Originally a well-known Japanese motorcycle manufacturer, Suzuki made the transition to 4-wheelers rather successfully to become a credible player in the global automobile arena. Though it has not matched Honda, another company which began with motorcycles, it has nevertheless maintained an independent streak which has seen it focus on segments where it has found great potential.
The independent character of Suzuki has been partly due to the company being run by a family member, Osamu Suzuki. The nimbleness of the company and some bold initiatives could only have been achieved because one man was calling the shots, rather than the usual consensus approach that the big Japanese companies follow. And it’s worked with some successes, the most notable being the Swift.
This model actually goes back to the 1980s when the first generation was launched. It was a hatchback that was larger than the minicars Suzuki was making then and was a competent product. Then there was a big gap of about 20 years when the Swift line seemed to drop out of sight though a successor model continued with other names.
As the 2000s began, Suzuki started to see Europe as a place where it could penetrate further, especially since it was making good hatchbacks. A lot of effort was put into developing a model that the European customers would like and Suzuki was also betting a lot on it doing well because it also built a factory in Hungary to produce cars for the European market.
The new Swift, when it appeared in 2004 (2005 in Malaysia), was impressive and a notch above other Japanese hatchbacks. It even looked different and had a rather firm and solid European feel with commendable driving dynamics. The Sport version was a hot little hatchback that was much sought after too.
Most Japanese models have a life cycle of 5 years but Suzuki has extended the Swift’s to 6 years. It may have been because the company is small and it needed an extra year of sales to get sufficient volumes for economies of scale (2.9 million units have been sold worldwide). However, a Suzuki insider said that it was also because the Swift has been selling well all these years and that’s not surprising because it still looks pretty good rather than dated. A test-drive in the second generation recently showed that its driving dynamics are still pretty good compared to the latest crop of hatchbacks in the same class.
Though the first appearance of the third generation was in September 2010, its launch in Malaysia has been dependent on Thai production where the CKD packs come from for assembly at the DRB-HICOM complex in Pekan, Pahang.
The new Swift is a significant model in Thailand where it qualifies for ‘eco-car’ benefits that lower its price for buyers.
At a glance, the new generation looks rather like the old one and you need to put old and new together to see that there are differences in the lights and details. In a way, there is a little bit of ‘maturity’ in the design but the original look that was inspired on the Concept S models is retained and still looks good in 2013.
What can’t be seen is the change in the bodyshell which is lighter than before even though it is marginally larger – 95 mm longer and 5 mm wider. It is also more rigid so that should improve driving dynamics. Further enhancement to stability comes from wider tracks as well.
The lightening of the body, thanks to more extensive use of lighter high-tensile steel, has allowed the engine to be reduced in displacement to give better fuel economy. The new K14B VVT engine is a 1.4-litre unit, about 100 cc less than the previous Swift’s and produces 95 ps with 130 Nm of torque (previously 101 ps/133 Nm).
However, as the new Swift now weighs 1,000 kgs, the weight-to-power ratio is better and performance is not lost while fuel economy has improved (factory testing in Japan has achieved 16.13 kms/litre against 15.38 kms/litre for the previous 1.5-litre model)
Only a 4-speed automatic transmission is offered in Malaysia and this is a conventional torque converter type. In Thailand, the 1.2-litre Swift uses a CVT as the emphasis is entirely on fuel economy.
The suspension has not been changed but has been reworked for greater roll stiffness. Less roll gives the car better stability when cornering at high speeds. The torsion beam rear suspension has an enhanced inclination angle for the bushings which yields 50% more lateral rigidity in the mountings and improves toe control. Also, a new structure for the torsion beam reduces weight.
Specially-designed low-play joints in the steering-column shaft are said to yield a firmer, more linear steering feel. The steering system has a new variable-gear-ratio design which gives quicker response when the rack is near the centre but ‘slows’ down near the steering wheel’s turning limits to reduce the effort required of the driver for bigger turns.
It’s nice to see that Suzuki has provided disc brakes on the rear wheels (with aluminium calipers) as well and needless to say, the car comes with ABS + EBD and Brake Assist. Standard alloy rims are 16 inches in diameter with 185/55 tyres.
The interior is pretty much the same as before, which is to say spacious in relation to the compact exterior. A new black-and-silver interior design gives a sporty ambience with a touch of class. The instrument panel is distinguished by contrasts between a black keytone colour and sharp silver-coloured details. On the seats, there are silver-coloured details on black fabric.
For convenience, the new Swift uses an engine start/stop button instead of a key and audio controls are provided on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The air-conditioning system is an automatic type and there’s also keyless entry (just press a button in the door handle). It seems that the new Swift comes pretty well equipped as all this is offered in the single version being distributed by Suzuki Malaysia.
For those who want something more personalised, there’s the GLX-S version which comes with a package of Suzuki genuine accessories such a bodykit, front sport sticker, grill garnish and door sill guards. This is an extra RM5,300 more and is only available for cars with a white finish.
The previous Swift was assembled locally but for the time being, the new one is being imported as a CBU model from Thailand with a retail price of RM77,888 (with insurance). There are plans to start assembling locally and it’s not known whether the equipment will be the same and whether there will be a price difference. By right, local assembly should see some reduction in price and also allow Suzuki Malaysia to offer local variations as it did previously. And for those who wonder if the new Swift Sport will be available, that will come from Japan later in the year.
SCENES FROM THE LAUNCH
Prefer the old Swift? Click here for a selection of secondhand models in our 24-Hour showroom
[by Chips Yap]