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Swift suddenly finds its form

Suzuki, the Japanese car maker best known for niche 4x4s and budget cars, is about to take its first step in a major global reinvention. It comes in the shape of this car – the all-new Swift, on sale in the UK next month.

Previous Swifts have generally been overlooked in the UK, and justifiably so. You’re most likely to have come across the previous model as a European hire car, which tells you all you need to know: it was cheap, unsophisticated and readily disposable.

Not so the new one. Instead of importing typically Japanese cars to Europe, Suzuki has recognised that it needs to think European if it’s going to succeed in the supermini sector. As a result, this new Swift has been designed in Europe, by Europeans, will be built at a new facility in Hungary and is expected to appeal in Europe more than anywhere else.

So should the makers of the UK’s biggest-selling superminis be concerned? Perhaps. As soon as you clap eyes on the new Swift, you can tell its game has been raised. This is a wide, substantial car with chunky shoulders and a distinctive face, and the stance and proportions are genuinely attractive.

Inside, an even more significant revolution has taken place. Where there was once a hotch-potch of cheap plastics and unappealing switchgear, now there is an uncomplicated combination of dark grey and graphite silver trim. The controls are solid-looking and thoughtfully positioned and the materials appear upmarket.They’re not quite as impressive to the touch, though, and the cloth upholstery on the seats feels a little thin, but all things considered, it’s a very laudable effort.

It’s not all good news, however. We drove the 1.5-litre GLX five-door model. With its keyless entry system, air conditioning, 15-inch alloy wheels and sports exhaust it will be the UK range-topper. However, even with variable valve timing it produces just 101bhp at 5900rpm, and is slightly coarse and boomy.

At urban speeds the engine remains unobtrusive, and it’s no hardship rowing up and down the five gears using the short-throw gearshift, but there’s an edge of harshness to both the powertrain and the ride that is at odds with the rest of the car. From a mechanical and dynamic perspective it is still a vast improvement over the previous Swift, and acceptable for the class, but if it’s aiming for the top these shortcomings show how far Suzuki still has to come.

The new Swift is no Honda Jazz for practicality, either. There’s just 213 litres of boot space (Jazz 353 litres), and while the rear seats split/fold (60/40), they don’t slide fore and aft. There’s also not much in the way of rear headroom.

At an estimated price of £9500, this GLX range-topper is probably not the model to go for, but we suspect the £7800, 91bhp, 1.3-litre GL deserves further investigation.

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