What is it?
It’s facelift time for the Suzuki Swift, and there are range tweaks and a new 4x4 variant to contemplate, too. The non-Sport Swift’s reprofiled front bumper, new wheels and revised upholstery pattern testify to the limited scope of the aesthetic alterations. There are also minor but handy upgrades, like a parcel shelf that’s now tied to the tailgate.
But the salient news starts here: the warm Swift Sport 1.6-litre can now be had with five doors and a fifth seat for £500 extra, and the 1.3-litre diesel becomes around seven per cent cleaner and only available in top-dollar SZ4 trim.
The party piece is the 4x4, though, which engages the impressive Fiat Panda 4x4 head-on. Like the Fiat, the Swift 4x4 employs a viscous coupling to give full-time four-wheel drive that sends more twist rearwards when the front wheels struggle. While the Panda gains 50mm in ride height, the Swift rises just 25mm, and ground clearance is actually unaltered (at 140mm) due to a low-slung rear differential. Boot space is unaffected, though.
There’s no poverty SZ2 4x4, and the SZ3 variant apes its front-drive counterpart for looks and kit (alloys, air-con, Bluetooth and front fogs are highlights) for a premium of £1200, while subtle front and rear skid plates and black side skirts and wheel-arch edges join the SZ4’s extensive spec list that now includes LED running lights, folding mirrors, keyless start and cruise control. It costs £1800 more than the equivalent front-driver.
What's it like?
All 4x4 Swifts have five doors and use the modest but sweet-spinning 1.2-litre VVT four-pot petrol engine to produce 93bhp and 87lb ft, dispatched through a five-speed manual transmission who’s gearing has been slightly shortened. Thankfully the ’box is neat and nippy, because you’ll want to keep revs between 4500 and 6000rpm for decent progress, especially if gravity is against you. The engine’s fizzing isn’t a burden at those levels, though, and it’s near silent at just over 3000rpm when cruising in fifth.
Four-wheel drive adds 65kg, but kerb weight still barely breaches the tonne, and the extra ride height doesn’t damage handling composure much: roll and dive are well bridled, and nicely judged damping lends tidy body control. The ride is generally very good, with some motorway fidgeting a minor complaint.
Push the Swift to its traditional washout point and the viscous coupling quietly does its business to stabilise your line, contributing both safety and a good helping of fun. Loose-surface getaways were also well controlled, and a rutted forest track left the car’s underside unscathed. Switch to winter tyres (which Suzuki can assist with) when the nights draw in and you’ll have a strong package with which to tackle slippery surfaces. Dynamically, steering remains the weak point – it’s direct all right, but its lightness can border on disconcerting.
Should I buy one?
There’s little between the Panda 4x4 TwinAir and Swift 4x4 SZ3 in price (just under £14,000), performance, economy and spec. The Fiat looks more rugged outside and more interesting inside, and is more capacious with rear seats folded, but the Suzuki is more capable on-road, potentially more reliable and its rear pews split as standard. It’s a close contest, but factor in the VAT-equivalent discount offered on non-Sport Swifts until the end of September and it’s advantage Suzuki.