Officially the fifth-generation Suzuki Swift, the current model was introduced in 2010 in the footsteps of the 2005 version that was the Japanese manufacturer’s first truly global car.
The Swift’s shelf life is coming to an end, with the 2017 model set to be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, which will include a mild hybrid option, a distinctive new look and turbocharged petrol engine for the Swift Sport.
However this generation is Suzuki’s best-seller, finding 10,000 UK buyers in 2012, accounting for 40 percent of the marque’s sales here. This figure includes around 1000 units of the talented 1.6-litre Swift Sport warm hatch.
Though externally similar, the current model uses a longer platform than the 2005 car to boost passenger space to respectable levels, although the high-lipped boot is off the class pace at just 211 litres (most competitors swallow nearer 300 litres, and the deficit worsens with the standard-fit splitting seats folded down).
The Swift still looks relatively fresh, though, hence the mid-2013 facelift brought little more than a mildly reshaped front bumper and new wheel designs. The cabin is sturdy and has plenty of cubbies but is dull in both design and colour – most surfaces are black, and most plastics hard to the touch.
The facelift did little to lift this pall, simply adding new seat fabric that remains both dark and scratchy. Five-door versions cost an extra £500 and come with a third rear seat, but while other occupants enjoy decent space, the central rear passenger is very tight for lateral room and legroom.
There are five trim levels to choose from – SZ2, SZ3 4×4, SZ4, SZ4 4×4 and the limited edition SZ-L, while the Swift Sport gets its own trim. The entry-level SZ2 trim includes seven airbags, remote central locking, 15in steel wheels, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, electric windows and front foglights as standard, while opting the SZ3 4×4 adds 16in alloy wheels, air conditioning, Bluetooth and a four-wheel drive system.
The mid-range SZ4 trims include climate control, cruise control, sat nav, DAB radio, automatic lights, and keyless entry and start, while opting for the 4×4 model adds side skirts and skid plates, and is fitted with Suzuki’s higher compression ratio, two injectors fitted in each cylinder head DualJet engine.
The limited edition SZ-L trim adds solely a rear spoiler and black alloy wheels, while those wanting a little more speed can opt for the Swift Sport, which is equipped with 17in alloy wheels, an aggressive bodykit and sports seats.
Most Swifts employ a sweet-spinning 1.2-litre four-pot petrol engine with VVT on both intake and exhaust in combination with a tidily shifting five-speed manual gearbox. Output is just 93bhp and 87lb ft, but at barely over a tonne, the Swift can be harried along if revs are confined to the 4500-6000rpm range; below that, the engine pulls smoothly but weakly.
Engine refinement is a strength, though, with a pleasant mid-range beat turning to a silky whirr at the top end of the tacho, and very little powertrain noise when cruising at 70mph despite the lack of a sixth gear. Economy also impresses with claimed combined returns of 56.5mpg and emissions of 116g/km of CO2.
The bigger news at facelift time was the introduction of five-door 4×4 1.2-litre petrol variants boasting an extra 25mm of ride height and using a viscous coupling to provide full-time four-wheel drive that sends additional torque rearwards when the front wheels start to struggle.
The 4×4’s 0-62mph time swells to 13.4sec and economy drops 5.2mpg, while emissions of 126g/km of CO2 push it up by one VED bracket. The SZ3 version costs £1200 more than the equivalent front-driver and copies the spec thereof.
Dynamically, the basic Swift exhibits some of the Swift Sport’s talents, with a game chassis that grips well, offers impressive body control and limits roll and dive nicely. Push on and safe understeer is the predictable default behaviour, although the 4×4’s viscous coupling smoothly goes about its business to trim the line up to much higher speeds – a boon both for safety and enjoyment.
The jacked-up car also handles rough tracks well, with only the low-set rear differential a possible snag, although its forte is definitely still on the blacktop. The all-round disc brakes on the SZ3 4×4 and all SZ4 models do an impressive job of stopping the lightweight Swift in a quick and stable fashion.
The ride impresses, too, deftly parrying away most intrusions both in town and on A-roads, with only some motorway fidgeting a minor bugbear. The steering is responsive, but while its lightness aids urban manoeuvrability, it can become disconcerting when you’re really craving feedback on a twisty road.
Suzuki’s competent, entertaining and cost-effective Swift is a compelling choice in a crowded segment. Others have more space, more interior flair and better finishes, but the Suzuki’s pricing is temptingly aggressive.