Suzi’s star to steer by

Forgo crea­ture com­forts and set a course for one of the best drives in the light-car class

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - CRAIG DUFF

SUZUKI has al­ways forged its own path in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try. Now it has smoothed the way to Swift own­er­ship with the cheap­est sat­nav-equipped light car in the busi­ness.

The Swift GL Nav­i­ga­tor should be on the list of any­one look­ing for a small ve­hi­cle with plenty of per­son­al­ity and a core ethic of driv­ing plea­sure.

VALUE

En­gi­neer­ing over el­e­gance is the motto of the lat­est Swift. As such, the $17,490 GL Nav­i­ga­tor is a match for the Ford Fi­esta and Mazda2 on per­for­mance and driv­ing.

It is fit­ted with a 1.4-litre en­gine (70kW/130Nm) matched to a five-speed man­ual gear­box and that’s on a par with many en­try level cars in this seg­ment.

Sat­nav apart, stan­dard gear runs from steer­ing wheel­mounted au­dio switches and cruise con­trol to Blue­tooth with au­dio stream­ing.

People in­creas­ingly pre­fer their crea­ture com­forts to cor­ner­ing prow­ess, which is why the Swift is fight­ing with the Kia Rio and Volk­swa­gen Polo for sixth place in the light car seg­ment, rather than sit­ting near the top of the pack.

Opt for the Swift Sport and there are 17-inch al­loys and 1.6litre en­gine (100kW/160Nm) fit­ted to a six-speed man­ual. It can’t match the value equa­tion of the GL but at $24,490 is about $5000 cheaper than a VW Polo GTI. But then there’s the Fi­esta ST at $25,990 …

TECH­NOL­OGY

The big fea­ture in the GL and GLX Nav­i­ga­tor mod­els is the 6.1inch touch­screen with Garmin sat­nav. The graph­ics aren’t hires but are clear to read and the sat­nav it­self is one of the sim­pler ver­sions to learn with­out re­sort­ing to the driver’s man­ual.

DE­SIGN

A sur­feit of soft-touch plas­tics and con­ser­va­tive ex­te­rior styling hand­i­caps the Thaibuilt car at first glance. That in turn de­ters some buy­ers from tak­ing it for a spin to see just how well it drives.

Panel fit is top-notch in­side and out and the seats are well bol­stered. Boot space is just 210L, which will take a cou­ple’s gro­ceries but strug­gles with a fam­ily of four. Con­versely, the Swift doesn’t strug­gle to ac­com­mo­date four adults.

SAFETY

No is­sues here. An ANCAP rat­ing of 35.55/37 bet­ters the Ford Fi­esta and VW Polo and puts the Swift into prime con­tention for first-car buy­ers.

A driver’s knee bag pushes the air cush­ion count to seven and the car’s light weight means the rear drum brakes aren’t no­ticed.

DRIV­ING

If driv­ing a light car means more than get­ting from point A to B, the Swift is a smart choice; the Swift Sport a sen­sa­tional one.

Both are rem­i­nis­cent of early hot hatches that re­lied on a com­mu­nica­tive chas­sis and a high-revving en­gine rather than a turbo pow­er­plant to main­tain mo­men­tum.

The 1.4 and 1.6 en­gines pre­fer high revs and, while that in­trudes on cabin am­bi­ence, it adds a vis­ceral en­gage­ment level few cars can match.

Throw it into a cor­ner and the grip is as good as it gets, while driv­ers are re­warded for cor­rect gear se­lec­tion by a rorty ex­haust note and a de­cent surge of power on exit.

It is only climb­ing hills with a full com­ple­ment that the en­gine feels un­der­done on the base model. Steer­ing feed­back is near best afield and the sus­pen­sion is firm with­out de­gen­er­at­ing into harsh­ness.

Sim­ply put, the GL is the best of breed for driv­ers as an en­try-level ve­hi­cle. The up­spec Swift Sport is al­most as good in isolation but in terms of price and per­for­mance then runs into the Fi­esta ST. Ford’s hot mini-hatch has re­set the bar and the range-top­ping Suzuki needs ei­ther a touch more grunt or a touch less price.

VER­DICT

It’s what’s on the in­side that counts with the Swift GL Nav­i­ga­tor — from the cabin fitout to the me­chan­i­cals.

It might not be as cos­set­ing as the op­po­si­tion but it is among the best driv­ing cars in this class.

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