Five years ago, I sat in the middle of a traffic jam, waiting for it to clear. My navigator was anxious. We were running 20 minutes late and counting and the ticking Casio wasn’t helping soothe our nerves. The bus on the opposite side was just too wide for the narrow city road in Kullu, and our Swift wasn’t making things easier. Somehow we prodded, pushed, cussed and found our way out of the mess, the watch staring at us, as if to say that making up for 30 minutes over a 60 plus kilometre route is nigh impossible, especially up in the hills. To make matters worse, there were two other rally cars right behind us, one of which was a Suzuki Baleno driven by a pro who was determined as hell to make it past us.
Those memories from the Raid de Himalaya all those years ago came rushing back as I drove the new Swift down the highway in Udaipur. In front of us were the vast expanses of a sparsely populated highway, the little Suzie buzzing away into the yonder. Things haven’t changed much, but appearances can be deceiving, something our mothers always warned us about during our growing-up phase. In the rear-view mirror, the approaching Swift driven by a fellow auto hack appeared no different from the car that bid the assembly line goodbye at the end of June. Then as it gets closer, things became a bit clearer. The new headlamps looked larger and more swept back, the lower grille was a bit more recessed and the waist line has become a bit more prominent.
I stop the car and get out to take a closer look. The new grille is pretty unique, looking more like a wind deflector designed by an architecture student than a grille. The tail lamps are larger too and what’s important to note is this new, clamshell like boot lid that somehow completes the package of the ‘new look’. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the new Swift seems to be going down the same roads that the Porsche 911 or Mini has – every generation could very well be an evolutionary design. There are two schools of thought behind this, one that says if it ain’t broke, just apply mascara; the other school wants you to visit the plastic surgeon. Suzuki obviously chose the former, and it’s as big a gamble as it ever gets.
So now that you are convinced there’s not much to talk about as far as the design is concerned, at least as long as you aren’t willing to accept that it’s somewhat different, let’s get down to brass tacks. The car now rides on either 14 or 15-inch wheels, the latter being of the alloy kind. You now get turn indicators on the mirrors on the mid and top-end variants and for the first time, there’s even a ZDi variant; yes, airbags and ABS on the diesel! The car is lighter too, some 30 kg for the petrol and 15 kg for the diesel. Most of the weight savings can be found in the way the platform has been put together as well as in areas like the polymer fuel tank; the savings are as high as 6 kg right there.
The biggest changes can be found on the inside. The new Swift has a dash that’s remarkably different from the last car. Gone are some of the scruffy and cheaper plastics and in comes a higher quality dash with soft-touch material and a centre-console that looks rather similar to the one on the Kizashi. Even the steering seems to be lifted straight from the premium Suzuki, something that should help the Swift receive more plaudits. The controls are well-finished and there’s a sort of tactility in their function that its predecessor lacked in more than a few places. The stereo controls on the steering and on the centre-console of the ZXi/ZDi variants, for instance, have a nice feel to them, while the instrument console looks rich and well-finished. Even the control stalks are new and they have a heavier feel to them, though they’re not necessarily the most convenient to use. Yet, there are some familiar bits, like the gear lever golf-ball cover, the rear-view mirror adjuster and even the power window switches that are just carried over from the previous car.
The revised dimensions – 90 mm longer and a 50 mm increase in wheelbase – have meant the occupants at the rear now get 28 mm more legroom and 20 mm more knee room. To put that into perspective, there’s a bit more room than before, which is good considering the rear seat of the previous car wasn’t a happy place to be in. You still have to make do with the cave-like feel that the high waistline, small quarter glass and the thick black plastic shroud on the door contribute to. But it’s now a part of the design language and thousands of Indians haven’t been complaining about it thus far!
The motors too are familiar territory. The 1248cc, DDiS diesel motor produces the same power and torque, with slight changes to the ECU to help make the car (combined with weight loss) increase its efficiency from 21.5 kpl to 22.9 kpl (ARAI). The 1.2-litre K Series motor gets variable-valve tech to help make the motor Euro V compliant as well as improve efficiency from 17.9 kpl to 18.6 kpl. What’s also different is the amount of power – an increase from 84 bhp to 86 bhp, while the peak torque stays the same at 11.5 kgm, though it now arrives at 4000 rpm instead of 4500 rpm. The gearbox too is a carryover from the last car, the gear ratios staying identical, save for the petrol, where the 4th gear is marginally taller.
