With the Swift’s smallest engine yet, and riding higher with big cushiony tires, its 1.2L version might seem to hurt the hatchback’s stellar standing, but it doesn’t, not in the least.

The Swift looks small the same way the current-model MINI is, which isn’t, not anymore. It’s all in the proportions and what Suzuki is known for: compact, subcompact, even smaller than subcompact automobiles. Spot a Swift on the road, her rather un-small size becomes obvious beside other, efficiently proportioned cars, more so if you spy her beside the smaller Celerios and Altos from the Suzuki stable.

In the Suzuki line-up of small and even smaller cars, the Swift is both upscale and big. Her defining form was laid out in 2004, on her second-generation model, and Suzuki knew well enough not to mess with a good thing when they rolled out the third-gen evolution in 2010.

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Her lines are elegant enough to eventually become classic, her hatchback form making her look smaller than she really is. The Swift is shaped into a ground-effect half-shell, that dome of a hood flaring into a cabin made rakish by up-sloping character lines and tapering to the rear to render the whole body into an aerodynamic teardrop.

Swift’s street cred

With its volume whittled down to the rear, it of course has a small boot—just 211 liters in capacity but expandable by collapsing the rear seats. That’s just the predictable tradeoff on a hatchback cut out for sportier stuff. For the Swift’s handling is a given, its responsiveness well known among her followers. Good and fun on the twisties.

2t5c1487-croppedThe wheels are pushed to the corners of a trunkless body with very little overhang, the Swift’s length dominated by that long 2.43m wheelbase. What overhang lingers is mostly in front where the extraneous weight is pushed into turns by the steered wheels, not trailing behind the rear wheels where centrifugal force would act on it more and possibly cause lift-off oversteer. At close to 70 percent of its wheelbase, the Swift’s width puts the wheels on wide tracks, splayed out well to keep her grippy and upright through those fast turns.

No surprise that the Swift has gone further in other markets with more powerful engines mounted on sportier variants, and further in engineering with the hatchback’s platform stretched out and built up into the three-row wagon that is the popular Ertiga MPV. What did surprise was when they came up with this high-riding 1.2L version for our market instead.

The Indian connection

What seemed like Suzuki’s attempt to recast the Swift as an economy hatchback, their adding this 1.2L version to the 1.4L one they started out with in the market, actually traces back to an astute move for the India market. Maruti-Suzuki, the Indian-Japanese partnership has 45 percent of India’s huge 2 million unit automobile market, and that is where the Swift 1.2L was introduced to get the hatchback into the country’s Sub-4 tax category.

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Under the Sub-4 category, all vehicles measuring less than four meters and mounting petrol engines displacing 1200cc or less are subject to reduced excise taxes of just 12 percent. And that tax break matters enough to have global leader Toyota trying to develop a new Sub-4 car and, at the same time, lobbying the Indian government to cancel the category and the tax advantages it affords their competitors.

img20160519122654Other than its left-hand drive configuration, the Swift 1.2L here matches India specs so closely, it even features the same ground clearance—raised from the 1.4L’s 140mm up to the Indian 1.2L’s 170mm. (Clearances of 160mm or more are typical in India where roads could be much rougher than those we have here.)

And, although we ourselves don’t have a Sub-4 tax category, the downstream effect seems to bring major savings to Suzuki Philippines, savings that are telegraphed to buyers with Swift 1.2L variants being priced lower than those of the Swift 1.4L by more than P100k. But have those savings come at too much of a cost? With a less powerful engine and higher center of gravity, is the Swift 1.2L still worthy of the popular badge? Yes, apparently so.

Still swift

Delivering 87hp @ 6000rpm and 114NM @ 4000rpm, this Swift’s 1.2L K12M engine gives up 9 percent in horsepower and 15 percent in torque to that of the 1.4L K14B. That’s enough of a downgrade to raise concern, better nominal fuel economy or not, considering the Swift’s around 1,000kg of curb weight. And, on the 1.2L AT variant we tested, matters are compounded by pumping losses inherent in all automatics.

