USED CAR GURU: Top tips for buying a used Suzuki Swift (2010-17)
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Welcome to a new series where we zero in on some of New Zealand's most popular used cars: what you need to know and what to look out for.
The "guru" in the headline isn't necessarily DRIVEN (we wouldn't be so conceited!), because we'll also be including real-life advice and opinion from people who own, drive and run these cars every day.
We're kicking off with one of the most popular cars on Kiwi roads: the Suzuki Swift. It sold strongly new, it's been hugely popular as a used import and a result there are a vast number to choose from new. It's arguably the closest thing NZ has to a classless car: it seems to appeal to virtually every demographic and age group.
The Swift badge has been around since the 1980s, in differing guises for different countries. But when Kiwis think "Swift" we're mostly thinking of the reborn model line that started back in 2005, with its perky "floating roof" styling and wheel-at-each-corner stance.
So in terms of model generations we've made a reset by calling that 2005 model number one, followed by the second generation in 2010 and the current third-generation model from 2017.
We're focusing on that second-gen 2010-17 version here, as that's the sweet spot where quality, price and supply overlap nicely. But if you do fancy an earlier model, check these out.
The cheeky (almost Mini-like) styling of the first-gen Swift was one of its biggest selling points according to Suzuki's research, so it kept the same look for its successor. But that first version is truly tiny, whereas the newer model was bumped up in size, including a 50mm stretch in the wheelbase. It's a more practical proposition all-round.
It's hard to be too specific about powertrains in NZ as there's a bewildering array of models on the market, thanks to used imports. But most NZ-new models have a 1.4-litre engine, while a 1.2-litre is more common for ex-Japan cars. A 1.3-litre diesel (with a Fiat engine) was also offered in NZ for a short time.
You also have to separate the mainstream Swift from the even more highly regarded Sport, which has a larger 1.6-litre powerplant, special suspension and extra equipment. This generation of Sport was also the first to offer an automatic transmission - although enthusiasts raised their eyebrows at the time because it was a continuously variable gearbox. It's still a fun car, although truly keen drivers will prefer the manual.
Swift has been the centre of controversy in the past thanks to wildly varying safety ratings. As a new car, the post-2010 Swift was a five-star model according to the crash-lab tests of ANCAP (of which the NZ Government is a paying member). But under the different Used Car Safety Ratings system (also under the auspices of the NZ Government), which is calculated from "real world" crash data in NZ and Australia, it scores only one star.
The reasons for the difference are not clear and Swift is not the only vehicle to suffer such an anomaly - but it is the most famous. One key difference is that ANCAP covers only Australasian-spec cars, while UCSR will include used-imports with less safety equipment. But it's still a curious situation.
In general, the Swift is one of the most reliable used cars you can buy. A loose bolt on the automatic transmission is a common problem, but easily fixed. There have been occasional problems with the fuel clamp in Australia but the only recall in NZ for this model regarded a potential leak in the rear brakes.
Things to really look out for in the Swift are more small-car generic. It's a city car through and through, so check for parking damage, kerbed wheels and the like - a good indication not just of potential repairs but also whether the car has been loved by its current owner.
The interior is cheap and cheerful with a lot of hard plastic, so surface squeaks and rattles in the cabin are nothing to be concerned about.
DRIVEN readers also seem to be pretty happy with their Swifts. Tony Chapman loves the performance and comfort of his 2014 Sport (NZ-new) and has even been the first street car across the line at a couple of autocross events. But he can't understand why the speedometer is calibrated more for Europe, with km/h markings at 60, 90 and 120 - missing the major Kiwi speed limits of 50 and 100.
Chas Prince reckons replacement of the rear brake-light bulb is common and not that easy to undertake, requiring removal of the entire assembly.