HAVE you ever hopped into a car for the first time and immediately thought, “this feels right”?
First impressions count, but relatively few cars in my experience have nailed that initial metaphorical handshake. However, the ones that do get off on the right foot all have one thing in common – they tend to do pretty damn well when time comes to put them through the Wheels COTY wringer.
Last year, Volvo’s outstanding XC60 – winner of COTY 2018 – was one of the cars that instantly gelled, as did the runner-up Alfa Romeo Giulia. Surprise, surprise, previous COTY alumni like the ND MX-5, BMW i3, Toyota 86 and Peugeot 308 also impressed me right from the get-go, whether at their respective media launches or when picking them up for my first seven-day loan.
And so it was with the fifth-generation Suzuki Swift. When I first hopped in one, right after its mid-2017 launch, the good vibes were instant. The relationship between seat, pedals, shifter and wheel were spot-on, the seat itself seemed tailored to my dimensions and everything looked and felt like it had been designed, engineered and assembled with care – even if the plastics were rock-hard.
Little surprise that it then went on to become a finalist at COTY 2018, let down mainly by a range structure that penalised those who wanted a manual by cruelly making AEB, a reversing camera and a touchscreen infotainment suite available only on specced-up automatic models. Word on the street is that this particular shortfall might be rectified later this year.
So it’s good to be getting some more seat time in the Swift, though my stint in this Pure White GLX Turbo is going to be brief – it’ll be in the Wheels garage for just two months before it’s replaced by a manual Swift Sport. However it’s not just a primer for the hotter, sexier, and more exciting Sport, but also an opportunity to get reacquainted with the regular Swift and see if more time behind the wheel shows up any additional faults or niggles that might raise their head in day-to-day driving.
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Fresh off the boat with just 23km showing on the odo when I collected it from Suzuki’s head office, AQH537 has so far served well. Its lovely 1.0-litre Boosterjet turbo triple makes 82kW and 160Nm which is more than enough to pull its featherweight 945kg mass along, though the six-speed auto’s preference for high gears can see the rpm hovering at a number that feels too low for a light car, resulting in noticeable low-frequency exhaust noise and vibration.
It’s not actually an issue – this engine delivers its full torque output from just 1500rpm right up to 4000rpm – but it can feel like it’s labouring. After a lifetime of exposure to plenty of wheezy light hatches that need stacks of revs to get anywhere, the Swift GLX Turbo’s low-end grunt requires a slight recalibration of expectations.
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There is, however a weird step on the way up through first gear during hard acceleration that feels like the transmission momentarily slips. It doesn’t seem like a fault and I’ve witnessed the exact same thing in a different car, but considering the Boosterjet mechanicals are otherwise so very impressive, something like that stands out.
Deputy Editor Enright also complained about a sketchy connection between his phone and the Swift’s built-in Android Auto smartphone mirroring, but I’ve yet to discover those same gremlins. Reality is, with the integrated sat-nav screen already being quite user-friendly I haven’t felt a great need to plug my phone in so far.
Out of the box, then, there aren’t many things that require improvement, though let’s see what happens once we’re out of the honeymoon period.
By Tony O'Kane
THIS GLX Turbo was only meant to be a stop-gap until I step into a Swift Sport, but in the two months it’s spent in my hands a trend became quite apparent – virtually everyone who came into contact with the little Suzi loved it.
And it wasn’t the kind of affection that only revealed itself after the inevitable “so whaddya think?”. No. These feelings were almost always voiced without prompting, and often before the driver’s seatbelt was unlatched. Remember how I said last month that the Swift makes a profoundly positive first impression? Turns out I’m not the only one who feels that way.
So what endears it to people? Interestingly, no single attribute seems to stand out. Rather it’s how complete and well-rounded the whole package feels. “It just works”, was one morsel of feedback, which sounds like the response most non-tech-savvy people give when asked why they like iPhones.
It’s also made me a convert to smartphone mirroring. Suzuki’s multi-fit touchscreen infotainment package is a good example of how entry-level infotainment should be done, with plenty of features, clear graphics and an intuitive user interface, although some in the office have had issues with wired smartphone connection. Once cranked up, Android Auto has added functionality on top of to the Suzi’s system like being able to preselect a drive route on Google Maps via my work computer before I get in the car. Once I’ve sent the route to my phone and plugged it into the Swift, I’m ready to go as soon as I start the ignition.
Touches like that just make life a little bit easier.
The Swift isn’t perfect, mind you. Trips on coarse-chip highways saw me cranking up the audio volume to antisocial levels to drown out the tyre roar, and it’d be nice to have some kind of rubbery or flocked lining in the centre console to stop phones and keys from sliding on the rock-hard plastics.
The three-pot is also a little vibey at idle, but hey, triple-cylinder engines have always had tricky harmonics, and the laws of physics are hard to cheat.
There’s also the issue of price – $22K buys you a lot of kit and capability in the GLX Turbo but a cloud has recently appeared on its horizon in the shape of the just-landed sixth-gen Volkswagen Polo, which has a top-spec model at an identical price point. Sure, the Polo 85TSI misses out on climate control, standard sat-nav and a few other luxuries, but it feels properly premium.
Had I not driven it right after handing back the Swift GLX Turbo, I would have said Suzuki had a solid position of leadership in the light car segment.