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Maruti Suzuki Swift - Subcontinental Swift!

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I want one.’ Now, it is not everyday that a spoilt motoring journalist gets into buying-a-car mode. But the moment I saw the new Maruti Suzuki Swift, I wanted one in my parking lot. Actually, I had not even seen the entire car – my first glimpse was the rear left flank of a Garnet Orange car with the boomerang tail lamp – and I was sold. So what makes the Swift, arguably the most important new car launch for this year, oh-so-desirable and stir the money-spending hormone glands of people like me? Well, I was just going to find that out.

Look at me
The desirability factor starts from the way an automobile looks and that is one area in which the new Suzuki excels. Suzuki could have easily built yet another brilliant small car and clothed it with regulation, boxy bodywork like, say, the Wagon R. Instead they got inspiration from the right places such as Italy, France and England, and came up with a Japanese equivalent of a Mini, with the design eccentricity of Renault and the glamour of small Fiats. The new age design had to meet new safety regulations, but Suzuki, for a change, didn’t let that come in the way of creativity. The end result is a car that pays homage to some of the very best small cars ever produced. The front end features vertically stacked headlamps and a raised bonnet line that meets new pedestrian safety norms in Europe. Well-defined, muscular wheel arches, a waistline that runs the length of the car, chunky C-pillars that suggest strength and the beautiful floating-roof (an effect created by black-taping the pillars) all make the car as state-of-the-art as it gets. Add to that a wide footprint, fat rubber, a neat stance and you get the picture. This is one of those small cars that even those who can afford much bigger cars will appreciate. Seriously, it is difficult to find a flaw in the design of the Swift – I personally would have liked a base version in white with black bumpers, but then it could well be just me. And yes, the five-spoke alloys look much better than the seven-spoked ones. Round one to Suzuki.

Inside dope
The Swift meant for India is built to a price and it reflects in the interior. Despite following the overall international theme (Suzuki calls the Swift their first World Car), you can see where the bean counters won over designers. Still, the instrument console is clean and well textured, the three-spoke steering really sporty and there is adequate room for five passengers and their elbows. The top-end ZXi version should have been given adjustable steering, electric rear-view mirrors and a quality jukebox along with the automatic climatiser which it gets. Rear seats offer decent legroom but could have been better padded. And pray Suzuki, why cringe on headrests for base models? Isn’t that a basic safety feature? Ditto with the external rear view mirrors – the base model gets just one! Come on!   Motive motives
At the very outset of the Swift project, it was clear that the Indian and Chinese versions would use the existing 1.3 litre engine from the Esteem – albeit revised, reworked and re-mapped. The new generation VVT (variable valve timing) engines on offer in the European Swift would have pushed up the list price by almost a lakh of rupees – hence. So was that a smart move? To begin with, there is nothing seriously wrong with the Esteem motor – it has got adequate performance and decent drinking habits – and it does a good job of propelling the slightly heavier Swift. The familiar 1298cc motor breathes through 16 valves and develops a not-so-anaemic 87 bhp at 6000 rpm and 11.7 kgm of torque at 4500 rpm. The Swift dismissed 60 kph in 6.08 seconds and touched 100 kph in 12.85 seconds. What it lacks is the kind of refinement a decade of engineering advancements have brought in. So it feels a bit stressed as it accelerates from standstill and a bit coarse as the revs build up. The gearbox though, is new, and the new imported ‘gears’ are an important cog (couldn’t help that) in this powertrain equation. Going by the speedo, the first gear is good for 58 kph, second 100 kph, and third, a bloody brilliant 150 kph. Spot-on gearing also means 80-120 kph (passing speed) is achieved in 12.12 seconds and 100-140 kph arrived in 13.43 seconds – making the Swift an extremely driveable car on roads where you do have to overtake a lot. Even before driving the car, we knew that the Swift had outstanding dynamics going for it, though we had our reservations when it came to powertrain refinement and performance – I can say that performance was not disappointing, though I expected more on the refinement front. Enthusiasts need not worry, this car scores well in the fun-to-drive ratings.

Ride said Fred
This is one area where the Swift scores over its competition. The Indian version rides higher and has an altogether new chassis balance and setup – needless to say, tyres too. It must have been real hard work to get the rubber compound/spring and damper rating correct for our roads, and I have to say the result is outstanding. The Swift can be used to attack corners at speeds that would impress much bigger cars. Remember, the original Mini was a brilliant handler and it won many a laurel. Same with the Swift – this is one car that begs to be driven hard and one Mr Alec Issigonis must be a content man up there. It is also good to see sub-frame mounted suspension underpinnings on mass production small cars. If I must crib, there could have been better feedback from the steering (electrically assisted – pinion driven) which feels not so well-weighted and hence not connected. Full marks to JK Tyre for producing outstanding tubeless rubber for this new generation car, though.

To sum up
There are three models to choose from – the base LXi gets power steering and airconditioning, but has manual controls for doors and locking. Even this model gets colour-coded bumpers. The VXi is fairly well appointed, and gets ABS with electronic brake distribution (EBD) as an option – brilliant move, something we have been urging car makers to offer for a long time. The top-of-the-line ZXi gets airbags, ABS with EBD and 14-inch alloys plus lots of bells and whistles. You can see that Maruti Suzuki have done their homework well with the Indian Swift. It is arguably one of the safest, newest small cars to come to India. More importantly, it is an extremely desirable Suzuki at last. Also expect the Swift to return 12-13 kpl effortlessly in town. The Indian Swift is the culmination of outstanding effort from a young bunch of Indian engineers who worked at Hamamatsu throughout the development of the car – hats off to them for creating a car that really understands Indian conditions. 

Everything depends on the price, and Maruti’s introductory price was spot-on. Starting from Rs 4.03 lakh for the VXi going all the way up to Rs 5.07 lakh for the ZXi (prices ex-showroom Mumbai), the Swift offers value for money. Guess what, I really don’t care even if it is a bit more expensive (Maruti has added Rs 10,000 to the price tag after 8th June 2005) – I really want one in metallic Garnet Orange and trust me to paint that floating roof a contrasting white.