Thursday, June 4, 2009

2009 Suzuki Swift LE Road Test Review


“FLAMIN’ ‘ECK, that’s alright innit?”

My dad, bless him, can always be relied on for an appropriate Alf Stewart coloured comment, and for a true-blue Aussie who lives for his Falcons, that outburst is truly saying something.

Still, if my old man likes it, what hope does the Swift have with the rest of us? Apparently a fair one; the look of the latest iteration of Suzuki’s well-known hatch is proving popular on both sides of the sexual divide. For a carmaker, that’s a licence to print sales contracts.

Now, to celebrate the company’s 100th birthday, Suzuki has launched a limited edition version: The Suzuki Swift LE.


With this latest generation, the fifth in the Swift family tree (you might know some of the previous generations as the Ignis), Suzuki has moved away from the ‘low-cost alternative’ image of earlier models, dramatically transforming it into a sportier, more desirable hatch.


According to my dad, the heads at Suzuki have pulled it off, and the young couple next door seems to agree.

Three doors or four, the Swift is a good looking hatch. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

I mean, look at that long flat roof and the slab-sided doors and guards. What’s good looking about that? It’s even got a big arse. Not Megane big, of course, but it’s… well… bulbous.


It looks frightfully tall too, with those tiny wheel arches so distant from the character line running along the top of the doors.

The more I look at it, the more I want to slip my foot in through the roof and go roller skating. (Bugger, now where’s the other foot go?)


But none of that seems to matter. Bring together those elements, individually awkward, and combine them with the long curve of the bonnet, the sloping windscreen and its wrap-around look reaching back to the D-pillar, and you’ve got a very appealing car.

While our Swift LE (Limited Edition) test car had a swish chrome-trimmed grille, the regular model features a sporty mesh grill, and that contributes nicely to the Swift’s appeal.

The side mirror-mounted indicators are a classy touch as well, unique to the Swift LE.


The Interior

Despite its sporty pretensions, at least in external style, most about the interior of the Swift leans to the utilitarian - but with some youthful zest thrown in.

The dash is a fairly straightforward affair, the only real visual highlight being the stylish brushed-steel-looking panel surrounding the display and CD slot of the stereo, while a glossy black curved panel - existing in some contrast to the square-ended metal-look stereo panel - is home to the Swift LE’s climate control.


It’s a style built around function rather than what is often an overly complex approach preferred by other manufacturers. It’s utilitarian, yes, but in the best sense of the word. It has a job to do, and it goes about it with the minimum in unnecessary adornment. Who needs it?

Fit and finish inside is good, while the materials are robust and everything feels ‘in its place’.

One major plus to the Swift’s dash is the great placement of the controls, along with the large speedo dominating the instrument cluster.


Despite the generous headroom, the Swift is more comfortable for those of average height, with restricted seat movement and no reach adjustment for the steering. Taller drivers may not fall head over heels with the interior space.

For comfort, the Swift is a bit of a mixed bag. Under your backside - at least a healthy backside - the front seats feel small, barely adequate and a little bench-like, robbing the driver and front passenger of the body-hugging seats they might have expected when looking over the sporty exterior.


The backrest, in contrast, is well-formed and supportive, providing markedly better support and feel for the upper body.

The story is much the same in the back, but while leg space is a little more restrictive, it’s not an uncomfortable place to spend a not-too-long trip.

Storage in the Swift is woeful with the back seats in the upright position, but drop them forward and a world of space opens up in the back. If you’ve got more than the groceries to carry (a small load), don’t plan on more than one passenger.



The Suzuki Swift LE includes a range of features to set it apart as a special model, with 15-inch alloy wheels, keyless start, climate control, uniquely styled Alcantara interior trim, fog lamps, side mirror-mounted indicators, remote folding side mirrors, and the requisite 100th Anniversary badging.

According to Suzuki, all of this adds up to an extra $5000 of value.

What’s missing? Not a lot. It’s an excellent package. Some form of auxiliary or USB connectivity would have been welcomed (who burns MP3 CDs anymore?), but other than Hyundai, it’s not a feature offered in most cheaper small cars.


That said, the absence of cruise control was an annoyance; it’s a limited edition model, shouldn’t something as ubiquitous as cruise control slide across from ‘optional extra’ to the features list?

For safety, the Swift LE offers driver and front passenger airbags (if the LE had been based on the Hatch S, side and curtain airbags would have featured as well - sadly not), as well as ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Vehicle Stability Control.

The Drive

Powered by a naturally aspirated free-revving 1.5 litre petrol engine, the Swift develops 74kW at 6000rpm, and 133Nm of torque at 4000rpm.


It’s a very sporty sounding engine, but that small amount of torque arriving at a relatively high 4000rpm means the Swift has its work cut out in any attempt at a quick launch. It’s fair to say of course that the regular Swift isn’t a performance car, but with that sporty styling, more than a few will want to try.

Get up above 4000rpm though, where you can feel the torque winding up, and the driving experience becomes more at one with the hatch’s sporty styling. Explore the rev band, and you can easily shuffle things along at the head of traffic.


While the Swift LE can be had with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic, it was the manual that we tested, and it was a treat to use, with precise and smooth changes.

Cluch take-up between first and second proved to be a little tight with not quite enough room to play with, but further up the gears, it levels out nicely.


We took the Swift LE for the drive from Melbourne to Benalla in Victoria’s north-east, and the varying surfaces of the Hume and the secondary roads running off it, offered a good opportunity to get an idea of how the Swift manages NVH.

It’s fair to say the Swift is a quiet car, all round. Wind noise is low at freeway speeds, while only the rougher sections of road caused much in the way of tyre noise. The engine, working at around 2700rpm at 100km/h, has longer legs than some of its competitors, and goes about things with a muted rasp (and with mechanical vibration reasonably well-isolated from the cabin).

As for handling, the Swift is quite a bit more composed than you’d expect. Expectations of a car’s handling in this class can be pretty low, but that’s not a perspective shared by Suzuki.


With MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear, the Swift offers a firm ride, quite composed in the corners (surprisingly tight, actually) but soft enough to absorb bumps and uneven surfaces comfortably. It is nicely balanced, fun to row along and will tuck-in nicely if giving things a bit of stick.

Despite the Swift’s great handling, the front vented disc brakes and rear drum brakes can’t be described as more than adequate with relatively weak initial grab and stopping power not up with the best in the sector. This means you won’t spend too long in the twisties stretching things out.

Of course, in regular daily driving, they’ll do the job safely and well.


Best of all, and here we can be thankful for that 1.5 litre engine, the Swift manages a fuel economy of just 6.3 l/100km for the manual, and 6.7 l/100km for the automatic.

The Verdict

Before all this ACCC pricing hoo-ha, I could have told you the Suzuki Swift LE five-speed manual can be had for $17,490 plus on-road costs - only a grand more than the regular model, and a lot of car for the money.

Whatever it ends up costing you (call your local Suzuki dealer for a more specific figure), the latter part of the above paragraph remains true. The Suzuki Swift LE, and the regular Swift, really is a great car for the money.


And, in a hotly contested small car class (where it’s perhaps easy to spend too much for too little), the Swift is far from the worst choice you could make.

The brakes may not be the best for the more enthusiastic drivers, and the engine may lack the down-low power for those ‘eager beaver’ traffic light drags, but its a very balanced and appealing contender.