It would be easy to make the case for a ‘Euro’ badge to be slapped on the rear of the 2017 Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo.
The badge was previously used by fellow Japanese brand Honda to none-too-subtly indicate to buyers that its medium-sized Accord Euro was targeted at Continental markets, compared with the basic US-based Accord also sold here. And the same has long been true with a Swift that has felt more Euro-focused than other Suzukis.
With its chic styling, a downsized three-cylinder turbo engine (very on-trend with German and Italian brands in particular) and new active safety technology, the GLX Turbo looks set to gel with the Swift’s typical emphasis on driver enjoyment.
At more than $20,000 driveaway, however, does this new-generation Suzuki Swift feel semi-premium enough to justify its price premium over regular model grades?
Vehicle Style: Light hatchback
Price: $22,990 (driveaway)
Engine/trans: 82kW/160Nm 1.0 three-cylinder turbo petrol | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.1 l/100km | Tested: 7.4 l/100km
Suzuki has installed national driveaway pricing for the Swift range, stepping up from $16,990 (GL) to $17,990 (GL Navigator) and $22,990 (GLX Turbo), with the latter duo featuring (continuously-variable or six-speed respectively) automatic gearboxes.
The GLX Turbo’s closest rival, the Mazda2 Genki auto, costs $22,690 plus on-road costs or $24,890 driveaway – so it effectively saves a Suzuki buyer $2200 or so.
Value-wise, the Volkswagen Polo Urban+ auto comes closest at $22,490 driveaway.
While this GLX Turbo lacks that rival’s heated front seats and auto-dimming rear-view mirror, as well as the Genki’s head-up display and blind-spot monitor, it exclusively boasts adaptive cruise control and auto up/down high-beam; as well as satellite navigation and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) lacking in the Urban+.
But be in no doubt that the Swift GLX Turbo starts from a very competitive position.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry with push-button start, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, single-zone climate control air-conditioning, cloth trim, adaptive cruise control and automatic on/off wipers and LED headlights with auto high-beam.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, satellite navigation, voice control and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 242 litres.
The Swift’s evolutionary exterior styling is matched by a cabin design that takes only incremental steps forward. Hard plastics still dominate, unlike in the Polo that – despite emerging in 2011 and being in the twilight years of its life – manages to integrate a more premium blend of soft-touch materials and savvy textures.
At least the fit-and-finish of this Japanese-built contender remains outstanding, while the overall design – as opposed to materials quality – remains driver-oriented.
The thin-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel is a delight to hold, and the front seats deliver an almost sports-car level of aggressive side bolstering. The dials, which include vertical speedometer and tachometer needles encircled in matte silver, look similarly slick and subtly sporting.
Perhaps the greatest leap forward of all, however, is in terms of technology.
Employing a new, high-resolution 7.0-inch touchscreen, Suzuki’s quadrant-tile infotainment system is delightfully simple to use and clear to view. The navigation system also boasts among the best voice control systems tested in any vehicle regardless of price, permitting a driver to ‘speak in’ an address in one sentence.
There are some gremlins in this system, though, which can occasionally be slow to respond to a finger press. It also lacks a digital radio, which is standard on Mazda2 Genki; although on the flipside it features Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring which doesn’t feature in that rival.
Even CarPlay proved glitchy on-test, though, only occasionally detecting the smartphone, despite always working in every other tested vehicle. An even greater glitch that would have us returning our Swift to the dealership is its poor radio reception, which contains plenty of static even in the city. Again, it isn’t an issue with any other press car; but it was for both the GLX Turbo tested here, and another GL.
Behind the front seats, however, and the Swift forms a nice niche for itself. It is much roomier than the old model, and more spacious and comfortable than the Mazda2, while not being quite as wonderfully accommodating as the Polo benchmark.
Legroom is very generous, rivalling the class-leading Honda Jazz in this regard, but headroom is slightly crimped. At this level especially, the otherwise comfortable back bench also needs extra tilt for its base, and the addition of overhead map lights.
