September 26, 2012 00:00 By Kingsley Wijayasinha
It's the best eco-car in Thailand with the same eco-friendly engine, but the lack of torque is still evident
Japanese auto-maker Suzuki didn’t expect the Swift hatchback to become as successful as it has in the Thai market.
This year, the company plans to produce 17,000 of the model, which enjoys eco-car privileges, but far more orders than expected have poured in for this diminutive hatchback. As a result, there is a huge number of back orders for which deliveries are running into mid 2013.
Production of the Swift began in March this year with a Bt7.5-billion investment, and about 10,000 have been delivered to customers. Since then it has become one of the most sought-after models in the market, with a strong cult-like following.
A large number of Suzuki owners are actually Mini lovers, but they can’t afford the latter. So they dress up the Swift with stickers and customise other parts of the car, making it appear like a Japanese Mini.
For Mini lovers, the performance from the Swift’s tiny 1.25-litre engine isn’t exactly impressive. There’s clearly a lack of pulling power (remember that the Swift qualifies for eco-car status, which requires a fuel economy of at least 20km/litre), especially when the kid motor is mated to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) designed mainly to save fuel.
So the company has decided to offer manual versions that promise a little more driving satisfaction.
The 1,242cc 4-cylinder engine chosen for Thai-made models pumps out a mere 91 horsepower and just 118Nm of torque. It’s enough to get the Swift going in the city, but once on the highway you’ll notice that hollow gap in torque delivery. Just be careful when overtaking at high speeds.
Actually Suzuki also has a range of other engines for the Swift offered in other countries. One is a 1.4-litre with 95hp and 130Nm (but average fuel economy is 18.1km/litre) while the other is a 1.6-litre motor with 136hp and 160Nm for the Swift Sport, which is guaranteed to thrill.
Suzuki executives say they have no plans to offer other engine variants for the Swift in Thailand, so I guess we’ll have to do with this engine for a long, long time.
The 5-speed manual transmission does put some fun back into driving the Swift, although with the same eco-friendly engine, the lack of torque is still evident.
Among the eco-cars in the Thai market, the Swift definitely has the best suspension, with struts in front and torsion beam at the rear plus the wide track (almost 1,500mm). However missing are front and rear stabilisers, which would do wonders for body control, as well as rear disc brakes and Brake Assist. Actually, the Thai Swift manual doesn’t even come with ABS or EBD, so better start practising threshold braking right now.
Nevertheless, the ride quality is still on the plus side, and you’d be surprised with the very low wind noise that makes its way into the cabin.
The interior is stylish with nothing looking awkward, except some of the materials that may look a bit cheap like a Chinese car. One thing that Suzuki did not remove to cut costs is the 4-way adjustable steering wheel, making it easy to get the right driving position; the driver’s seat also has height adjustment.
While Suzuki has decided to drop the ABS, it has maintained the smart entry and push start system, which is kind of a funny trade-off (convenience instead of safety). And only a driver airbag is offered.
The audio system has USB input, and the rear seat backrest can be split-folded (60-40) to increase luggage space.
The Swift GL with manual transmission is priced at Bt467,000 while the GA (with even lower equipment list) is priced at Bt429,000.
A lot of people buy an eco-car because of the low retail price, and many more do so because they also get additional First Car Buyer privileges.
But a lot don’t bear in mind that these are the cheapest cars in the market, and they need to be content with the quality, performance and safety levels. If you want a good, well-built small car with global standards, just go for the Ford Fiesta instead.
But when speaking about eco-cars, the Suzuki Swift is definitely the best choice out there. Unfortunately towards the end of the year more orders will be placed due to the First Car Buyer scheme deadline, so it will take ages for the car to be delivered.