Car Mechanics (UK)
Advice on buying the best.
Up until 2005, the only reason for buying a Suzuki Swift was because it was cheap. Based on a 1988 design, the previous generation of Swift was a car born out of a collaboration with General Motors, sold variously as a Suzuki, Chevrolet, Maruti, Pontiac, Subaru, GEO and Holden in a total of 36 different markets. It was a successful and profitable car for both companies and was constructed in 10 different countries, including Japan, the USA, Canada, China, Australia, Colombia, India and Pakistan, where it remained in production until 2017. From 1992 onwards, most Swifts sold in Europe were built at the Suzuki Magyar factory in Hungary, where the current model is still produced.
The third-generation Swift – available as a three- or five-door model – made its global debut at the 2004 Paris Motor Show and had a strong likeness to the Concept S and Concept S2 cars previously exhibited in Tokyo and Geneva. The only thing it really
had in common with its predecessor was its name, plus the fact that it was built in Hungary. Both the drivetrain engineering and chassis development were carried out in Europe, with a focus on it being far more ‘sporty’ than its predecessor, benchmarking cars such as the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo as rivals that it needed to meet not only with its dynamics, but also in terms of perceived quality. In addition, it was a much safer car, achieving four stars in Euro NCAP testing in three-door form.
Sales began in Europe and Japan in early 2005, exceeding expectations. In Japan, first year sales were twice the forecast, in the UK it sold out and supply always struggled to meet demand, while in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands it was a runaway success, and in Ireland it was named Car of the Year 2006.
The Swift was available with 1.3- and 1.5-litre petrol engines, producing either 91bhp or 101bhp, along with a 73bhp 1.3-litre DDIS diesel used under licence from Fiat and GM, and more commonly found in the Astra and Corsa, as well as the Punto, Panda and Doblo. Trim and spec were straightforward: the entrylevel GL, only available with a 1.3 engine and with electric windows and aircon, or the plusher GLX with velour seat trim, electric windows all-round, climate control and alloy wheels.
In October 2005, Suzuki launched the Sport version of the new Swift in Japan, named Swift RS, and in September 2006 the model was introduced in most European markets. Named Swift Sport, it got a twin-cam VVT four-pot 1.6-litre engine with 123bhp, along with stiffer suspension, a lowering kit, front splitter, side skirts, twin exhaust pipes, Recaro sports seats, a spoiler, four-wheel disc brakes, 17-inch alloys and ESC as standard. While it wasn’t a ‘hot hatch’, the Swift Sport was praised for its impressive driving dynamics, while its modest power output meant it was insurable for younger drivers, giving it the same kind of cult kudos that the Citroën Saxo VTR and MG ZR had achieved before it. It remained a popular choice with the UK’S youth until the range was withdrawn in 2011, replaced by the visually similar but otherwise quite different fourth-generation Swift.
Today, the earliest Swifts are 14 years old and the newest examples at least eight, meaning they’re inexpensive to buy and prevalent in the small ads. They’re still in pretty decent demand, though, and the car has an excellent reputation for reliability, but that doesn’t mean you should rush in and make a decision that’s too, well, swift.
Swifts were sold new with a 10-year anticorrosion warranty and, even now, it’s rare to see one with any really noticeable corrosion, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely immune from rust. Also, build quality tends to be variable. One of the first places you should check is the front crash bar behind the bumper, which isn’t always well rustproofed and can corrode away, with all visible rust hidden behind the plastic bumper bar.
Other areas to check include the boot floor and the floorpans where the front seat mounting bolts sit. Both of these areas
can attract quite advanced rust at this age and lead to extensive welding on an otherwise presentable car. It also makes sense to check the MOT history of any potential purchase, as this will highlight any previous corrosion advisories or situations where a car has been welded.
On five-door models, the flared area of the rear wheelarch where it meets the sill is in the natural firing line of stonechips – something that Suzuki noticed early on, with all 2006-on Swifts getting a clear sticker applied to the area to afford extra protection. If this isn’t there, then the car has previously had some bodywork. It’s also far from a failsafe – even with the protective sticker, we’ve seen pockmarked examples.
Otherwise, it’s standard fare: check for misaligned panels and accident damage, especially on Swift Sports, and also for loose exterior trim. Alloy wheels aren’t the best either – they’re inexpensive rims that are prone to delacquering and oxidising with age.
We’ve not heard any reports of major faults with Swift cabins, although there are a couple of well-known problems that fall into the ‘irritating’ rather than ‘serious’ categories. The most common of these is a rattle from the driver’s side electric window, which is caused by the unions in the regulator wearing loose over time. In these circumstances, there’s no real risk of the window packing up or falling off its runners – we’re certainly not aware of it being an issue yet – but the noise is an almost permanent vibration, most noticeable at low speeds and around town. It’s one of those faults that’s so irritating that you’ll want to get it sorted and the only way to do this is to strip the door and fit a new regulator.
A similar rattle manifests itself from behind the dashboard and is usually due to the dash or instrument binnacle attachments getting loose with age. You might get lucky if you go around the dash popping off screw covers and tightening everything up (you’ll need a Torx-head screwdriver) but sometimes the dash needs to come out – in which case, it’s definitely a rattle you’ll choose to live with!
Otherwise, there’s very little to report. High-mileage Swift Sports occasionally suffer from seat bolster wear as a result of the seatbelt scuffing their thicker padding, while illuminated SRS lights are often fixed by wiggling the connector blocks under the seats.
The Swift is no worse than any of its contemporaries when it comes to running gear faults, but the car’s chassis set-up (which is truly excellent) does tend to take its toll on front springs and dampers. Fractured springs are a common MOT failure point, while the dampers can often show accelerated signs of wear at quite low mileages thanks to the bodyshell’s natural stiffness. The trade-off is excellent dynamics, especially for a supermini.
Clutch wear is common, too. The pedal is light and has very little resistance, so drivers who are in the bad habit of resting their left foot on the clutch pedal will wear the driveplate more quickly than expected. Many Swifts were sold new to elderly owners, who may not have treated them with much mechanical sympathy.
We’ve seen a few reports of gearbox failure, especially on Swift Sports, though these are invariably driven much harder than the less performanceoriented models. That said, they seem to let go at 120,000-140,000 miles, and it’s a trend that seems fairly common. Listen for bearing noise or a grinding sound on the overrun, both of which indicate potential trouble ahead.
In Swifts built before the end of May 2007, be careful to check that recall work has been carried out on the handbrake, as there was a global issue with teeth potentially breaking off the ratchets. This led to a few incidents of runaway cars, though we’re not aware any specific cases in the UK.