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It’s the car that spawned the idea that the hatchback could be sexy. That it was no longer the poor man’s car but something that could also be stylish and youthful. Something people would aspire to own before becoming proud owners. Twelve years since it debuted in our country on May 25, 2005, the Maruti Suzuki Swift has 1.7 million of them here in India and 5.8 million globally.
The Swift is also the car that spurred the hatchback market in the country from four players in the segment in 2005 to the current 11. No doubt, some of them were encouraged by the Swift’s rapid success. It’s a hefty legacy that the newest generation of the Swift, the subject of today’s discussion, will have to live up to.
Ask Maruti Suzuki and they will tell you that the top five reasons for people choosing the Swift over and over again are style, features, performance, driving dynamics and comfort. The third generation of the Swift will therefore have to be better than its predecessor on these counts to keep the lamp burning as brightly as it has over the past dozen years.
The new generation Swift is based on the fifth generation HEARTECT platform that debuted with the Baleno. As a result, the Swift is now 40mm wider with a 20mm longer wheelbase. May not sound like much but if you park the new car next to the old car it’s quite clear that the Swift is larger than before. This also means more space on the inside but we’ll get to that in a bit.
The wider track makes the car look like it’s squatting more than ever, which in turn leads to a heightened sense of sportiness. The single aperture grille sits low and helps tune up the aggression in its stance by a notch or two. The flanks have more musculature too. Nothing over the top but enough to make it look sportier and more appealing. The rear is all new and far more contemporary and stylish than the previous car. A noteworthy feature is the floating roof concept. While Swifts of the past have always featured blacked out A and B pillars, the C pillar too has now been blacked out to give a genuine floating effect to the roof. Also noteworthy is the relocation of the rear door handle from its conventional position to its stylish new position on the C pillar.
In effect, the Swift is now bigger. Something you’ll be able to make out easily by looking at the new car. It has more road presence, thanks to the larger dimensions, the extra musculature and improvement in stance. Finally, with that new grille and the sexy rear end, the Swift is far more stylish than it has ever been in the past.
It’s a design that Maruti Suzuki should be proud of, and indeed it is. “The Swift is particularly close to my heart since I led the team of 30 Indian engineers who started the core design with Suzuki,” said C V Raman, senior executive director of Engineering, Maruti Suzuki.
If the previous generation of cars from India’s largest passenger car maker and seller were somewhat lagging behind in the features department, Maruti Suzuki has caught up and overtaken pretty much everyone with its new generation vehicles. The new Swift is therefore packed with creature comforts and safety kit.
We’ll start with the bit that matters – safety. Kudos to Maruti for putting passenger and pedestrian safety right up there and providing ABS, EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution), ISOFIX child seat restraint system, dual airbags and seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters as standard equipment across the range. The vehicle structure is also compliant with all frontal offset and side impact regulations applicable in India and meets advanced regulations for pedestrian.
On the inside, the cabin feels, and is, more spacious. There is 24mm more headroom than before and the seatback of the rear seat has been angled back to release more space. And, in conjunction with the increase in dimension, it works too. With the front seat adjusted for my six feet, I could easily sit at the back without my knees touching the front seatback. Not something I could say for the old Swift, or several other hatchbacks.The front seat is better bolstered and offers more shoulder support. So when you throw it around a series of bends the seat’s ability to hold you in place is much better. Under thigh support however could improve a bit. A chink in the old Swift’s armour was its tiny boot space. That has now been rectified somewhat with an increase of 58 litres, which takes the overall boot capacity to 268 litres – 28 per cent more than before. The new Swift will now comfortably take in one full size suitcase or a couple of smaller ones.
The dash is similar to what you find in the Dzire but funkier than in the sedan, courtesy the smart rotary control knobs of the automatic climate control and the round air con vents. The flat bottomed steering wheel is nice to behold, and hold. Ergonomics are well sorted and everything is within easy reach. For the tech geek there is Maruti’s SmartPlay infotainment system that comes with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink. Bluetooth connectivity is a given of course. As is the sat-nav. This system is actually the same as what we’ve seen in the Ciaz, Vitara Brezza, S Cross, Baleno, Ignis and Dzire. As a result, the system is familiar and offers the same level of user-friendliness as it does in the other cars.
