the combustion engine during acceleration and improve start-stop performance.

Its fitment comes with a 6.2kg weight penalty because of the addition of a 12V lithium ion battery under the driver’s seat – but its 37lb ft of electric motor-supplied torque helps to reduce CO2 emissions by 7g/km, making the Swift a sub-100g/km prospect in this format.

The system, which is recharged during braking, provides a whiff of technical sophistication to what is otherwise an orthodox modern supermini.

The suspension is by way of MacPherson struts at the front and a rear twist beam, and the variable-ratio steering is electrically powered.

Various chassis components have been hollowed out or otherwise lightened in the pursuit of an admirably svelte kerb weight, but otherwise the new Swift remains a considered, creditworthy update of the old.


Suzuki Swift interior

Suzuki’s unwillingness to stray far from its established conventions is well evidenced by elements of the new cabin.

Although the design has been overhauled, there is little in the material quality to suggest that the manufacturer has sought to move the bargain-basement status of its supermini further north in buyer perception.

The glovebox is pitifully small and there’s no under-elbow cubby to speak of. So although the Swift is equipped to charge a range of devices, anything larger than a modest smartphone is liable to be sitting next to your feet

Brass tacks: this means there’s a lot of hollow, shiny black plastic – a little too much of it on prominent display.

Elsewhere, Suzuki has attempted to get marginally funkier with the climate controls and vent placement, although – much like the exterior – you’d be forgiven for missing the cleaner appearance of its predecessor.

Fit and finish are about on a par with the outgoing Swift’s – so the new model is acceptable withoutever threatening to overhaul the South Korean opposition, let alone those from Europe.

However, the driving position is decent, augmented by a 20mm drop in the hip point of those up front, as well as redesigned and slightly more pliant seats. Those in the back sit lower now, too, and thanks to the longer wheelbase and some real estate liberated from the engine compartment, there’s marginally more leg room on offer.

It isn’t of class-leading proportions, but the packaging and the relative generosity of the roofline mean that two regular-sized adults fit without much fuss.

Of likely greater consequence to most buyers is the 25 percent of additional boot space – a 54-litre gain that lands it significantly closer to the standard sizing of five-door rivals such as the Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo.

Suzuki’s glass-fronted multimedia system, with a 7.0in touchscreen, is less new than the car around it, but it will seem revolutionary enough to anyone labouring with the previous Swift’s much older, clunkier unit.

The polished fascia doesn’t necessarily blend in with the surrounding plastic trim, yet it makes for one of the car’s few nice surfaces to slide your fingers across. Obviously, that’s helpful in a touchscreen — especially one that isn’t always deeply intuitive.

Nevertheless, the range-topping SZ5 trim of our test car adds additional speakers (a DAB tuner and Bluetooth streaming are standard across the entire Swift range) and a satellite navigation system, which is fine except for the fact that it insists on disengaging the address keypad while you’re in motion.

That’s an aid to safety, no doubt — but it is not much help if you find yourself trying to recall which exit is yours on the outside lane of a motorway. Getting the voice recognition to decipher your pronunciation is certainly no more convenient.


The previous Swift was something of a bastion of naturally aspirated petrol engines, its ubiquitous, hard-edged, variable-valve peppiness best exemplified by the outgoing Sport version.

The earnestness suited the sorted supermini well, but it doesn’t take long in the Boosterjet version to consider its turbocharged, electrically tweaked delivery a worthy upgrade.

Engine will just about accelerate in third on the steep climbs, but an extra intermediate gear ratio would have been helpful here

Principally, this accolade is earned by the calibre of the 1.0-litre triple, which, although less potent and free-spirited than Ford’s equivalent, manages to evince some of the same warbling, cheery energy. (In part at least, Suzuki has adopted a similar approach: deliberately unbalancing the crank counterweights to turn side-to-side vibrations into vertical ones – and then damping them via the engine mounts.)

The modestly forceful whoosh of trilling acceleration yielded at 2000rpm with the arrival of peak twist, though, is Suzuki’s own.

Any battery-fed assistance is impossible to discern, except perhaps in the unexpected keenness of the progress. We recorded 10.5sec to 60mph from a standing start – commendable for a compact car handicapped by two oversized occupants.

In-gear acceleration would have been equally satisfying were it not for the mild physical hindrance of the baggy and slightly unyielding five-speed manual gearbox.

The motor deserves the kind of short-throw, lightly fettled palm-pleaser that Volkswagen twins with practically every small petrol engine, but instead it gets the unwieldiness of a transmission that is unkeen to indulge you with seamless or even accurate upshifts.

This makes gearchanges merely serviceable, which is a shame when the Boosterjet makes a point of reaching peak output with just enough progressive verve to keep you interested in occasionally finding 5500rpm.

Typically, of course, with progress subsidised low down, you won’t need to – an attribute that is of predictable benefit to the Swift’s fuel economy.

Even with virtually non-stop spiritedness, our test car returned an average of 45.7mpg during its time with us.

That’s well short of the 65.7mpg combined claim, but a 56.8mpg touring result shows just how economical the flyweight Suzuki is likely to be if you seek to indulge it. 


