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Maruti Suzuki Swift Diesel

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You have seen the Swift. You know it has won many accolades. You would have heard that Maruti Suzuki has sold close to 100,000 units already. So let us cut to the chase – how does the diesel version fare? In one word, it is brilliant. Want more words? Read on.

The Mumbai-Pune Expressway was relatively empty as I gave the throttle the boot. I had got behind the wheel of a silky silver Swift and turned the ignition on only thirty minutes back. It did feel strange to hear the familiar diesel clatter from under a Swift bonnet. And it was with a funny smile laden with apprehension that I had taken off into suburban traffic. But now was the time to find out the truth. 

The Swift petrol can do 165 kph given a decent stretch of road. Can the diesel match it? The revs climbed ever so steadily into the 4000 rpm mark in fifth gear (diesels produce their top whack in overdrive unlike petrol powered cars) as my eyes made a mental note of a truck in the middle lane some kilometres ahead. 140, 145, 150... sure, the Expressway was running down an incline and I had the assistance of the greatest force on earth – gravity. 155 and I could now make out that the truck was an eighteen-wheeler carrying something really toxic. The red needle sensed my urgency and touched the 160 kph mark. An indicated 160 kph! I lifted off in time to read ‘Danger Liquefied Ammonia Highly Inflammable Horn OK Please’ in bold. Mission accomplished, we soon turned off the Expressway and on to a bit of mountain road that would eventually lead us to Aamby Valley at Lonavla, where the drive would end and we would retire for the night. 

Aha, winding tarmac. Now we are talking. Diesels do not like serpentine roads with hairpin climbs, right? Some of you who would have downshifted your way up to hill stations would agree. It is a job best left to taxi drivers to tackle, since trying to find the last ounce of power in every gear is not exactly a rewarding experience. Mostly you end up with belching smoke and burnt clutches. Not so with the Swift diesel. I was carrying a good amount of speed into corners and when I was faced with the above-mentioned hairpin climbers, I simply slotted the car into second and powered through. Not once, but many times. The Swift had passed the second test in my mind. With flying colours, if I may add.

So everything is hunky dory with the Swift diesel, right? Hmm, well I would have agreed except for the fact that there is a degree of turbo-lag one has to get used to (you better get used to lots of things diesel – this car is powered by a modern motor but it still is not as refined or potent as a comparable petrol engine yet). So if the question is whether the Swift has taken to diesel power well, then the answer is a resounding yes. We have not subjected the new baby from Maruti Suzuki to a proper road test, but when the engineers tell you in hushed tones that it can stretch a litre of the cheap and sticky fuel to 24 kpl on the highway, you slam the tea-cup hard on the saucer and stare at the chap. Allow 4 kpl to exuberance and another 4 kpl to real world traffic and that will still leave you with 16 kpl – which is more than good enough for me to sprint to a showroom. I am sure a lot of fellow Indians will beat me to that, still. Let us take a close look at the engine then. You, our already informed reader, would certainly know that this is a Fiat-derived engine. But what you need to know is that it is made in India – most of it, at least. And that means Suzuki can price the car the way they want. And that to me sounds like a major threat to Tata Motors. I really don’t want to draw parallels here, but still I can’t help but say that this Swift is a whole generation ahead of the diesel cars from Tata. Enough of comparisons, back to the oil-burner. For a 1300cc engine, the motor packs quite a punch – 75 bhp at 4000 rpm and lots of torque – 19 kgm at 2000 rpm. Maruti Suzuki calls it the DDiS (Diesel Direct Injection System) while Fiat would call it JTD (Jetronic Turbo Diesel). This is a common-rail fed multi injection diesel that manages five injections per cycle and that means a cleaner engine with better volumetric efficiency and better noise levels. And yes, that also makes the Swift diesel perform almost like a petrol car. Almost. This motor should propel the car to 100 kph in under 15 seconds – very good for a car in its league. 

So it can sprint well, run fast and can stretch a litre of fuel. How about the rest of the package? Suzuki never believed in diesel motors so much since it didn’t make sense to have already economical small cars powered by even more economical diesel engines. Thanks to our developing market economy, artificial pricing of fuel that has refused go and a brief marriage between GM and Fiat, Suzuki now has its own diesel engine plant at Manesar, Haryana. GM and Fiat have split ways since then but the diesel motors made by the plant will be exported to Europe , where they will power Suzukis to begin with, followed, with luck, by Fiat itself. 

All these undercurrents meant that the Swift was developed with the Fiat JTD diesel in mind. Sure, the engine received some modifications under Suzuki (more power for instance), but it is a natural fit for the Swift. What is also important to note is that the gearbox is brand new for the Swift DDiS and the gearing is spot-on for Indian driving conditions. The enormous torque of the engine (for its size) and the way it spreads it flat across the rev-range ensures extreme driveability. Never ever have I driven a small diesel car without having to think about gear changes. Really. 

The ride height of the car remains the same as that of the petrol, thanks to a stiffer damper-spring combination. And in the process, the ride quality has improved substantially over the petrol model. It becomes very apparent when driving over a series of potholes. The additional weight tipped towards the nose of the car means the Swift diesel does not have the same handling edge of the petrol car. It is a bit more hesitant to turn-in and add to that a dose of torque-steer and you will get the picture. Again, these remarks are in comparison to the remarkably agile petrol car and should be taken in that light only.Do not expect the engine to be silent though. What you need to know is that things get quieter when the engine warms up and even more so at cruise speeds. Currently the noise and vibration levels are kept at bay without additional insulation and thick foam linings. Crisp gear shifts remind you of the petrol model and light controls make driving easy. 

To begin with, the Swift DDiS will be available in two formats – the LDi version gets airconditioning but misses out on power windows, central locking, tachometer, day-night rear view mirror, and hear this out, vanity mirror (Rs 5?) and rear head restraints (and we thought it was part of the safety kit). The rather unfortunately named VDi (what were they thinking?) version is comprehensively equipped, though we thought the automatic climate control unit from the petrol ZXi model would have been a nice inclusion. The VDi version can be ordered with the ABS option while airbags are not available. Maruti officials who didn’t want to be named clearly suggested that it is not their job to educate people when it comes to automotive safety. You see, Swift ZXi sales were tapering fast and the company was not in a mood to absorb the costs of airbags. We think they should have offered it at least as an option.

 In short, we were quite impressed by the car. It may have been an engine developed in Italy but it has found a perfect match in a sensational small hatch from Japan. We are yet to hear from Maruti Suzuki on the price front but we do know that it will match the Tata Indigo, if not the Indica V2. Watch this space.