Suzuki Swift: Punching above its weight
The Suzuki Swift might have lost weight but it is still a heavy hitter, says William Scholes
IF health types are to be believed, we are living in the midst of an obesity epidemic, writes William Scholes.
Statistics, as well as bulging waistlines, bear this out. For example, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported earlier this year that 28 per cent of children are overweight or obese.
Obesity, it says, is the "biggest human generated burden on the economy after smoking".
Diabetes is a particular obesity-related problem, but so too is heart disease and cancer.
The message is clear: too much weight can be seriously bad for your health.
But this column isn't about health, you say; what has corpulence got to do with cars and fun stuff?
As with homo sapiens, too much weight is generally a bad idea when it comes to cars.
A heavier car has already gobbled up more of the earth's resources and energy than a lighter one by the time it leaves the production line.
And once it is on the road, it will need more fuel to keep it going than a more slender alternative.
Beyond the utilitarian arguments, a lighter car is also better to drive.
Less mass means it can be made to change direction more quickly as well as accelerate and brake with more verve and efficiency.
Less weight, then, is a virtuous circle when it comes to cars. It is a difficult circle for motor manufacturers to square, because a lot of the stuff we now demand - safety that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, dashboards that work like a smartphone and tonnes of electrical gadgets - is inherently heavy.
Some have made a better fist of adding lightness than others.
Mazda, for example, is a standard bearer for this approach with its so-called Skyactiv system of pairing lightweight bodies with super-efficient engines.
Despite a quarter of a century of advances in safety, power and electronic equipment, today's MX-5 sports car weighs basically the same as the original version of the little roadster.
Another manufacturer which has consistently followed this path is Suzuki.
Here at Drive, we are fans of Suzuki, not least because its cars have a vitality and fun-to-drive factor that elevates them above the norm. This is thanks in large part to being so light on their feet.
The company's Swift is a longstanding Drive favourite, being everything a city car should be, and more.
The Swift is small, easy to drive, fun, stylish, cheap to run and eager, but also distinguished by a zesty driving experience.
Even by the standards of little hatchbacks, the Swift was hardly a bruiser to begin with.
Yet the new version, which has recently reached these shores, is somehow even lighter - and by a significant margin.
The Swift is small, easy to drive, fun, stylish, cheap to run and eager, but also distinguished by a zesty driving experience
On average, the Swift's kerbweight is now 120kg lower than before, tipping the scales at between 890kg and 980kg.
This is remarkable stuff, particularly when you bear in mind that the Swift is now available only as a five-door and that it is bigger for both passengers and - importantly, bearing in mind how restricted the old car was - their luggage.
Nor is this for a Swift stripped of kit. Even the basic car comes with air conditioning, Bluetooth, six airbags and a DAB radio.
To help put the Swift's svelte waistline in persepective, consider that another just-as-new rival, the Seat Ibiza, is 1,090kg in its lightest iteration.
Ibiza prices also start at £13,000, whereas the cheapest Swift is £11,499 - so it is lighter on your wallet as well as the scales.
The Swift is a little shorter than before, though the wheelbase is longer, and the car is now wider and lower.
Due to the Tardis-like wonders of modern car packaging, it manages to have more headroom and legroom than before; my 6ft-plus frame certainly had no complaints.
Anyone who owns an older Swift will be delighted to hear that the boot is bigger than before.
Its volume is now 264 litres, up by 54 litres. That still makes it some way behind the capacity of rivals like the Skoda Fabia, but it is a worthwhile improvement.
Engines are all-petrol affairs, with Suzuki dropping the old car's diesel option - a wise move, in my opinion, as the value of a diesel unit is mostly questionable in a small, lightweight city car.
The entry-level unit is a 1.2-litre four-cylinder with 89bhp. It is a perfectly sensible match for the car, but spending another £2,000 gets you behind the wheel of a Swift powered by Suzuki's little 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine with 110bhp.
Suzuki calls its turbo unit 'Boosterjet', but whatever it is called it is one of the best engines of any sort on sale today.
It is eerily quiet at low revs if you are just pootling about, and gains an appealingly urgent note if you want to press on.
The Boosterjet's flexibility is outstanding, it cruises well on the motorway and has more than enough thrust for safe overtaking. Real-world frugality is strong.
A so-called mild hybrid version of the Boosterjet is available, dubbed SVHS by Suzuki.
As with homo sapiens, too much weight is generally a bad idea when it comes to cars
It adds a little 0.37kWh lithium ion battery, housed under the front seat, to store energy harvested under braking.
This drives the starter motor in stop/start traffic and provides a gentle and brief power boost of 2.7bhp under acceleration.
It also helps cut the Swift's carbon dioxide emissions to 98g/km and lifts fuel economy.
Other drivetrain options include the availability of four-wheel-drive, something of a Suzuki trademark, with the 1.2-litre engine.
Gearboxes are five-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Aside from the lively engines and the inherent benefits of light weight, the Swift is a joy to drive.
It is easy to see out of and to place on the road, the ride is supple with suspension damping entirely in tune with Northern Ireland roads.
The Swift corners tenaciously and it has a grippy chassis. The steering is light, perhaps too much for some tastes, though it responds to inputs quickly and faithfully.
Taken together, it means the Swift is particularly good fun to drive. It means the upcoming Swift Sport should be a cracker.
The interior is put together in Suzuki's trademark robust fashion, though it lacks the upmarket sheen that you will find in something like a Volkswagen Polo.
The instruments are straightforward and easy to read, and while the infotainment is perhaps not quite as snappy or premium-feeling as that found in something like a Mazda 2, it does benefit from features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
At a time when some other small cars are scoring five-star Euro Ncap ratings, the Swift's three stars - rising to four with an optional safety pack - is a little underwhelming.
It is a rare off-note for an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable and likeable little car.
Fun to drive, cheap to run, easy to operate and more roomy than before, the Suzuki Swift goes straight to the upper echelons of the small car class. Add Suzuki's enviable reliability record and a value for money price tag to the mix and the Swift makes a compelling proposition.
It might be a lightweight, but the Suzuki Swift is still a heavy hitter.
AT A GLANCE
Suzuki Swift 1.0 SZ5 Boosterjet Auto
Price: £16,349. As tested: £16,834, with metallic paint £485
Engine and transmission: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol, six-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 110bhp, 118lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 118mph, 0-62mph in 10.0 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 56.5mpg (EU combined); 49.3mpg (real world); 114g/km
Car tax: £160 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 21 per cent