Home Editors' Picks Hatch stuff: Simple but sprightly

Hatch stuff: Simple but sprightly

Split 2nd

Rediscovering a love for hatchbacks with the Suzuki Swift

WHILE SMALL crossovers have been stealing the limelight with one new model launch after another, it’s easy to overlook the genre that shares a crossover’s versatility, while retaining a sports car-like nimbleness — the hatchback.

But while there are roughly a dozen hatchbacks on the market (in S and XS sizes), few have adhered to the fun-to-drive-yet-affordable formula as the Suzuki Swift has. While its contemporaries — the Honda Jazz (recently replaced by the City Hatchback), and the Toyota Yaris — now breach the million-peso mark, a brand-new Swift starts at a substantially lower P755,000 for the manual and P819,000 for the automatic.

Depending on the variant, the Swift is now priced lower by at least P154,000 and as much as P296,000 compared to its direct rivals (although the Swift uses a 1.2-liter engine for both its MT and AT versions, while its competitors have 1.3- and 1.5-liter power plants).

The Swift sits low to the ground — squat and wide — exactly the same stance as a Mini Cooper. And like the Mini, it sports large, expressive headlights that run counter to the now-common slim headlights. The big lights bracket a gaping blacked-out grille that gives the Swift a sporty, aggressive look.

The side view is devoid of extraneous curves and bulges. The only visual highlights are the high beltline, the subtle curvature that runs along the fenders and doors that give the Swift its wide, muscular look, and the hidden rear door handle on the novel C-pillar with its wraparound blacked-out treatment that creates a floating roof effect.

The rear view is low, squat, and wide, with large LED taillights and a subtle roof-edge spoiler. It’s the look of a proper hot hatch. The Swift wears 185/55R16 rubber; they may seem narrow but they don’t look undersized for the car. More importantly, they’re perfect for the car’s power and weight. Any wider and they’ll affect the car’s nimbleness.

The Swift’s 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine may develop only 82hp and 113Nm, but given the car’s lithe 860-kg curb weight, the Swift still manages to deliver energetic performance, especially if you’re willing to rev the smooth and rev-happy engine to 4,000rpm and higher. To put this in perspective, a base Mini Cooper’s power-to-weight ratio is nine kilos per horsepower; in contrast, the Swift’s is 10.4 kilos per horse — not too shabby.

Fuel economy? It delivered an effortless 8-9kpl in the city, and should easily achieve 12-15kpl on the highway.

The Swift is a ball to drive — whether you’re in gridlock or cornering fast on your favorite backroad. I got to test the automatic (CVT) version; I expected the CVT to make the car feel sluggish, but it proved a willing accomplice, eagerly shifting to lower gears, allowing the engine to spin higher up the rev range. The stickshift version — or a paddle-shift for the automatic (which sadly isn’t available) — should be an even greater joy.

The ride/handling balance is early skewed for comfort. Nonetheless, there is minimal body roll when cornering. The electric power steering is precise and gives good feedback. Braking is confidence-inspiring and is easy to modulate.

Credit also goes to Suzuki’s advanced HEARTECT high-rigidity body construction that improves not just the car’s crashworthiness, but also its dynamic performance, riding comfort, and fuel economy. HEARTECT employs lightweight yet ultra-high-tensile steel and combines that with a continuous and smoothly curving shape with fewer joints for a rigid, safe, and responsive chassis.

Inside, you’ll find a spacious yet spartan all-black interior. You won’t find any leather on the seats, steering wheel, shift knob, or door panels. There is no chrome door trim. All you get is black plastic on the dash, console, and door panels and black fabric on the seats and armrests. At least the plastics are nicely textured and sculpted while the black fabric feels plush on the thickly padded and very comfortable seats. The front seats’ prominent side bolsters deserve special mention as they give superb support. They look great, too — as if they came straight from a sports car.

Other nice interior elements are the meaty, thick three-spoke steering wheel, with its racy flat-bottom design, and the ’70s-era twin circular instrument cluster.

You won’t miss those complicated electronic AC switches with the Swift’s no-brainer three AC knobs (fan speed, thermostat, and air direction). The Swift has a seven-inch USB/Bluetooth touchscreen infotainment/navigation system with four speakers plus a USB port and a 12V socket up front. There are twin cupholders up front and a single one for the rear. There are also bottle holders on all four doors (plus spacious door pockets on the front doors).

Safety and security features include dual front air bags, four three-point ELR seat belts (and a two-point lapbelt for the middle rear-seat passenger), two Isofix anchorages, two additional non-Isofix child seat anchorages, ABS with EBD, brake assist, rear parking sensors, an anti-theft system, and a cabin air filter. There are also three adjustable headrests for the 60/40 split-folding back seat.

The latest Swift even boasts modern pedestrian-protection systems like impact-absorbing front bumper, hood, and even hood hinges and wiper system.

All things considered, the Swift is an exceptionally accomplished small car. It does everything it’s designed to do very well and achieves that despite an eminently affordable price tag. It doesn’t have an overly long features list compared to its rivals, but its compelling (and much lower) price and its refined and well-developed driving dynamics more than make up for it.