Concerned about the price of fuel these days? Don't have a lot of money to spend on a new car? Consider the Suzuki Swift. With a base price of $9299, the Swift helps stretch a dollar both in terms of monthly payments, and in how much you shell out for fuel. It offers an alternative to a used car.
Suzuki's pint-size, two-door Swift hatchback (the only body style offered) starts at $9,299 for the GA model with a five-speed manual transmission; an automatic costs an extra $650. Even the top-of-the-line Swift GL, equipped with air conditioning, cassette player, and an optional three-speed automatic transmission comes home for only $10,949.
GA ($9,299); GL ($10,299)
Exterior styling for the Swift traces to a generational update which occurred in 1995, but the overall wedge-shaped form and aerodynamic sculpting of nose and wavy side panels continues to look fresh and contemporary.
The front hood slants sharply forward to a rounded prow accented by a narrow central grille and flanking pair of halogen headlamps, all underscored by a thick black sport bumper which extends around corners to the forward wheelwells. Curvy creases in the hood articulate the headlight clusters and put a bump in the hood's center dome, with all hood lines flowing upward and rearward until merging into the bold expanse of a canted windshield.
At the top of the windshield the roofline extends along in a flat line until interrupted by the quick descent of a forward-tilting hatchback lid that drops down to a thick back bumper in black. Side panels bulge in wavy undulations above the horizontal band of black protective molding. Wheels and tires measure only 13 inches and seem undersized, in the proportions of a toy car.
A high wrap of tinted glass rings the passenger compartment and makes Swift look tall, although the roof actually rises only four and a half feet above the ground.
Swift's cockpit fits as snugly as Spandex. Inside are bucket seats up front and a modest two-place rear bench. However, you don't feel crammed into the subcompact confines of what otherwise could be a mobile sardine can because Suzuki's designers managed to deliver the impossible in a midget economy car: elbow room.
Firm side bolsters on the front seats appear ideally placed to prevent shoulders and arms from bumping against either a fellow rider or the door panel. Headroom is generous for a small car, a benefit of the high roof. Long-legged riders will find the space left over for lower limbs only adequate, however.
In the rear, legroom diminishes further, making the back seat suitable only for children. When not needed for passengers, the rear bench folds forward to expand rear cargo space - the best configuration.
Front seats clad in stain-resistant fabric upholstery provide four-way directional adjustments and flank a central console with cupholders and the floor-mounted gearshift lever. Vinyl inserts adorn the doors. Overhead, a one-piece cloth headliner conceals extra insulation designed to dampen noise in the cabin.
The dashboard has a central section with controls for air management and optional audio equipment. Analog gauges are used in the straightforward instrument panel; there's a speedometer, a tachometer, and a water temperature gauge, along with a trip odometer and warning lights for oil pressure and battery charge.
The driver sits in a high position and has excellent visibility through the tall ring of tinted glass.
Steering a Victory Red edition of the two-door Swift GL hatchback, we zipped up California's Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu, that elite Mecca for movie moguls and the super-rich who drive some of the most expensive cars on the planet. While our Swift may have seemed incongruent among so many fancy fenders along PCH, it was able to dart ahead of more conservatively driven Porsches.
Our GL, with a five-speed manual shifter, popped off the line at each of PCH's seemingly infinite series of traffic signals. It accelerated aggressively through second and third gears, revving toward the redline. By the time we shifted into fourth, that crisp response diminished somewhat, but by then we were exceeding the speed limit anyway.
An optional three-speed automatic transmission dims this liveliness only slightly but takes a big bite out of Swift's fuel economy figures.
Navigating sharp canyon sweepers in the Santa Monica Mountains just east of the coast highway showed off the Swift's agility over a twisty road. Never mind that a Ferrari tailed us with its driver anxious to pass; we were able to power through the curves, hitting each apex as if we too drove an exotic. We began to wonder who was having more fun.
The Swift's good road manners stem from its hardware: a crisp rack-and-pinion steering system and four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts over coil springs plus front- and rear-stabilizer bars to check excessive body sway. The strut design does a reasonable job of smoothing out pavement irregularities, although the short wheelbase imparts more harshness to the ride quality than would a larger car with longer wheelbase.
A benefit from the abbreviated wheelbase on Swift shows up when maneuvering in crowded parking lots. Its small turning radius allows the Swift to steer circles around larger cars and easily work itself into the narrowest parking space. This trait makes it ideally suited for inter-city transit.
The featherweight scale of the Swift counterbalances the puny power figures from its meager four-cylinder engine, and results in lively throttle response. While it won't win any speed contests, the Swift can run quickly through its lower gears and it has fortitude when passing other vehicles at highway speed.
Thrifty fuel economy numbers make it an economical commuter car. The Swift boasts an EPA-estimated 36/42 miles per gallon city/highway. High fuel-economy figures like these can have a dramatic impact in deflating fuel costs when long commute distances and heavy traffic are involved.
Driving a small car can invite feelings of insecurity due to the diminutive scale when stacked against larger vehicles in traffic. The Swift counters these threats with passive and active safety features. For instance, the structure of this subcompact contains front and rear crumple zones as buffers to a steel safety cage that surrounds the passenger compartment, plus steel beams in side doors to check side intrusions. Each A-pillar is made of a single strong, rigid piece of steel, while each B-pillar has been strengthened for extra rigidity. Standard passive safety assets include dual airbags, an energy-absorbing steering column, front-seat head restraints, and firm rear anchors to secure a child's safety seat. Daytime running lights are standard to increase visibility to other drivers.
Suzuki's Swift has been around for seven model years, yet it continues to look fresh and measure well against more recent competition. It's tiny in overall dimensions, but easy to maneuver in the crunch of urban traffic. It's affordable for a tight car budget, but nicely equipped and quite comfortable. The small engine lacks power, but offers frugal fuel consumption.