The 242-litre boot, meanwhile, is average for the class. It’s about on par with a Mazda2 and slightly smaller than that in a Polo.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 82kW/160Nm 1.0 3cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear
- Brake: Ventilated front disc and rear drum brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Suzuki’s 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder engine is called Boosterjet, which sounds like a cute accessory from an Astro-Boy cartoon. But with 160Nm of torque from 1500rpm to 4000rpm, and 82kW of power at 5500rpm, it punches well above its weight.
Incidentally, its class-leading performance is partially down to a low kerb weight of 915kg in GLX Turbo specification. That hands this Swift a superb power-to-weight ratio of 90kW per tonne, versus between 74-75kW for both 1.5-litre non-turbo Mazda2 and 1.2-litre turbo Polo four-cylinder rivals.
Light weight pays dividends in terms of economy as well, with this Japanese contender posting claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption of 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres; only 0.2L/100km higher than the slower Mazda.
The three-cylinder sounds wonderfully charismatic, with a lust for sweeping the tachometer needle towards the top end. Yet it’s also silken and refined.
Mostly, the six-speed automatic is a fine partner. At its best, both downshifts and upshifts are slick enough to feel reminiscent of the eight-speed German ZF auto used in BMWs and others. But it only gets away with finding the tallest gear in any situation because the engine is simply so well endowed – ultimately, it needs a little extra intuition in its software coding to better understand when to hold lower gears.
A little extra finesse is likewise required with the Swift’s active safety systems, with the forward collision alert firing a barrage of beeps into the cabin after it incorrectly detects an issue – such as when going down an S-bend lane and facing oncoming parked cars, where it doesn’t know the driver is about to navigate around them.
On the upside, being over-protective is arguably better than the alternative, and Suzuki’s AEB can detect pedestrians and cars between 5km/h and 100km/h and apply the brakes if need be. A Mazda2 system, by comparison, tops out at 80km/h.
Teamed with auto high-beam and lane-departure alert, the GLX Turbo is among the most comprehensively safety-equipped vehicles in the light car segment.
Beyond the engine’s excellence, the new Swift is also up there with the finest driving vehicles in the class. After years of missed opportunities, Suzuki has finally developed an electric power steering system that is light, sharp and yet consistent.
Lightweight on-paper it may be, but the GLX Turbo feels solid and grown-up on the road, with suspension that strikes a delightful balance between comfort and control.
Its handling is rewardingly nippy and agile, encouraging dynamic driving in the same way a Mazda2 does, while being all the more spirited in performance and planted in response to mid-corner bumps.
Only intrusive road noise – as is often the case in light cars – spoils an otherwise near-flawless ride and refinement scorecard.
ANCAP rating: N/A
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, rear-view camera, lane-departure alert and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) active between 5km/h and 100km/h.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Below-par six-month or 10,000km intervals, with the first three services each costing $175 according to Suzuki’s capped price program, followed by $429 (fourth check), $175 (fifth) and $329 (sixth) to three years or 60,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There is a reason the Mazda2 and Polo are nominated as prime competitors – they remain the best in class. And yet the Swift seems to offer the spirit of the former with the all-rounder resolve of the latter.
A Clio and Fabia do as well, but they lack the same equipment equation, while the very popular Accent, Yaris and Rio are best served as base models – they are out of their depth approaching $20,000 and beyond.
- Hyundai Accent Sport
- Kia Rio SLi
- Mazda2 Genki
- Renault Clio Intens
- Skoda Fabia 81TSI
- Toyota Yaris ZR
- Volkswagen Polo Urban+
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
European-savvy the new Swift is, but it also blends together classic Japanese attributes of high build quality and strong value in top GLX Turbo specification.
From the infotainment operation to the active safety systems to the automatic calibration, there is still room for ulimtate finesse with this new hatchback – but it is easily forgiveable given that it costs about $20,500 taking away on-road costs.
Give it a manual transmission – just like Euro buyers love – and with a pricetag starting with a ‘1’ the Swift GLX Turbo would approach a five-star performance given its superb engine, great ride and handling blend, and pleasant cabin.
For now, call it very highly rated, and absolutely right up there with its formidable Japanese and European arch rivals.
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