Has it made any difference to the performance capabilities of the Swift? Well, we strapped on our testing equipment and found that there isn’t much to worry about. With the diesel, there is a slight drop in performance. Up to 60 kph, the old and new car are identical, but there onwards, the new one drops 0.4 seconds to 100 kph. There is a drop in the in-gear acceleration times too, from 12.4 seconds for the 80-120 kph run to 13.2 seconds. One could possibly point a finger in the larger interests of fuel economy, though seat of the pants feel also tells you that the sudden ‘rush’ that the erstwhile diesel provided is a bit missing here. While the motor may be the same and Maruti claim to have reduced in-cabin noise levels by 3 dB, the diesel clatter is pretty prominent when you step on the throttle, especially once you are at three-digit speeds.
The petrol is where the performance numbers have improved. The runs to 60 kph and 100 kph are a good few tenths quicker, but even the passing speeds have improved. This is primarily down to the way the peak torque is now delivered, making it flatter lower down the rev band. There is still some lack of torque at the very bottom of the rev range, which has generally been the case for the K12 M engine, but it isn’t all that bad. Past 3000 rpm, there is a certain vivaciousness and the car seems to get a spring in its step. What has also shown marked improvement is the gearshift quality on both the petrol and diesel. The use of detent-pin technology that we first saw on the Zen Estilo and SX4 diesel has meant there is close to no notchiness on offer.
What is also now on offer is an enhanced level of stiffness. The reduced kerb weight due to the higher use of high-tensile steel in critical areas as well as a newer design for the front suspension has meant that the Swift has become even more fun to drive. The use of 15-inch wheels, combined with a squatter front end, gives the Swift even more grip than before, but it doesn’t sacrifice on handling in the process. There is still a certain degree of hooliganism that one can engage in with the new car, just like the old one. It turns in quickly, thanks to the light steering, but there is lots of lateral grip and little by way of body roll. The light steering, however, has some pitfalls. High-speed turn-ins are not exactly confidence inspiring, with not enough feel to the proceedings, with the diesel weighing up better. It’s in areas like ride quality that the Swift has shown a higher level of maturity, with a more settled and planted ride. There’s also better high speed stability on the whole, but on the perfectly paved stretches of Udaipur, it was hard to give you an accurate picture.
The Swift is, therefore, just like the old Swift, but better. To say that the last car still could walk head and shoulders with quite a few hatchbacks from the current crop is quite an achievement. The new one, though, takes it up right there with the very best. In the process of it becoming better, the Swift has become that much more appealing, that much more honest.
And what, you ask, happened of that challenge in Kullu? Said Baleno piled on the pressure, but the Swift, me and that moment will remain etched forever in my memory. Those 60 kilometres, with the pro right up our hindside, meant I had to call in all my reserves and drive like a maniac. We made up those 30 minutes, said Baleno gave up the fight – what it turned out to be was the right moment, the right road and the right car.
SUZUKI SWIFT ZXi/ZDi
Displacement: 1197cc (pet)/ 1248cc (diesel)
Bore x Stroke: 73 x 71.5/ 69.6 x 82 mm
Compression ratio: 10.0:1/ 17.6:1
Max power: 86 bhp@6000 rpm/ 74 bhp@4000 rpm
Max torque: 11.5 kgm@4000 rpm/ 19.3 kgm@2000 rpm
Valvetrain: 16-valves VVT DOHC/ 16-valves CRDI
Specific output: 71.8 bhp/litre/ 59.3 bhp/litre
Power to weight: 87.9 bhp/tonne/ 68.5 bhp/tonne
Torque to weight: 11.6 kgm/tonne/ 17.9 kgm/tonne
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Type: Rack and pinion with EPS
Turning radius: 4.8 metres
Front: McPherson struts, anti-roll bar
Rear: Torsion beam
Front: Ventilated discs
Rear: Self-adjusting drums
ABS: Standard with EBD on ZXi/ZDi
185/65 R15 (ZXi/ZDi)
L/W/H (mm): 3850/1695/1530
Wheelbase: 2430 mm
Track (F/R): 1475/1485 mm
Ground clearance: 170 mm
Kerb weight: 990 kg/1080 kg
Tank capacity: 42 litres
0-60 kph: 5.81 s/5.74 s
0-100 kph: 13.44 s/ 14.62 s
80-120 kph: 11.8 s/13.2 s
100-140 kph: 22.4 s/21.6 s
Top speed: 165 kph/160 kph
0-100 kph-0: NA/19.5 s
18.6 kpl/ 22.9 kpl (ARAI)
Price: Rs 4.5 to 6.62 LAKH ex-showroom, Mumbai