The latest Suzuki Swift might look too similar to the last, but can it teach supermini rivals a thing or two?
I spent two weeks driving a 1.3 DDiS SZ3 and a 1.2 SZ4 back to back, to find out.
The Swift has always been an attractive supermini alternative, its wraparound windscreen, sharply defined haunches and big, elongated headlamps still looked fresh even five years after launch.
Good news then, that although Suzuki have changed every panel, it still looks the same despite being longer and slightly taller.
At the front, the nose seems sleeker and wider, with the headlights stretching further into the front wings.
From the side, the extra 3.5 inches on the Swift is so well integrated into the design I only was aware of this change after I'd read the press pack. I also liked the way the large LED rear light clusters, like the headlights, follow the beltline.
Move to the back of the Swift and like the front, the biggest change is the larger rear lights that work their way even further up the haunches, giving the back of the Swift much less of a sawn-off appearance than the last.
All-round visibility was excellent in both Swifts; it's quite easy to judge the front and rear overhangs and along with the large wing mirror and light steering, it's a very easy car to park, even in the tightest spaces.
The first of the two Swifts that I tried was an SZ3 powered by the new to Suzuki, 74bhp, 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, that comes from Fiat/GM and is shared with amongst others, the Ford Ka and Vauxhall Astra. It's mated with a slick-shifting five-speed manual gearbox. Emissions of 109g/km and 67.3mpg fuel consumption figures are quite impressive considering the petrol version's 56.5mpg Combined figure.
On the other hand, the SZ4 petrol was powered by a 93bhp 1.2-litre four-cylinder 16-valve engine. Also paired with a five-speed manual transmission, it has Co2 emissions of 116g/km and a Combined fuel consumption of 56.5mpg, which is efficient given how sprightly it feels.
The two Swifts I drove were enjoyable because of their well-sorted chassis with plenty of grip, excellent body control and chassis balance. All of this adds up to a fine handling supermini, that urges you to drive it harder than you might expect.
However, out of the two, I thought that the petrol was slightly better balanced than the diesel.
The two Swifts were both running 16-inch alloy wheels, that I thought filled the Suzuki's arches really well. The upshot of fitting these wheels is a generally refined driving experience. Only motorways are hard work, where both the engines and road imperfections make themselves known in the cabin.
Build quality on both cars was disappointing; it's not that either Swift was badly made, it's just that the hard interior plastics are way off the standards of supermini class leaders.
The 1.3 DDiS diesel was noisier than expected, but offers decent mid-range thrust and although not as sharp to drive as the petrol, it's almost as much fun.
The 1.2-litre petrol on the other hand, was smooth and eager, even if the performance is modest at best. I found myself working the five-speed hard to get the best out of this Swift.
The 1.3 DDiS gets to 62mph in a rather leisurely 12.7 seconds and can run on to a top speed of 103mph. The petrol is a smidge quicker at 12.3 seconds to 62mph and a 103mph top speed; there isn't a lot of difference in performance between both cars, but the petrol engine is more willing, which feels positively rocketship by comparison. Good thing the brakes are excellent and shared by both cars.
The longer wheelbase of the new Swift equals plenty of interior space front and rear in both Suzukis. The only weak point on both cars is the tiny 204 litre boot, which is only just big enough for a weekly shopping trip. It can be extended with the rear seats folded down, but practicality is hampered as the seat backs don't fold completely flat.
Our DDiS test car was in SZ3 trim, which included remote central locking, electric front windows and electric, heated door mirrors.
However, the petrol Swift was in range-topping SZ4 trim that includes useful big car features such as keyless go, automatic air-conditioning and cruise control.
So to sum up, whilst both these Swifts look the same as the last, there's a more spacious cabin and the 1.3 DDiS diesel impresses by how frugal it is. Both are great to drive, but the quality of of the interior trim and lack of bootspace mean that Swift cannot challenge the class best.