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New Suzuki Swift automatic review

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Having attended the press launch earlier in 2010 for a quick test drive on Germany's nicely groomed roads, Suzuki's most important and best selling model range deserves a bit more driving time from me on the UK's rugged roads even if they turned out to be snow covered.

The all new Swift three and five door superminis account for around 37 per cent (10,000 units) of Suzuki's total annual UK sales. The range went on public sale in September and looks similar to the outgoing model even though they are 90mm longer, 50mm longer wheelbase, 10mm higher and 5mm wider.

The result is a more substantial looking hatchback with smart and distinctive angular styling lines. With the extra dimensions there is more interior space, especially rear passenger legroom, and a bit more overall boot space with the rear seats folded down.

Official prices, like all other new cars, go up from January due to the 2.5 per cent increase in Vat but they remain very competitive in this sector now starting at £10,210 and rising to £13,525 for the five door with the automatic transmission option. But look out for offers in the New Year as the industry overall prepares for a tough 2011.

Engine and performance

Currently there is only one engine option so all models have the new Euro 5, 1.2-litre, 93bhp, 87lb ft of torque, four cylinder petrol unit. A 1.3-litre, 74bhp, 140lb ft direct injection turbodiesel engine is scheduled to be added to the range in Spring 2011 which could add a £1,000 to the price so despite being more fuel frugal, unless a really high annual mileage is to be covered, the extra cost is not going to be worthwhile.

The high revving new petrol unit will officially return 56.5mpg with a manual gearbox and 50.4mpg with the popular auto box option. My test model, the SZ4 auto, returned 38.2mpg during my week of pre-Christmas stop/start driving in really cold weather so expect a bit more once the temperatures improve. The CO2 emissions for manual models are 116g/km which means no VED road tax in the first year and then £30 per annum.

The auto box increases the CO2 figure to 129g/km which still means no road tax charge for the first year and then £90 a year for year two onwards. For the record company car drivers will pay 10 per cent Benefit-in-Kind tax but the majority of users will continue to be private customers, mainly of an older age.

But the smart styling of the new Swift should really appeal to younger customers as well, singles or couples or as the second car where mum takes the children to school. It really does look smart on the driveway and a good alternative to the more commonly seen Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa or VW Polo.

I assume the Swift model name refers to the Swift breed of bird, certainly not to the car's performance. Top speed for all models is more than adequate at 103mph and the 0-62mph time is 12.3 seconds for the manual gearbox versions and 13.5 seconds for the auto. There are three grades of equipment and specification; SZ2, SZ3 and SZ4.

All versions are equipped with seven airbags, electrically operated front windows and folding heated door mirrors, remote central locking, a good sound system with six speakers, audio controls on the steering wheel, tinted glass, on board computer, rear wash/wipe, 60/40 split folding rear seat and ESP electronic handling control. Some additional items for SZ3 and SZ4 models include 16-inch alloy wheels and air conditioning.

The top SZ4 model gains include electrically operated rear side windows, tinted privacy glass, Bluetooth technology and front fog lamps.

The interior of all models use a nice combination of various texture finish plastic dashboard and door trims. It's not plush but it looks smart, durable and well fitted. There is no hint of a 'budget buy' inside or out. Visibility to the front is good but a little restricted to the rear corners.

The engine needs to be worked reasonably hard to get the best out of it. It is a high revving unit and it spins up happily without stress at real life cruising speeds on open roads. The auto box doesn't obviously dampen the spirited performance, it still feels a punchy performer and most importantly makes light work of in town, stop start driving.

Unfortunately the auto gearbox costs a £1,020 more than the five speed manual unit so this means that my test model, the 1.2 SZ4 auto carries the top price of £13,525. This is still good but the manual version of the same model is even more attractive at £12,505 and that is very interesting for today's cash conscious customers especially when comparing the fuel economy figures.

The auto box is a bit of an old school technology four speed unit but with an overdrive button, a real rarity these days. It didn't detract from the driving experience at all and there wasn't anything to be gained by not having the overdrive in operation all the time. The engine was lively and torquey enough.

The ride comfort and road holding was generally very good, not as good as the Fiesta or Polo, but better than many others in this sector. The steering and handling was really sharp making it precise and easy to drive and park.

In short the new Suzuki Swift will be very easy to live, it was for me even in the snow and there are no real ownership issues whatever the weather. A 1.4-litre petrol Polo five door with a more modern auto box will cost around £14,500 and it is less powerful, returns fewer miles-per-gallon with higher CO2 emissions. A Fiesta 1.4 five door auto will cost around £13,500 and that also has poorer fuel and CO2 figures, so the Swift is a very sensible alternative.

Suzuki Swift MILESTONES

Suzuki Swift 1.2 SZ4 5-Door Automatic

Price: £13,525 (incl 20% Vat)

Engine/transmission: 1.2-litre, four cylinder, 16-valve, multi-point fuel injection petrol, 93bhp, 87lb ft of torque at 4,800rpm, 4-speed auto with overdrive

Performance: 103mph, 0-62mph 13.5 seconds, 50.4mpg, (38.2MPG on test), CO2 129g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £90 a year, BIK company car tax 10%

Insurance group: 9E

Load space: 211-528-litres

For: Smart styling, fun to drive, handles well, good value, high specification, smooth auto gearbox

Against Lacks the first class driving dynamics of the Fiesta or Polo