Suzuki Swift 2004 review

Here's the car that Suzuki hopes will fly out of its showrooms.

For the first time ever Suzuki is set to join the mainstream, with a car that's genuinely good enough to take on class leaders. This is an incredible achievement, and one which will certainly raise a few eyebrows on the UK market. Providing the firm maintains its reputation for offering excellent value for money, it could have a surprise winner on its hands...

Here's the car that Suzuki hopes will fly out of its showrooms. Developed to show that the firm is deadly serious about taking on Europe's best hatchbacks, the all-new Swift arrives early next year. Based on the Concept S first seen at the 2002 Paris Motor Show, the machine is one of Suzuki's most stylish models ever, boasting fresh, dynamic styling and a more upmarket cabin.

Auto Express was the first to drive the newcomer, on a track in Japan. Sitting longer, wider and lower than before, on a totally new platform, the Swift features a bold front end and a neat rear, giving a sportier presence than its predecessor. Engines include two petrol units, with a diesel to follow in the form of the 70bhp 1.3-litre from the Vauxhall Corsa and Fiat Punto. The 1.3 petrol powerplant generates 91bhp and 118Nm of torque, while the 1.5 model, driven here, offers 110bhp and 143Nm.

Our car's engine was responsive from 2,000rpm, but its optional four-speed auto box tended to wander. However, the five-ratio manual is a gem; perfectly matched to the even torque curve and with a positive feel and short throw. When the Swift - to be built at a plant in Hungary - arrives in Europe in spring 2005, a four-wheel-drive version will also be offered. But the revised drivetrains are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to on-road manners.

To get the European mix just right, Suzuki's engineers spent months driving a test mule on Spanish and UK back roads. They also took it on to German autobahns. The result is superb, with greatly improved chassis rigidity. The steering feels light in town, but at higher speeds it loads up nicely and gives plenty of feedback.

And the handling and ride combination is among the best in the class, with the front-drive car's rear end staying firmly planted no matter what you do. The Swift will understeer at the limit, but otherwise it corners as neutrally as any rival, with minimum body roll.

In contrast to the Japanese dampers fitted to the homegrown model, Monroe shock absorbers will be used in Europe to cater to the variety of surfaces and higher average speeds. Softer compound tyres will also be specified.

With vented front discs and a superbly weighted brake pedal, the Su-zuki pulls up neatly with minimal nose dive. And standard-fit ABS, EBD and brake assist mean the Swift offers the latest in safety features. Both twin and side airbags are also standard.

Inside, the car's roominess betraysits compact exterior. There's plenty of head, leg and elbow room, even in the back. But it's the quantum leap in design flair and interior quality which makes the Swift stand out. The cloth-trimmed seats are firm and comfortable, while visibility is excellent all round. Fitted with higher-spec plastics than any Suzuki before it, the dash is simple yet stylish, with an MP3, MiniDisc and CD system incorporated into the facia.

We reckon the Swift's stylish looks, inspired handling and cabin quality will erase all memory of the outgoing model in Europeans buyers' minds.

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