IAIN ROBERTSON

Whether seeking Quattro, 4WD, all-wheel-drive, or regular 4×4, new car buyers desiring ultimate traction in difficult driving conditions, highlights Iain Robertson, want extra grip and the inherent safety bonuses for times when it is least expected.

The selling of anything that offers unique appeal can be fraught, especially when potential customers know little about it and seldom ask. However, responding to quite specific needs can also lead manufacturers into believing that the satisfaction of small niches can be an unwarranted hassle.

Send a rookie to Sales School and one of the most vital skills to be learnt will be that of pinpointing benefits…the ‘what-it-does-for-you’ attribute, rather than the ‘what-it-is’ feature. The simplest pencil can be produced from wood, filled with graphite and topped by a tiny eraser but it is its convenience, its ability to write readily corrected information, its lightweight transportability and the way it can sit happily above a carpenter’s, or plumber’s, ear that sells its applications and enhances its desirability.

However, some specific benefits, in the case of the pencil, can include a wide range of lead compositions that extend its practical proposition from note-taking, to artistic competence, via either numerical, or HB scales. The harder the writing core, the lighter will be the mark left on paper; thus an ‘HB’-rated pencil is Hard and Black, while ‘HH’ is extra-hard and long-lasting, and ‘BBB’ is incredibly soft, wears as quickly as charcoal and will require frequent sharpening.

Suzuki is a producer of mainly small cars. Suzuki knows its market. Suzuki has the added advantage that previous generations of some models have already carved individual niches. It makes really small motorcars in the form of Celerio, a five-door, practical, front-wheel-drive hatchback that carries four adults with minimal fuss, moderate frugality but surprisingly few compromises. Suzuki also produces the slightly larger Ignis model that introduces significantly greater style, a cheeky disposition and a blend of desirable crossover attributes, with the added bonus of a 4×4 variant, one of the most compact ever.

Yet, the company’s most in-demand model is the compact Swift, which fits onto a 3.8m long and 1.73m wide footprint but contains copious space for a driver, front seat passenger and ‘2+1’ rear seat accommodation, while encompassing an ample 265-litres of boot space. As a conventional, front-driven hatch, it is much-admired for its dynamic competence, its proportionately wide track and low centre of gravity that gifts the car a commensurate mix of stability, roadholding and handling that are enhanced by judiciously lightweight but sturdy construction.

In the highest specification ‘SZ5’ trim, the Swift includes the standard features of six airbags, air-con, privacy glass, DAB stereo with Bluetooth connectivity, boosted by full electric window control, keyless entry and start, LED lamps fore and aft, adaptive cruise, lane-keeping and anti-sway controls and the option of a 4WD transmission known as ALLGRIP. It is a permanent four-wheel-drive layout that operates automatically and apportions engine torque to the rear axle, when required, by means of a viscous coupling.

However, the Swift is not a crossover and lacks the ground clearance, Grip Control and Hill Descent Control functionality of the Ignis model, when it is specified with 4×4. What it provides and, therefore, activates as benefits to the Swift ALLGRIP buyer is precisely what its model branding proposes: maximum grip most of the time. For precisely the reason that Audi sells virtually half of its total UK model line-up in Quattro form, the all-wheel-driven Swift is a safety-enhanced model that provides unerring stability and traction, in exchange for a modest price premium that is exceedingly easy to justify. As such, the Swift ALLGRIP is an unique player in the compact car scene.

Naturally, it helps the selling process that the Swift is also very good looking, complete with its smiling visage, organic styling and broad shoulders that are all features awkward for designers to incorporate within such a compact frame. Its on-road behaviour is exemplary, its driver being afforded a dynamic balance that is not normally the preserve of cars in this class. Due to the flexibility of its running gear, it retains the deliciously quick-steering, well-damped and roll-free progress of the front-wheel-drive car, without betraying its greater contribution resulting from a driven rear axle. It imparts to the driver a confident feeling of tremendous solidity, despite tipping the scales at a meagre 980kgs. It is a very special and subtle small car.

Interestingly, a fairly ‘ordinary’, 1.2-litre four-cylinder DualJet engine powers this version of the Swift, without the 1.0-litre turbo-triple option. Developing a modest 87bhp, it lacks the mid-range verve of the small capacity turbocharged engine but can still be made to perform in a spirited manner, as long as you rev it. Whisking it over 4,000rpm provides typical multi-valve, normally-aspirated punch and the car will clock the 0-60mph benchmark in a zippy 12.3s, when taken to the redline between gearshifts, although it does feel slightly quicker than the on-paper suggestion. Although not abundant, its mid-range pull is strong and its maximum speed is a moderate 112mph. The five-speed gearbox is well-geared and a 60mph cruise demands a relaxed 2,300rpm in top.  The engine emits CO2 at a rate of 101g/km and returns an Official Combined fuel economy of 62.8mpg.

The mild hybrid aspect of the Swift lies in its compact 12v lithium-ion battery (that is positioned beneath the front passenger seat), the charge of which is replenished by a belt-driven Integrated Starter-Generator (ISG). This ingenious device provides electric assistance to the engine for bursts of acceleration and also works a noiseless, instant ‘stop:start’ function. The battery is also recharged by means of brake energy, coasting and deceleration harvesting, which places zero strain on the conventional starter that is only ever required for first-time ignition. At all other times, the ISG operates, thus saving considerable wear and tear.

The combination of supportive seats, with an extensive range of adjustment, a well-equipped and stylish dashboard, complete with touchscreen for multi-media, mobile-phone linking and sat-nav, provides immense consumer appeal. An intuitive array of steering wheel mounted minor controls that include a master function over the 4.2-inch digital display between the rev-counter and speedometer, supplement both fun and convenience aspects. By the way, the speech recognition system works far better in the Swift than it does in an eight-times costlier Merc S-Class!

As far as the rest of the car is concerned, as it is in SZ5 trim, the equipment tally is comprehensive and features innumerable items not found on cars of twice the price. The test car looks exceptionally attractive in the optional dual-colour finish, where a platinum grey coats the roof and door mirror housings on a striking electric blue paint finish. Prior to dealer discounts being applied (of which you are guaranteed there will be a few to conjure with), the Swift 1.2i ALLGRIP SHVS SZ5 costs from £16,984, which is very keen, when you consider the car’s uniquely appealing 4WD system and mild hybrid technology.

Conclusion:   Exceptionally reliable, well-built, rewarding to drive and keenly priced, the latest Suzuki Swift is a no-brainer for the compact car customer. Factor in 4WD and up-to-date technology and it offers an unbeatable package.