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Summer loving in a Swift:

By BRENWIN NAIDU

SUZUKI was one of the manufacturers that impressed us in 2011. Sure, they didn’t have the biggest new product offensive in the outgoing year, but cars like the updated Swift indicated that Suzuki was serious about pandering to the local market, and determined to keep their image fresh.

The Kisazhi was a particularly important vehicle – challenging the status quo, showing that one needn’t go the traditional German route, when seeking an executive four-door saloon. Its status as a competitor in the Car of the Year competition is proof that this Japanese warrior is confidently making in-roads here.

But back to the Swift. Sports Focus had the use of a top-spec GLS model over the December period, accompanyig us on the usual escapades that take place over the festive season, like frantic last-minute shopping, ferrying families to numerous get-togethers, and the customary holiday travel.

The usual period reserved for vehicle testing is about a week – in this time, we cram in as much driving and use as we can, to get an accurate perspective of how a vehicle handles the tasks you, the consumer, will throw at it. One gets more of an opportunity to do this in three weeks, though. We got a sense of what it’s like to live with this car, treating it as if it were our own – with all the responsibilities that come with it, like filling it with fuel and giving it a wash.

Economy is a salient part of this review. Our lingering memory of the Swift is its frugality – a virtue that you will cherish, in these times of high fuel prices. Shell out R300, and you get a full tank, which offers a range of about 540-kilometres. What really gave me psychological satisfaction that my money was going further, was the range-meter’s reluctance to decrease – when you’re cruising on the highway, it even increases!

For the most part of the test period, the Swift managed an average consumption of 6.6l/100km. This figure was of course more than the claimed  5.5l/100km, but let’s face it: in the real-world, one rarely achieves the manufacturer’s claims smack on.

Its tendency to sip fuel is mostly attributed to its new 1.4-litre engine, which is lighter than the past model’s and features a host of refinements geared at better economy. You may have guessed already, but high-performance isn’t the name of the game here – don’t prepare to win any drag races.

But no matter, the Swift shines through brightly in the column of handling. This is its trump card over fellow B-segment competitors – an ability to make you feel like you’re behind the wheel of a go-kart. With some small hatchbacks, the steering has a tendency to be too light, which is understandable, since it has to be easy to manouvre in tight-spaced city driving and parking.

But the Swift’s steering is nicely weighted, it’s got a sharp sense of direction. We welcome the idea of having a spiced-up version of the Swift – with this same taut chassis, but with added bite in the engine area. An automatic transmission is offered, and it would seem like a sensible choice in Johannesburg – which its frustrating traffic jams. But swapping cogs manually in the Swift is plenty of fun, as we discovered on more exuberant driving stints.

The convenience of never having to fumble for keys is brought by the Swift’s keyless-go system. Unlocking the doors is done by a simple touch of a button on the passenger or driver door handle. It took me some time to get used to the old fashion method of sticking a piece of moulded metal into the ignition system, when I got back into my own Renault Modus.

A USB port proved handy, allowing us to play our digital libraries of music stored on memory stick, through the Swift’s six-speaker sound system. Although it does play CDs too – a medium which seems to be destined to join the LP and casette on the shelf of obsoletion.

The cabin was kept cool and comfortable despite the sweltering December heat, courtesy of an effective air-conditioning system, and climate control which allowed for accurate temperature settings. More boot space would have been nice, though. The Swift doesn’t have much room back there, even though it has two compartments separated by a shelf.

Its smart styling was notable, and we had plenty of time to soak-in this facelifted version’s looks. Features like the blacked-out pillars, and window apetures which are wide up-front and grow narrow in the rear passenger section give an aircraft-like impression.

The Swift’s redesigned front-end is bolder than before, sporting larger headlamps and a new grille. From the side it cuts a mean profile, its hug-the-road stance hints toward its ability to stick to the tarmac, like candle wax to Mother’s best Christmas tablecloth.

We were impressed by the Swift, and really grew attached to it during this lengthy test period. Parting ways was a sad experience, and we do wish this summer fling could have lasted longer. When you’re shopping around in this B-Segment, drive the Swift and you’ll understand why we love it so much.

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