2t5c1492But on the Swift 1.2L AT, the automatic gearbox is so well tuned to that smaller engine, the slightly lower torque seems well compensated for by proportionate, well matched slippage in the transmission’s hydraulic torque converter. Slippage happens when the impeller driven by the engine’s flywheel rotates faster than the turbine that it pumps hydraulic fluid to, the turbine which in turn drives the transmission. That slippage may seem inefficient but it actually multiplies torque (and is not the cause of an AT’s pumping losses, not in itself). Think of it as dynamic gear reduction that self-adjusts as the turbine and impeller eventually match rotation rates. On the Swift 1.2L AT, that slippage is working the whole time you’re accelerating, becoming more apparent whenever you stomp on the gas.

2t5c1510With the engine at idle, the Swift 1.2L eagerly rolls out as soon as you let off the brake. Slowly increasing throttle then will bring assertive acceleration at around 2250rpm, eventually bringing you to a cruise with shift points at 20, 50 and 80km/h. Settle down at 80km/h and clutch lock-up will soon kick in, that hydraulic action between impeller and turbine being replaced with this hard physical contact that then eliminates slippage. You can then ease off the gas to maintain cruise with 2000rpm—note that 250rpm increment from the 2250rpm you were using with hydraulic conversion still going on.

img20160519123733Go faster and you’ll notice revs going relatively high, the 1.2L’s need for more gear reduction becoming obvious. But the engine’s variable valve timing (VVT) valvetrain seems to compensate well, making the fuel mix lean enough to deliver impressive consumption numbers of 16km/l while cruising at 100km/h with 2500rpm, 19km/l at 90km/h with 2250rpm, and 20km/l at 80km/h with 2000rpm.

If you punch it for an overtake while at cruise, the transmission does a prompt kickdown out of 4th gear overdrive, zooming you up quickly to 140km/h, the lock-up clutch disengaged and engine revs quickly climbing to 5000rpm. With the engine revved up that much, the slippage-amplified torque is made apparent by this relentless acceleration.

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Still a Swift

With that kind of performance, the 1.2L is spirited enough to demand good handling. And on the 1.2L, even with a higher center of gravity, the Swift’s famous handling is still there, mostly intact. Although there’s pronounced wind noise above 100km/h, the Swift is rock steady at high speed. There’s no denying the fact that the higher ground clearance lets more air get under the front spoiler.

img20160519124556But the reduction in aerodynamic down-force seems marginal enough not to erode the Swift’s ground-hugging weight. In fact, the slight reduction in down-force, making the Swift somewhat lighter at high speed, seems to contribute to its impressive fuel economy

Contributing to that higher ground clearance are 185/65 tires mounted on 15” alloy rims. These are the biggest wheels they’ve put on a Swift, their 621mm as big as on the rugged Toyota Avanza sub-compact MPV. High ground clearance and these big wheels make easy work of rough roads–the height above ground giving you confidence in negotiating uneven surfaces, those big cushiony tires easing onwards past holes and bumps.

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The door sticker says 29psi max pressure on all tires. This means the Swift’s weight on those big tires is manageable enough to allow tire pressures of under 30psi, and that weight is distributed evenly enough to put equal loading on the hatchback’s front and rear axles. With judicious tire pressure adjustments, the high-walled tires can be inflated up to 29psi for smooth highways, or slightly lower for everyday mixed terrain. With two guys on board, the Swift 1.2L rode well and evenly on tires inflated to just 28psi, fighting nicely against body roll and wayward steers in fast curves reaching 80km/h.

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It was a risky thing for Suzuki to have offered the Swift 1.2L. Over here, there isn’t the tax break that overtly justifies its downsized engine nor the Indian context for country roads ground clearance. But because it retains that healthy power reserve and trademark handling, while also offering its tall big-wheeled stance and significantly lowered price points, the Swift 1.2L has definitely been a risk well taken.

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2 thoughts on “Suzuki Swift 1.2L AT: smaller engine, taller stance, still Swift

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