Suzuki Swift cornering

The Swift is just a little bit guilty of pouring cold water on moderately high expectations where this section is concerned.

As a volume-selling supermini – and we must remember that although the outgoing version always looked after the interests of keener drivers better than it had any right to at the price, a volume-selling supermini is what the Swift is – it’s a dynamically competent and reasonably well-rounded effort.

Hollow ride is exposed by the transmission bumps, which thump through into the cabin and begin to disrupt the level of grip

But the naturally athletic, effortlessly agile and involving feel of the previous car is notable by its absence.

Slightly overly light, elastic-feeling steering is your first indication that all might not be well with the Swift’s driving experience – which, after the limp gearshift we’ve already mentioned, brings the underwhelming but more closely related Baleno to mind much more readily than the previous Swift.

Around town, the obliging lightness of the Swift’s wheel makes junctions and car parks easy to negotiate, but at B-road and motorway pace, the rack is notably short of on-centre feel and relative high-speed stability, and it has a tendency to wander slightly if you’re not always concentrating on your lane position.

At a basic level, the Swift can certainly cope with being driven keenly. Its grip level is fairly strong, its directional response smart, its handling balance respectable and its body control decent.

But on those four respects, the new Swift is a lot closer to the dynamic standards of the average supermini than the previous one was.

At times, the car strays towards a feeling of stodginess in its cornering manners and begins to heel over just a little bit too hard on its outside wheels to convince you that it’s truly game for a giggle.

Its ride, meanwhile, is more busy, hollow and resonant than that of its  more mature-feeling European-built rivals, and it doesn’t handle sharper ridges and bumps as well.

Those are the kinds of compromises you might willingly accept for a keen, precise and engaging drive, of course – but when they come without the same pay-off in a car that’s plainly trying but struggling to seem like a more rounded prospect than it used to be, they’re much more conspicuous.

The Swift does a willing enough job of replicating the zesty character of its predecessor, but it quickly begins to fray when you drive it hard.

The car’s grip level is high enough to put questions about basic stability and security well out of the picture, but it’s ultimately undermined by gathering body roll that gradually levers enough front tyre contact patch off the tarmac to create understeer.

Initial directional response and cornering balance aren’t of the sort you’d need to tease any handling adjustability out of the car, either.

Suzuki’s electronic stability control remains in the background until it’s genuinely needed. It works well to keep tabs on throttle-on understeer mid-corner, and you can turn it off as and when you want to.


Suzuki Swift

Regardless of which specification you go for, the Swift is excellent value compared with its rivals. It’s available in three different trim levels – SZ3, SZ-T and SZ-5 – with prices starting at £10,999.

For that, you get the 1.2-litre petrol engine and a cabin equipped with DAB radio, Bluetooth and air-con, but we’d recommend jumping up to SZ-T.

Values hold up well against the Kia Rio and trounce the much bigger-selling Vauxhall Corsa three years out

That is available with only the 1.0-litre turbo engine and adds a few niceties such as a reversing camera, bigger, 16in alloy wheels and a smartphone-linkable 7.0in infotainment touchscreen.

Top-spec SZ5 gets sat-nav, electric rear windows and keyless entry and start, but the Swift makes more sense as a cheaper car and the mid-spec model offers enough for most.

It undercuts the Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia and Ford Fiesta by some thousands, with more generous equipment levels to boot.

Not only is it cheap to buy, but with small engines, the running costs are predictably low as well, even if you go for all-wheel drive or an automatic transmission.

The 1.2-litre model emits just 98g/km of CO2 and combined fuel economy is listed at 65.7mpg. The 1.0-litre unit emits 104g/km of CO2 and returns a claimed 61.4mpg, and the mild hybrid brings down running costs further. Those figures closely match the Swift’s main rivals.

Residuals are strong, too.

All Swift models get a three-year or 60,000-mile warranty, and if you want to sell the car on after that, used price expert CAP forecasts a retained value of 41 percent for an SZ3 model and 39 percent for an SZ-T variant.  



3.5 star Suzuki Swift

It speaks to our regard for the previous Swift that its replacement – an ostensibly respectable addition to the supermini ranks – at times seems a faintly less compelling prospect.

For once, this has little to do with fundamental fitness for purpose and a good deal more to do with the areas where the old Swift righteously delivered more than could reasonably be expected for the price.

Improved in some important aspects but no longer beguiling to drive

Certainly in styling, handling and general refinement, the model seems to have made too little objective progress.

Conversely, in other avenues – not least those related to practicality, performance and efficiency – it has crept tellingly ahead.

Bigger, lighter, quicker: these are not virtues easily won. On balance, then, the result is much as before.

On its obvious merits, the Swift offers impressive value for money, to the point where it embarrasses some of the big-name competition.

But it has bettered none of them in old-fashioned, good-to-drive desirability – and that registers as something of an anticlimax. Unfortunately that means the new Swift doesn’t trouble our top five, with the Nissan Micra, Volkswagen Polo, Mazda 2, Mini One and class leader Ford Fiesta all proving to be more compelling options.


Suzuki Swift 2017-2024 First drives