The Suzuki Swift is a bit of an outlier in the world of superminis. While the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa dominate the new car market, the relatively small brand can’t hope to compete with two of the behemoths of the industry on scale.
So instead it ploughs a different furrow, offering lower prices and features rare or unique in the segment, including hybrid motors and all-wheel-drive transmissions.
As well as being unusual, the Swift’s drivetrain line-up is a little confusing. There are two engines – a three-cylinder 1.0-litre 110bhp Boosterjet and a four-pot 1.2-litre 89bhp Dualjet – two transmissions and the choice of two- or four-wheel drive plus an optional integrated starter generator hybrid system. Two-wheel-drive hybrids get the turbocharged 1.0-litre engine but four-wheel-drives get the naturally aspirated 1.2, while if you want an auto, you can only have it in 1.0-litre, two-wheel-drive without the hybrid.
Our particular car was the all-wheel-drive, manual hybrid. Official figures put its 0-62mph time at a leisurely 12.6 seconds but around town – its most natural habitat – it doesn’t feel that slow, buzzing along nicely in traffic. Official economy is just shy of 50mpg and a decent mixed run returned 51+mpg while less sympathetic urban runs stuck in the mid-40s.
Even with a four-wheel-drive system, the Swift is ridiculously light (980kg), which helps it feel nimble and responsive on faster roads, with the permanent all-wheel-drive moving torque around as required. Pure driver involvement is probably not high on the list of Swift buyers’ priorities but light steering and a pleasing directness mean it is also easy to nip around in city centre traffic.
Suzuki Swift SZ-5 SHVS Allgrip
Price: £17,499 (£17,984 as tested)
Engine: 1.2-litre, four-cylinder, petrol with hybrid ISG
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 105mph
0-62mph: 12.6 seconds
CO2 emissions: 101g/km (NEDC)
Suzuki’s focus remains on providing plenty of value for money rather than wowing with plush materials. Compared with an £18,000 Fiesta or Corsa, the Swift’s interior looks and feels cheap, with hard plastics and basic switchgear and its refinement isn’t a match for the best in class. But it crams in plenty of equipment to make up for it. Much of the cost is explained by the four-wheel-drive system but the SZ-5 trim also brings adaptive cruise control, high beam assist, autonomous emergency braking, DAB, nav and smartphone mirroring, along with auto air con, alloys and extra external body trim.
While the standard Swift and the Swift Sport have fairly obvious rivals in various versions of the Fiesta, Corsa, Panda, Clio etc, this particular car with its hybrid drivetrain and four-wheel-drive is a more unusual option. It’s nearest competitor is probably the ageing Fiat Panda 4×4 which, at around £15,000, is cheaper but lacks the hybrid option (a 2WD hybrid is available) and much of the safety, driver assist and connectivity of the Swift. Alternatively, similar money will get you a four-wheel-drive Dacia Duster but that’s a much larger vehicle with a diesel engine.
Depending on where you live and the road conditions you encounter, there might be an argument for a four-wheel-drive version of the compact Swift and if that’s what you want then you have to have the 1.2-litre hybrid in top spec. But think carefully about whether you really need it. Two-wheel-drive versions come with the more modern, more powerful and more economical 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine, with or without the hybrid system. And if you can live without some of the SZ-5’s extras, the SZ-T is cheaper, too.
This article first appeared in our sister title The Scotsman