With strong brand loyalty being enjoyed by mainstream manufacturers, newcomers often find it difficult to capture a significant slice of the small hatchback pie, with the majority of the spoils going to Volkswagen, Toyota and Ford. Against this formidable competition and increasingly appealing Korean offerings, the Suzuki Swift 1.4 has always faced an uphill battle.

Appealing to those who appreciate its sparkling handling dynamics, peppy performance and frugal consumption, the Swift nonetheless can’t quite compete with Polo and Fiesta on interior- and boot space or cabin quality. Suzuki’s status as a relatively unknown player in this market segment doesn’t help matters either, resulting in the 1400 Swift forever being overlooked by value- and status-conscious buyers alike.

However, war is raging in the segment below these small hatchbacks, where larger (but older and less lavishly equipped) cars like the Figo and Vivo battle with Kia’s Picanto, the Chevy Spark and Renault’s Sandero for the favour of budget-oriented buyers. This arena is now tackled by one of the latest additions to the Swift range: the 1.2 GL. Offering just about the same equipment as the Japanese-built 1.4 GL, it costs a whole lot less, because its engine is downsized, and it’s built by Maruti Suzuki in India.

The Swift 1.2 GL hatch boasts the same all-black interior trim as its more expensive brother, finally banishing the beige cabin that signifies luxury in the Indian market, and it has most of the niceties you’d expect these days. The radio has controls on the steering wheel and a USB port; power steering, air conditioning, two airbags and ABS are all present, as are central locking and electric windows.

The cabin is a pleasant space to spend time in, with reasonably low overall noise levels, a compliant ride quality, and enough space behind the wheel to accommodate a 1.95 meter tall driver. Rear accomodation and boot space is rather limited, although the Swift still outclasses the real minicars in this segment (Spark and Picanto).

Because the little 1.2-litre engine only produces 63 kW and 112 Nm, the gearbox needs to be stirred up to achieve reasonable performance. However, the 5-speed manual gearbox has well-chosen ratios to ensure enough urge in town and fairly long legs on the freeway. The gearshift is light and accurate, as is the clutch and electrically-assisted steering.

This, as well as a large glass area, makes the Swift extremely traffic friendly, while a bit of extra ground clearance and softer suspension reduces the terror of potholes and unexpected speed humps. It’s enjoyable to drive too, with sure-footed handling, responsive and accurate steering, and a good grip on the road. Its lightweight construction means it feels eager to change direction, and some fun can be had by working to maintain momentum over twisty roads.

Even though the engine has to work hard to move the Swift along in a manner that  fits its name, this is not to the detriment of fuel consumption, for our test unit returned an average fuel consumption figure of 5.7 ℓ/100 km. Conservative drivers should be able to achieve 5.4 ℓ/100 km or better. Interestingly, the Swift 1.2 appeared to be more economical in town than while cruising on the freeway – perhaps due to the frequent downchanges needed to maintain momentum at higher speeds.

Low running costs, courtesy of a standard service plan for two years or 30 000 km with service intervals of 15 000 km, along with Suzuki’s reputation for durability, add peace of mind. By offering a modern small hatchback with plenty of premium features and entertaining handling dynamics at a reasonable price, the Swift 1.2 GL issues a strong challenge to the budget-market leaders. Only the Sandero can offer as much for a similar outlay, and the others are left languishing.

The majority of new cars vying for first-time and budget buyers’ attention are either poorly-equipped relics or very small. As a result, the Swift 1.2 GL is at an immediate advantage: it is sensibly sized, modern in design, enjoyable to drive and well-equipped. These advantages are strengthened by its strong value proposition: at a purchase price of R136 900, it’s a lot of car for the money, and certainly one of the most compelling offerings in its price range. From fringe contender in the class above to dominant force at the entry level, the Swift has finally found its perfect niche.

List price
R136 900
 
Engine
1197 cc, in-line four cylinder, petrol
 
Transmission
Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
 
Power and torque
63kW @ 6000 r/min and 113Nm @ 4500r/min.
 
Acceleration and top speed
0–100km/h in 12.6s and 160km/h
 
Fuel consumption
5.7 litres/100km
 
Luggage compartment
203-562ℓ
 
Also consider
Polo Vivo, Ford Figo, Kia Picanto 1.0, Renault Sandero


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