Make no mistake, the small car market is a tough environment in which to exist. Look beyond the cutesy appearance and cheeky persona and you’ll find that the modern supermini is a tough little cookie. I won’t go as far as saying it’s a war out there, but there’s a battle for supremacy being fought and small cars don’t pull their punches.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the best selling car in the UK in 2010 and therefore the biggest selling small car was the Ford Fiesta, with some 103k finding new homes. The Vauxhall Corsa sold over 77k, the Volkswagen Polo notched up nearly 46k with the Mini knocking on the door of 42k. This isn’t to mention the likes of the Fiat 500, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Micra and a plethora of other superminis jockeying for position.
For generations, the supermini has been at the centre of UK fashion and social culture. From the days when Twiggy and The Beatles were seen stepping out of their Minis, small cars have touched every part of our lives. The vast majority of us would have taken our first tentative steps on the road behind the wheel of a small car emblazoned with big red letter Ls. Our first cars will inevitably have been on the small side and by the time we reach our later years in life, we’ll probably return to the convenience and simplicity of a supermini. It’s just the way it is. Small cars represent big business for the manufacturers.
But finding a foothold in the sector is tough. The Fiat 500 and Mini remain coveted badges in the supermini war, with the Fiesta and Corsa dominating the sales charts month on month. Other superminis have to shout a little louder to get noticed.
One such car is the Suzuki Swift. It’s over a year since the new Swift was launched in the UK and with the launch of the new Sport imminent, I decided it was time to see what the standard car is like. Regular readers of PetrolBlog will already know of my love for the outgoing Swift Sport and I was also impressed with the Swift 4×4 when I sampled it earlier in the year.
On first impressions, you’d be forgiven for thinking the new Swift is just a mild facelift on the old car. But looks can be deceptive and this is an entirely new car, being some 90mm longer, 10mm higher and 5mm wider than the last Swift. The result is that the Swift never feels like a small car, looking big on the outside and feeling spacious on the inside. Sadly the generous interior space comes at the expense of boot capacity, with just 211 litres of room, compared to 295 in the Fiesta.
I drove the 1.2 litre petrol engined Swift with the top specification SZ4 trim level. This adds climate control, fog lamps, push button start, cruise control, Bluetooth, automatic headlights and rear privacy glass to an already generous level of equipment. Suzuki’s keyless entry impressed me once again and I always find myself missing it as soon I get back into a car without it. Add the steering wheel controls and USB/iPod connectivity and you’ll see that living with the Swift is easy. At £12,985 it’s bloody good value too, especially when you factor in a combined MPG figure of 56.5mpg.
The 93bhp engine is lively and perfectly adequate around town, but as you’d expect, it does tend to run out of puff on dual carriageways and motorways, especially during climbs. But I took the little Swift on a 200 mile round trip to Cornwall and a similar length journey to Wiltshire and it never felt uncomfortable or out of its depth. A sixth gear would help at motorway speeds, but seeing as the Swift will spend most of its time in the city, this isn’t a major issue.
It’s not a prerequisite for a small car to be fun in the city, but with urban driving so often a torturous experience, it certainly helps. Fortunately for the Suzuki Swift, this is another area where the car scores highly. With the car weighing just a fraction over 1000kg, the 1.2 litre engine doesn’t have to work that hard to get the best from it. But, like the outgoing Swift Sport, it’s a delightful car to push through the entire rev range, so you’ll spend some time nudging the red line with a huge grin on your face. Put the generous spec aside for a moment – ‘basic’ small cars shouldn’t be this much fun. There’s no Sport button or garish decals to signify any intent, but the Swift 1.2 is a dark horse. I’m not sure a supermini can be classed as a ‘Q-car’, but if it can, then the Swift 1.2 most certainly is one.
Take the Swift out of the city and on to a B-road and you’ll find that the Swift continues to impress. The level of grip is high with little body roll, making the Swift a surprisingly good car to chuck around corners. The steering is a little on the light side and short on real feedback to make a case for it to be a real drivers’ car, but the turn-in is good and it’s great fun to string a few bends together. The key to enjoyment in the Swift is to keep the revs high and maintain momentum. It’s a highly rewarding experience.
It’s really hard to find fault with the Suzuki Swift. The interior is well put together and very well laid out. For sure, it’s not remotely exciting, but it is functional and actually rather stylish. It’s not fashionable, but then this means it will never go out of fashion.
Other minor irritants? Well, the ridiculously oversized door mirrors wouldn’t look out of place on the Vitara and seem to create a degree of wind noise at high speeds, but I really am nitpicking here. There’s very little to dislike about the Swift.
I really think the Swift deserves greater credit. It’s probably closer to the ethos of the original Mini than the new Mini is and, in my opinion at least, has been shamefully overlooked in the European Car of the Year awards.
But then perhaps it’s better left as an underdog. Suzuki has set an annual target of 10k UK sales, just 10% of that of the Ford Fiesta. That’s just 10k enlightened people who will enjoy a good looking, well put together and supremely fun supermini. The Suzuki badge may not hold any kudos points for UK buyers, but with the company’s strong track record in reliability and good after-sales service, the smart money could be on the Swift. It’s the kind of car you can foresee never letting you down.
Which all bodes well for the launch of the new Swift Sport. A car I’m off to test drive tomorrow. Watch this space…