CHIANGRAI TIMES – Suzuki really did it the easy way for its Ecocar project in Thailand. Instead of developing an all-new model and launching it in Thailand first, the Japanese car maker merely took the latest generation Swift _ sold in Japan and Europe for more than a year already _ and presented it as a rival for the Honda Brio, Nissan March and Mitsubishi’s pending Mirage.
Due to hit showrooms on March 22, the new Swift also serves as the replacement for the outgoing model which was built in Indonesia and shipped to Thailand via Afta benefits.
And now being made in Thailand, since our Asean neighbour has discontinued assembling the Swift and is slated to make the Ertiga MPV derivative instead, it means that Thais in the future will not only have a hatch to choose from but also a more versatile alternative.
Thais should be delighted to have the Swift made as Ecocar because it is among the biggest of the breed in its class. Not only does it have more metal and cabin space than in the old Swift but it is also adequate enough to outwit the likes of the Brio. In other words, the Swift is more a B-segment car like the March; the Brio is A-sized positioned below the Jazz.
Although the dimensions are very similar to the March, the Swift has apparently been designed with the Brio’s concept: lots of space for front occupants, but less so for rear passengers.
The Swift’s luggage area is only average and while the rear seats can fold for extra space, the floor isn’t flat and is a two-tier design. Fortunately, the Brio and March do exactly the same.
In spite of that, it must be noted that the Swift is still practical when it comes to details like the bottle holders on all four door panels.
But where the Swift excels over all of its opponents is the driving position and the interior’s perceived quality. Apart from a six-way adjustable seat, the steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach to help accommodate persons of virtually every size.
The materials used on the door panels and dashboard, the panel dials and their fonts also feel the most premium in its class. And if you settle for the range-topping version, there’s a lovely leather-clad steering and stylish gear knob.
In other words, the driver cockpit helps offset the Swift’s origin as a cost-effective car and is a significant step forward over its predecessor, as well. Just beware the GA base model gets a reach-only steering adjustment, no rev counter and, pathetically, no audio system.
An unfortunate thing about the new Swift is that it doesn’t go and steer as well as the previous Swift which, all of a sudden, should make current customers smile since they are being charged more for than the new Swift. We’ll get into pricing shortly.
Instead of the previous 105hp 1.5-litre petrol four-pot, the Swift now gets a 91hp 1.2-litre variation to conform with Ecocar rules (no more than 1,300cc). Coincidentally, the Swift also gets this 1.2 in Europe and Japan.
And instead of a normal four-speed automatic, the new Swift has a CVT automatic just like in the Brio, March and Mirage.
With this new combination, the Swift doesn’t perform as well as before. It only accelerates modestly and overtakes with some stress at higher speeds. Simply put, it lacks the spirited performance of the old car.
But if you put its Ecocar rivals into perspective, the Swift is sufficiently quick though not outstanding to really shine in its class. Also equal with the March is its fuel economy where we managed some 18kpl on the average. The 20kpl requirement of Ecocar _ which Suzuki says the car can do without automatic stop-start _ wasn’t attainable in our hands in real-world driving.
This means the Brio is still the one to beat when it comes to outright performance and fuel economy (comfortably capable of 20kpl). The only aspect of the Swift’s drivetrain that stands out is refinement, be it when cruising or driving enthusiastically.
The old Swift was known to have the best in-class balance between handling and ride. Although that could arguably still be the case for the new Swift, it isn’t as delicate as before.
Although the Swift still steers with enough directness to make it a highly agile car, the overly damped suspension can make handling soggy at high speeds or when roads get demanding.
If you compare the new and old, the Swift seems to have grown up a little for restrained drivers and lacks the more natural and fluid driving experience of its predecessor. Add that with lesser performance, the Swift is now less fun to drive.
But of more importance to the Swift is that its chassis still delivers against the Brio and March, and as a 500,000 baht Ecocar.
Ah, the price. Suzuki is still tight-lipped about pricing and will only talk about it at its launch later this month. However, our sources suggest that the prices start at 389,000 baht for the manual version and rise to the 529,000 baht for the range-topper as tested here this week. That makes it nearly 100,000 baht cheaper than the old, but higher performing, predecessor.
The specification spread isn’t that ideal yet in the Swift. If you want twin airbags, you need to shoot up right to the top. The same goes for 16-inch mag wheels; the rest of the range is 15-inch steel ones with hub-caps.
You may argue that smaller tires are cheaper to change and yield better low-speed ride with their higher aspect ratio (series rating in layman speak). But you might want to know that we have noted some differences with the test cars made available to the media last week.
The 16-inchers are shod with Bridgestone Turanza tires and helped yielded more grip and made handling sharper. The smaller wheels had the less sophisticated B250 model from the same tire brand that really didn’t offer any advantage in ride terms. So, it’s for you to decide.
So how’s the new Swift in the end? Clearly, it is not as good to drive as before by lacking that nice chassis balance and peppy performance. But it has gained with improved perceived quality and more accommodation.
In fact, these two particular aspects help make the Swift attractive over its Ecocar competition. And if you take into account the Swift’s appearance, it feels thoroughly fresh and new.
While we have no qualms that the Swift offers fine value (at this price level for the top model) with its competitive driving manners, package and kit, punchy and frugal performance would have taken it straight to the top of its class.
Writer: Richard Leu