Fleet News

Suzuki Swift

Suzuki

Review

SUZUKI is planning to stand by its dealers when a diesel option allows it to start competing for fleet business in the UK car market later this year.

Despite a move to offer diesel as an alternative to petrol power on every new car it launches in future, the Japanese firm has already ruled out setting up a direct marketing channel to handle potential extra business, revealed Suzuki GB sales and marketing director David Seward.

He said: ‘All but one of our 150 outlets are owner-drivers who have shown remarkable loyalty to our brand over the years. We feel it would be unfair to stream off additional registrations in the corporate sector by setting up a head office operation.

‘All the fleet sales we envisage for the future will be handled by about 30 dealers who are well equipped and strategically placed to cater for the industry.’

The new Swift supermini, launched to international media in Monaco, is the firm’s first right-hand drive car to offer diesel power.

Due on sale in May with 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre petrol engines, the B-sector model is expected to achieve up to 6,000 registrations this year. But the car’s position as a rival to the Toyota Yaris, Fiat Punto and Ford Fiesta in the public utility sector will be strengthened from September when it becomes available in turbodiesel form.

With a 68bhp version of the acclaimed Fiat 1.3-litre Multijet unit under its bonnet, the car will boast a CO2 emission figure of only 122g/km and the potential to stretch more than 70 miles from a single gallon of fuel.

Seward said: ‘It may not be seen as a motorway mile-eater, but we believe this new Swift has all it takes to appeal to user-choosers and retail buyers alike. The diesel market has ballooned in Britain and small has become beautiful as an increasing number of motorists switch from upper-medium models to cars that are more cost-effective but which still offer comparable comfort and specification levels.

‘Suzuki has an enviable heritage in small car engineering, and while we never intend to enter the shark-infested waters of the D-segment, we are particularly well placed to benefit from the change in attitude that has led to downsizing and a keener interest in operating economy.’

The company’s first product to be developed in Europe, the new model shares only its name with the cheap and cheerful entry-level car that ended a 15-year production run in 2000.

Bigger than its predecessor and superior in every way, it will be dearer and likely to cost from £7,800 in UK showrooms.

In a break with tradition, Suzuki Motor dispatched a team of more than 100 design staff and research and development engineers to Europe to work on the new three and five-door hatchback range. Chief engineer Eiji Mochizuki said: ‘We usually design our cars in Japan and then adapt them for use in other markets, but we decided to take the global approach with the Swift project. We created the car in Europe, developed it for manufacture at our factory in Hungary and have made only minor changes for the versions being produced in Japan, India, China and Indonesia.

‘We visited Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK with a view to building a better compact car and are confident we have achieved a global standard. The Swift is more refined, more user-friendly and more enjoyable to drive than anything else in the segment.’

According to Mochizuki, the team drew on European motor industry expertise to come up with wide-stance body styling with minimum overhangs and wraparound windscreen.

More suggestions relating to ride and handling resulted in a new design for the front suspension and the adoption of a torsion-beam layout at the rear – a novelty that allows a lower floor in the luggage area, which extends from 213 litres to 562 litres with the seats folded.

Based on the concept S shown at Paris in 2002 and the S2 unveiled at Frankfurt in 2003, the Swift hints at a sporting personality with slightly flared wheel arches and a built-in tailgate spoiler. Occupant space is generous at the front and adequate at the rear, instrumentation is generous, including outside temperature and computed fuel consumption, and trim detailing is neat. All versions of the car have a height-adjusting driver’s seat and tilt-adjust steering. Though pricing is not yet available, GL cars for the UK will have side and curtain airbags, ABS brakes with brake assist, side impact beams and an immobiliser fitted as standard.

Convenience items include power steering, front electric windows, remote central locking, CD player with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a pollen filter, heated electric door mirrors and tinted glass. GLX trim will include keyless entry, air conditioning, alloy wheels and front foglamps.

Revised 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre petrol engines come with a choice of five-speed manual, five-speed automated or four-speed automatic transmissions and variable valve timing is featured on the larger motor.

Badged as the DDiS, the Fiat-supplied turbodiesel unit has an intercooled turbo-charger and will be available only with the manual gearbox.

The 1.3-litre petrol engine will power three and five-door GL versions and the 1.5-litre motor will be restricted to the five-door GL and GLX cars in the initial range line-up. Next year, following the launch of the new Grand Vitara sport utility model, the Swift range will be extended to include GTI and four wheel drive versions before a slightly stretched version of its platform is also used for the compact sport utility model that will replace the 4x4 Ignis.

By early 2007, a coupe-cabriolet version of the Swift will rival the Peugeot 206CC by featuring a powered, folding metal roof.

Mochizuki said: ‘We have made safety a high priority on the Swift, with six airbags standard across the range and a design that uses a collapsible steering column and brake and clutch pedals that mitigate leg injuries in accidents.’

Behind the wheel

With smooth contours, relatively large wheels and minimum overhangs, the new Swift has an appearance that is both chic and cheeky, and our brief test session through crowded Monte Carlo showed the 1.5-litre GLX version to have the character to match.

Quiet and comfortable, this is a refined little car that performs in a relaxed manner. Confident through the bends at speed, it feels stable on the open road but is easy to twirl through traffic. Styled to be light and airy, the cabin feels spacious and has at least half a dozen handy storage areas for small items.

The GLX has a 60-40 split rear seat to extend the flat load floor at either side for maximum versatility, and this version also boasts the convenience of keyless entry. But an electric tailgate lock is fitted across the range.

Both petrol engines are free-revving and spirited performers, but the DDiS proves the star turn with a prodigious output that belies its 1.3-litre capacity. On paper, its 14.2 sec benchmark acceleration time looks tardy, but a flat torque curve allows this little unit to overtake in surprisingly lively fashion and cruise in a refined manner.

Driving verdict

Suzuki has worked hard to deliver a product that’s streets ahead of its predecessor in looks and capability and – significantly – quality. But indicated lead-in pricing seems on the high side for a sector where cost is all-important and competition is keen.

Model: 1.3 1.5 1.3DDiS
Engine (cc): 1,328 1,490 1,248
Max power (bhp/rpm): 91/5,800 100/5,900 68/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 85/4,200 98/4,100 125/2,000
Max speed (mph): 108 115 102
0-62mph (sec): 11 10 14.2
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 46.3 43.4 61.4
CO2 emissions (g/km): 143 159 122
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 45/9.8
On sale: May
Price: from £7,800 approx

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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