Tipping the scales at 855-880 kilos for the petrol and 955-980 kilos for the diesel, the Swift is now 80-100kg lighter than it was. So, even though the engine options remain unchanged Maruti claims a jump in acceleration with a 10 per cent improvement in the 0-100kmph time of the petrol car and eight per cent improvement for the diesel car. This increase in performance is accompanied by a corresponding increase in fuel economy with the petrol car being certified by ARAI for 22kmpl and the diesel being rated for 27.
The petrol car is powered by the smooth running K12 naturally aspirated 1.2-litre four cylinder engine. The 1197cc unit produces 81.8bhp at 6000 revs and 113Nm of peak torque at 4200rpm. The diesel car, on the other hand, continues to be powered by the tried and tested 1.3 DDiS turbo diesel. The 1248cc four cylinder unit puts out 74bhp at 4000rpm and 190Nm of max twist at 2000rpm.
While we didn’t really log any data on the car to verify the manufacturer’s claim, on the go the Swift certainly feels sprightlier than before. It darts around with a peppiness that is smile-inducing. And this darty nature only adds to the hatchback’s sporty nature.
Both engine options are available with either a five-speed manual or the Auto Gear Shift automated manual. And in both cases if you like driving and wish to take full advantage of the car’s sportier-than-before nature, then we’d recommend that you put your money down on the manual with its slick shifts and short throws. While the AGS (in both cases) works fine in the city and even on the highway if you’re not looking at kickdown acceleration, it falters when you demand a bit more out of it. Shifts then become jerky and the transmission change shocks become quite pronounced. Although this AGS is much better than the initial lot of automated manuals that were first employed by Maruti Suzuki, it’s still not quite there yet in terms of smoothness of operation. It’s a bit of a compromise in favour of convenience and you should know that before you spend on it.
Here again, thanks to the new HEARTECT platform and its inherent strengths, the Swift offers a much improved dynamics package. The suspension is a little bit firmer than what you get in the Dzire and that’s great because it helps the Swift stay truer to its line than the sedan. The hatch is nimble but not nervous. As a result, quick changes of direction are easily accomplished without unsettling the car. This, despite the overall lightness of the structure.
In fact, thanks to the fact that it’s now much lighter than it used to be, the Swift is quite a bit more agile. That, and the improved steering, means that turn in is quick and predictable. On the downside, despite the improvement in steering over the previous car, it’s still not as rich in feedback as we would have liked it to be and feels a little vague, especially at dead centre.
The car we drove came equipped with Bridgestone Ecopia low rolling resistance tyres. While some who drove it thought that outright grip was an issue, we faced none such. They did squeal in protest a bit each time we decided to push the car around a hairpin on the drive to Lonavala, there was no noticeable sensation of the car coming loose around the turn. It felt fairly composed. Push it hard and you will find a fair bit of understeer but we reckon that’s more to do with the front wheels being driven rather than the tyres.
The Swift is more comfortable than before also. But this is more due to the increase in overall cabin space than anything else. It doesn’t feel cramped, especially at the rear courtesy the increase in headroom and leg room. The seats too are nicer and offer better support. All of these, combine with an improved suspension to offer better in cabin comfort.
Driving over sections of rutted roads the car doesn’t feel skittish and bouncy, taking the rough stuff in its stride. Over sharp bumps and through deep pot holes the impact is more heard than felt. Which we’d say is a good thing. There is however a weak spot. While the set up is stiffer than on the Dzire, overall it’s still set up for city speeds over Indian roads. As a result, out on the highway at triple digit speeds you will find a mild to moderate case of oscillation when the suspension refuses to settle down completely.
I started off saying that the Swift had a hefty legacy to live up to. A task made more difficult by the fact that over the dozen years of its existence, competition has increased two-fold. Additionally, while customers continue to use the same parameters – style, features, performance, dynamics and comfort – to choose their set of wheels, their expectations in each case has risen too. To say therefore that it would be a cakewalk for the Swift would be difficult.
However, as an overall package, with all the improvements factored into place, we’d say the Swift will be able to hold on to its position as market leader. Given that Maruti Suzuki prices it well. Our reckoning puts the pricing at between Rs 5 and 6.5 lakh for the petrol and between Rs 6 and 7.5 lakh for the diesel. Ex-showroom of course. Maruti is of course confident (as it should be) of its newest baby with one of them even jovially suggesting at dinner that they might be able to sell as many as 10,000 units a fortnight. While the numbers game will only unfold over time, you can book one for Rs 11,000 at a Maruti Suzuki Arena dealership. And we can tell you it won’t be a case of moolah wasted.