Suzuki teach an old dog new tricks with new Swift RS
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What's the best driver's car on a budget?
It's such a common question that it comes with a list of requisite answers. The Mazda MX-5, the E30 BMW 3 Series, any Nissan Silvia that hasn't been beaten half to death by some irresponsible member of the backwards-hat mob with no knowledge of mechanical sympathy ... they're all in there.
And I chuck the Suzuki Swift in that pile, too. As odd as that sounds.
Surprisingly sharp, hilariously fun handling has always been the Swift's strong point -- often achieved with minimal weight and a playful chassis.
But, whereas the Swift's been almost unchanged for the past seven years, its competition has bulked up and done their homework, leaving the nameplate looking a bit "agricultural" by comparison.
Clearly, Suzuki wanted to change that with the new one.
The list of features that accompanied this range-topping RS is impressive.
Some of them -- Bluetooth connectivity, reversing camera, satnav -- are commonplace for cars in this hatchback space these days. But then you get to the big stuff; Apple Carplay and Android Auto, automatically dipping headlights, and adaptive cruise control.
The latter is a feature that sets the Swift apart from many of its main rivals. In fact, in our travels we couldn't find anything cheaper with adaptive cruise.
Auckland | Wairau Valley
$130.28 p/w $521.12 p/m
It's standard in this $25,990 RS, as well as in the cheaper $24,500 GLX. The $19,990 (manual) GL base model has to make do with standard, old-hat, cruise control.
All these gizmos are complemented by a slew of safety features. Lane-departure warning, weaving alert, and Suzuki's Dual Sensor Brake Support system all help safety. Blind-spot monitoring is, however, absent -- an anomaly, given how common it is elsewhere.
Most of the driver's interaction with these features is done through two screens, coming in the form of a 7-inch infotainment touch screen on the dash, and an information panel wedged between the tachometer and speedometer.
First impressions of the cabin are positive. The leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel looks and feels premium with its choices of plastics and bevy of buttons. The dials in behind are clear, and framed by some tasteful streaks of red that light up when you hit the start button.
Space is in abundance, too. Given the boxy shape, it's no surprise that headroom is more than sufficient. Clever packaging for the front passenger sees them gain a huge amount of knee room. And the disappointing boot capacity of the last model gets a much needed 32-litre increase to 242L.
But sadly, a lot of the interior plastics are cheap and scratchy. The relatively smart design, too, is somewhat dulled by the addition of a foreign-looking white slash through the passenger side of the dashboard. It helps brighten things up, but looks lost next to the silver features everywhere else.
The exterior is also contentious. Suzuki has trimmed down the height and length of the hatch, while dubbing in a number of new-car tropes such as a floating roofline (with C-pillar rear door handles), and LED day-time running lights.
But it's a design that lacks the cheekiness of the outgoing model. Gone are the enormous anime dough-eye headlights and the streamlined face. No, the new Swift looks far more grown-up these days. Whether that's a plus or a minus is up to you.
The upside to those scratchy plastics and smaller dimensions are weight savings. This perhaps is where the Swift's biggest surprise awaits.
Weighing in at 1035kg, the old one was already one of the lightest cars in the class, however, Suzuki has somehow carved a further 175kg out of the new one; the base-model manual GL clocking in an incredible featherweight 870kg. Our RS was slightly heavier, at 945kg. Impressive, when almost everything else is more than a tonne.
This isn't just due to plastics. It's also a by-product of the intelligent new Heartect platform the Swift shares with the Baleno. Use of highly tensile steel and smart design means fewer joins underneath, and therefore a lot less weight.
Fuel economy has subsequently improved; the RS getting a claimed 5.1L/100km. But, it's in the handling department where you get to truly feel the gains.
It loves corners -- perhaps more than before. At speed it remains flat through twists and turns, while still giving you a healthy amount of feedback. Turn in is positive and satisfying, thanks to well-weighted steering. At higher speeds, the lightness of the car shines through and you can feel it dancing around underneath your seat ... It's brilliant.
And what makes it even more of a blast is the RS's 82kW turbocharged 1.0-litre, 3.0-cylinder Boosterjet engine. It's a bit slow to react from a standing start -- but, once you're up and about, it displays impressive torque through its mid-range (almost matching the old Swift Sport's figures), and a characterful three-pot warble towards the top.
The only shame is that this engine can be optioned only with a paddle-shift six-speed automatic. It's not a bad transmission -- quick on upshifts and compliant through town -- but this engine is screaming for a sweet manual gearbox.
I guess in that regard, there's always the Swift Sport to look forward to. It should be hitting showrooms in 2018. And, if the RS is anything to go by, it's going to be an absolute belter of a driver's car.
2017 SUZUKI SWIFT RS
PROS: Real driver's car, well equipped, 3-cyl sounds brilliant
CONS: Mild looks, interior plastics, no blind-spot monitoring