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Reviewed: New Swift

Driven September 2011

Reviewed: New Swift

I turned around – this time it was a Swift, it’s young driver’s hands firm on the steering wheel, head popping out of the window and the rest of the passengers in the car shaken from their sleep by the sudden deceleration.
“Is this the new Swift?”, he yelled from across the highway. I nodded, too tired after having taken the same question over and over again from owners of Santros, Swifts, Citys... This guy had a red Swift. As did I. But even going past at speed, he could tell the difference. Impressive.

By now, I was ready to pat the new Swift designers’ backs. They had managed to direct its evolution perfectly. New for sure, but without letting go of the old car’s inherently good design backbone. That the new Swift’s looks haven’t come out of a clean canvas may not sound good on paper but the execution in this case is near faultless.

Bigger, bolder, better, and here’s how. . . Obviously, one of the reasons current Swift owners are noticing the new car is the fact that it looks much bigger. A major grouse of most Swift owners was that although the car was big, it didn’t correspondingly have a lot of space inside. As a result, wheelbase had to go up. Compared to the earlier model, the new Swift is much longer, marginally wider and nearly as tall. Length has gone up by 155mm and most of that has gone into the rear. The front bonnet area looks elongated, adding to the stretch feel.

There are a lot of new design elements, almost all of them inspired by the outgoing car. The headlamps are similar shaped but now stretched further back. The tail lamps get the same treatment. Bumpers and wheel arches are more flared and the front grille now a more prominent area at the front.

The rear hatch is small in a cutesy way and gives the car a nice squat look from the rear. What these changes do in tandem is make the Swift look fresher, more muscular, and a more proper big hatchback. Which is pretty much how you want it to look. On certain counts, it reminds you more of the Mini design theme, especially in the way the flatter bonnet spreads. Which is a good thing.

The old Swift was a good drive. The new one is better. The pictures you see here are from a stretch of road outside Udaipur, on NH76. It’s a clean stretch – smooth tar most of the way, not much traffic since it doesn’t lead to any big town of consequence, the only hazards coming in the form of stray cattle or the odd oncoming truck on the wrong side of the road. And it is here that you appreciate the new Swift’s dynamic characteristics. First, the diesel.

It is the same DDIS unit – fixed geometry turbocharged with intercooler – that did business in the first-gen Swift and continues to do so in the DZire. The free-revving, punchy little unit – left mostly untouched for the new car – instantly gratifies, with first the 190Nm of torque from as low as 2000rpm, and then the 74bhp at twice those revs.

The petrol engine in comparison supplies 86bhp and 114Nm. The latter is slightly more than the outgoing car’s K-series unit. The new unit features VVT or Variable Valve Timing, which Maruti Suzuki first used in the SX4 two years ago to make it BS IV compliant. The same mechanism features in the Swift and what it does in absolute terms for the car is nudge its efficiency up. The official claim is now 18.6kpl – that’s 0.7kpl better than the earlier model. We reckon the real-world figure will hover around 13. The diesel claims a more outlandish 22.9kpl, which is 1.2kpl more than the previous car’s figure, so expect this to be around 18kpl. Not a bad thought at all.

The petrol unit is quite refined and free-revving and can take you quicker through the paces as you make a dash for triple-digit speeds. But try pushing it to the limit and it becomes a struggle, even for us on this fast and open NH76. Gearshifts are quicker now but it looks like the engineers have sliced a bit off the car’s performance to improve efficiency. Which is why the diesel is a more fun car – you have all the power and therefore all the time to make little work of overtaking. It’s eager and it makes the Swift feel genuinely fast, with its ability to do a reasonably quick sprint and even maintain handsome cruising speeds, even when you’re not trying hard.

The larger and slightly wider footprint means the Swift is a better road hugger on the curves. The steering may not have the feel of a German-built car but it’s pretty direct and nicely weighted. The electric power steering works well, even at dead centre, and gives you enough feedback to let you know what you should and should not do with the car. The rally-based suspension is a bit on the firm side and you can feel that at slow speeds. Otherwise, it’s pretty pliant. Surprisingly, you can feel the body roll a tad more that you’d like it to. Especially if you’re at the rear.

And speaking of the rear, there’s now more legroom there. Three on the back bench is still a tight fit but you won’t feel claustrophobic. This is partly due to the increased wheelbase and partly due to the fact that the front seats – now slightly larger – have a concave backrest to free up more knee room, just as Maruti did in the Alto K10.

The interiors are vastly improved. The theme is still black – thankfully – and the Swift’s engineers haven’t bitten the ‘bright beige interiors’ bug yet. More importantly, this is good quality – across the fit-and-finish, the plastics, the surface feel, and the soft-touch buttons on the elegant centre console. It’s all good enough to give most European cars a lesson or two in interior design. Of course, most of the nice stuff like the integrated music system, controls on the steering wheel and those sexy 15-inch signature alloy wheels will only be available on the top-the-line variant.

Speaking of which, there’ll be three trim levels each for the petrol and diesel, with the ZDi also making an arrival. Although prices are yet to be announced, we’re guessing the V variant will be the best value for money. Unfortunately, apart from the integrated centre console and alloy wheels, it also won’t get things like rear wash wipe or any of the active safety features like front airbags and the third-gen ABS system.

Which is a bit of a shame because what our market has evolved to, a premium hatch will no longer be premium unless it is fully-specced – refer i20. Which brings us to the top-of-the-line Z variants. Thankfully for the new Swift, Maruti Suzuki has always been good with pricing, and although the prices were not out yet at the time of going to press, we hear it will definitely be lower than the i20. Which is very likely considering the Swift still doesn’t come with options like Bluetooth telephony, satnav or hey, sunroof.

But where it excels is in being a smart evolution over the car that now has demi-god status in the small car world. It is bigger, bolder and better. As that Swift owner would have vouched for – he had stepped out of his car to get a closer look.

“So, will you buy this?” I asked him. ‘Not sure,” he replied. ‘I still haven’t fallen out of love with my (old) Swift,” and his gaze drifted back to his car. As I clipped on my seat belt, he returned. “Maybe if it’s priced right, I would…” Love and loyalty sold. Ladies and gentleman, we have a new winner. All rise.

 



Girish Karkera

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