Swift half and half: we drive Suzuki New Zealand's first hybrid
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Suzuki is one of the cleanest new-vehicle brands in New Zealand: among those that still rely on combustion engines, it’s second only to Citroen for average C02 emissions across its range. Given that the Japanese marque sells 20 times more cars than the French one, it deserves maximum eco-credit.
But what Suzuki hasn’t had in NZ to date is an electrified engine, despite the brand offering hybrid models in Japan and Europe for some time now.
The company says it’s been waiting for the right powertrain package and that time is now: launched in Europe just last month, the latest $26,500 Swift GLX hybrid is now NZ’s cheapest new petrol-electric model. And will remain so even when Toyota launches its Yaris hybrid next month, which has a base price $1490 more expensive than its Suzuki rival.
The Swift GLX hybrid effectively replaces the previous petrol-only GLX.
It’s $1500 more expensive, but Suzuki reckons a 15 per cent improvement in fuel economy, from 4.8l/100km to 4.1l/100km, is a worthy upsell. Plus there’s still an entry Swift GL that starts under $20k if you’re really on a budget.
There’s also a flagship Swift hybrid, the LTD, which starts at $28,500.
The latest Suzuki SVHS (that’s Smart Hybrid Vehicle System) has a more powerful and efficient lithium-ion battery than previous versions, but it’s still a very mild hybrid.
The electric system simply assists the petrol engine: it can’t drive on battery alone, neither will it “sail” with the engine off at cruising speeds. Although it will coast to a standstill below 15km/h.
The SHVS has a belt-driven Integrated Starter Generator (ISG). It acts as the starter motor, powers the electrical systems at cruising speeds to reduce fuel use and recovers energy normally lost during braking and deceleration to recharge the battery.
The 1.2-litre DualJet petrol engine is new and unique to the hybrid – despite being similar capacity to the powerplant in the entry-level Swift GL.
With 61kW/107Nm, the new engine is down on power compared with the conventional GL’s 66kW/120Nm, but peak torque is delivered at 2800rpm instead of 4400rpm and those figures don’t include the 50Nm boost provided by the hybrid’s electric system. Suzuki doesn’t quote a combined torque figure, because the extra torque changes depending on the driving conditions.
It’s a high-compression engine, so it requires 95-octane fuel minimum.
The Swift hybrid has a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which Suzuki NZ reckons is the right choice for Kiwi urban driving. Previous hybrids for overseas markets have used a manual transmission or dual-clutch automated system.
You could drive this car and genuinely not realise it’s a hybrid. There’s an ease to the way it crawls off the line with that battery assistance, but because you never get electric-drive alone you’re not always conscious of it.
On paper, CVT is not the first choice of gearbox for a fun-to-drive small car like the Swift (the RS and Sport have conventional manual and automatic transmissions), but in practice it’s the most efficient choice for a hybrid powertrain. More to the point, a hybrid buyer is probably not primarily concerned with press-on motoring.
This Swift still puts a big smile on your face and really, the proof is at the pump. You could argue that an improvement of 0.7l/100km over the conventional Swift is not a lot – but it’s still 15 per cent and the reality is that you’re starting with one of the most economical cars on the road as your base.
What the hybrid achieves in the real world is still to be seen; we only had the car for a day drive, so we’re looking forward to putting some proper commuting kays on it very soon.
But on paper, perhaps it makes more sense to compare the hybrid to the closer (in price) RS automatic, which it betters by a clear litre per 100km.
The Kiwi Swift hybrid is a European-specification model (but still sourced from Japan), identifiable by an extra chrome garnish on the grille and a small “hybrid” badge on the hatch.
That Euro status means a few specification quirks. The indicators are on the left-hand side, there’s a rear foglamp, the front passenger airbag can be deactivated with the key, the rear windows are manual wind-up (remember those?) and there’s no integrated sat-nav as standard – but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is provided, which covers your digital direction needs.
Extra safety kit on the LTD includes dual sensor brake support, lane departure warning and prevention, weaving alert, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and rear parking sensors.
The hybrid also brings tyre pressure monitoring to the Swift range for the first time.
There’s certainly no shortage of choice in the Swift range now. There’s that GL CVT, the still-brilliant 1.0 turbo RS six-speed automatic at $25,990 and at the top is the Swift Sport, ranging from $29,990 for the manual to $31,500 for the two-tone automatic.
The Swift hybrid simply adds another dimension: bragging rights as the most thrifty of a very thrifty bunch. And let’s not forget the image appeal of a “hybrid” badge to eco-conscious private buyers and business users alike. Suzuki NZ reckons this new model could account for 30 per cent of Swift sales going forward.
SUZUKI SWIFT HYBRID
ENGINE: 1.2-litre petrol four with hybrid system
POWER: 61kW/107Nm (petrol engine), 50Nm (ISG)
GEARBOX: Continuously variable automatic, FWD