How New Zealand takes to Suzuki's latest Swift could make or break the brand here. The outgoing car took 60 per cent of its sales, and was second on sales charts last year, ahead of Holden's Commodore, despite nearing the end of a venerable six-year lifespan.
What's new This Swift is billed as an evolution but at first glance it hasn't changed.
That's an illusion though, because a new platform supports a body that's 95mm longer for better crash safety, with a wheelbase extended 40mm for improved on-road stability.
The cabin's not much bigger, but customers sought more space in the back, so reshaped front seats on wider runners give greater rear legroom.
The new 1.4-litre engine is smaller, lighter, more rigid and uses less fuel. It's mounted in a stiffer body, using the same basic Mac strut front and torsion beam rear suspension set-up but tweaked for better roll stiffness.
Double door sealing and more rigid connections between the engine and transmission have reduced cabin noise; even the steering ratio has been re-tuned.
Seven airbags and stability control as standard helped it to a five-star crash test rating. Swift scored better than Audi's A1 in terms of occupant, child and passenger protection.
The company line Swift's chief engineer, Naoyuki Takeuchi, says th Japanese design team was based in Italy. "They need fresh atmosphere for a better design. I think they want to stay in Italy."
Given that one aim was timeless style, no doubt their location was appropriate. They were tasked with supplying a more frugal car with sportier handling and better fit and finish, with the same fun character and distinctive look, only more so, without boosting the price to match.
The GL manual opens the range at $19,990, including keyless entry, air-con, seven airbags and stability control. The five-car line-up is capped by the Limited auto at $24,990, including 16-inch alloy wheels and fog lights.
The outgoing $26,990 1.6-litre Sport is still available, while stocks last. Its replacement will take another year.
What we say The cabin redesign with pleasant surfaces disguising affordable materials is smart if conservative, and well thought out with extra cupholders and pockets, and nice touches such as the fold-down handbag hook within easy reach of the driver seat.
On the road Those who love the old Swift's joyful-on-road persona will also love its replacement.
It is nimble, delightfully well-balanced and happy to be hurled around by a keen driver, without compromising the suspension compliance essential for comfort. Shame there's only a four-speed auto though. Suzuki says this perky engine doesn't need five cogs, but we disagree. Sedate buyers won't mind but those who want to make the most of the dynamic talents will feel short-changed.
Why you'll buy one You want an attractive small car that delivers an enjoyable drive experience at a reasonable price; and the crash test rating appeals.
Why you won't The boot is still too small; the car is still too small; you'd prefer an edgier design.