What is it?
Believe it or not, the Suzuki Swift has been around in one form or another since 1985 and in that time it has worked its way into the hearts and minds of everyone, from typical hatchback buyers to track day enthusiasts.
How, you might ask? Well, the second-generation Swift (released in 2005) and its mildly tweaked follow up managed to hit the ideal supermini superfecta: it was affordable, pretty enough to stand out from the crowd, came with a choice of three- and five-door variants and was, most importantly, utterly beguiling to drive.
However, times change and the secret to supermini success no longer looks quite so straightforward, with diversity now the aim of the game. Suzuki currently offers three small hatchbacks, in the form of the Baleno, Ignis and aforementioned Swift, with other marques such as Vauxhall and Ford offering similar head-scratching levels of variety.
Clearly, if manufacturers are to be believed, giving buyers maximum choice is the key to sales success - which goes some way to explaining this four-wheel drive Swift. According to Suzuki, its Allgrip technology gives the hatchback a unique selling point in the supermini market. A claim, which on paper, certainly looks believable.
Previously, if you wanted all-wheel drive in a compact package, you’d have to opt for a Fiat Panda 4x4 or a more expensive crossover. Instead, the Swift is available with Allgrip for a not unreasonable £1000 premium over a similarly equipped 1.0-litre. There are some compromises, however, if you want that go anywhere ability.
Unsurprisingly, all-wheel drive is only available in top-spec trim, and you can’t have it mated to our favourite 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine. Therefore you have to settle for the 89bhp, naturally aspirated 1.2-litre four-cylinder Dualjet motor; an engine which already felt underpowered in the lighter front-wheel drive variant we tested earlier this year.
That said, even with a hybrid system and four-wheel drive, the Swift still comes in at under 1000kg. So perhaps it will still have that stellar handling that we’ve come to know and love. We take to the Peak District to find out.
What's it like?
As with the 1.0-litre SHVS Boosterjet, the mild hybrid system is slick in its operation, with the integrated starter generator allowing for smooth and relatively silent restarts when pulling away. Combined with light steering, a slick six-speed manual gearbox and a firm yet consistent ride, the Swift is breeze to guide around town.
It’s only when you leave the confines of an urban environment that you start to question the relevance of both the four-wheel drive system and naturally aspirated 1.2-litre engine. Despite our full-fat test car weighing just 980kg, it’s immediately obvious that you have to work the little four-cylinder far harder than the front-wheel drive three-cylinder Boosterjet. Long uphill drags require a low gear and plenty of revs, while overtakes demand an unnerving mix of bravery and momentum.
Thankfully, maintaining momentum is one of the Swift’s fortes. With a lighter and stiffer platform than its predecessor – a car universally praised for its dynamic prowess – the little Suzuki is genuinely entertaining on the right road. Despite some initial body roll, once turned in the Swift feels stable, well balanced and if provoked, adjustable. Granted, the steering lacks the off-centre directness of the formidable Ford Fiesta, but it is certainly the best of the rest.
That said, the very same can be said for the cheaper and more economical front-wheel drive variants. Ultimately, after a day of blasting around a wet and windy Peak District, it was hard to see the appeal of the four-wheel drive system. Push the Swift to the very limit of adhesion and the viscous coupling does a good job of stabilising your line, but the same effect could be achieved with a lift of throttle or some well-calculated braking. Unless you live on a farm or find yourself driving frequently on rutted low grip tracks, stick with the front drivers.
Interior-wise, our top-of-the-range UK-spec SZ5 came packed with kit. Sat-nav, Apple Car Play, autonomous braking, LED headlamps, adaptive cruise control and 16-inch alloys are all standard. Which is just as well really, because interior quality is still some way off the competition. That’s not to say it feels cheap, but the materials choice isn't a match for supermini rivals such as the Skoda Fabia and Mini Cooper.
Should I buy one?
On paper, the fitting of a four-wheel drive system to the Swift has been a rather successful affair. The weight penalty is minimal, fuel economy is relatively unaffected (62.8mpg plays the standard car’s 65.7mpg) and the Allgrip produces just 3g/km more CO2.
However, in reality, there’s very little benefit to choosing the all-wheel drive model. With only 89bhp, the Swift isn’t exactly calling out for extra grip, and the 1.2-litre engine lacks the impressive in-gear flexibility of the turbocharged 1.0-litre motor.
The last generation Swift succeeded due to its affordable price, engaging handling and attractive styling, and on all three points, this top-of-the-range model fails to move the game on. For us, simplicity is still the order of the day.
Suzuki Swift 1.2 Dualjet SHVS Allgrip SZ5 2017
Location Peak District; On sale June; Price £15,499; Engine 4 cyls, 1242cc, petrol; Power 89bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 88lb ft at 4400rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 980kg; Top speed 105mph; 0-62mph 12.6sec; Economy 62.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 101g/km, 19%