Sunday, July 19, 2009

Swift GTI

Good things do come in small (an economical) packages. A look at Suzuki's Swift GTi.
Has your life settled into one slow, boring, monotonous rut? Is every single meeting with your so-called superiors a humiliating kick in the crotch. Well fear not, nowhere person, here is the cure: the Suzuki Swift GTi. Imagine trudging out the office door, past the VIP parking and on towards your usual back-of-the-lot space, where you find a cute, zippy, Cal-Jap racer shape waiting to shine rays of funlight onto the gray landscape of your mundane life. 

You take a quick walk. around to admire the effective lower-body aero-cladding, then tumble behind the wheel. Once again you look over your new prize, congratulating yourself on the deal you got - not too hard for your meager wages, eh? It's roomy in here, considering the car has such a tiny exterior. There are nice, firm seats with attractive and sturdy cloth upholstery and sporty side bolsters. They're probably too high off the floor for tall drivers, but they're just right for you. There are minimal instruments, but you don't understand much beyond the tach and water temp, anyway. There are even a few features like those in the big boss's BMW: intermittent wipers, power mirrors, and a Kenwood stereo. 

You pull out of the parking lot, making a mental note to see if the health club is taking new members yet, because this 1800-pound flyweight has the steering effort of a non- assisted '64 Ford pickup. The upper arm exercise has created a glow in your pallid complexion, and you're starting to feel a little better as the tiny Suzuki four-banger idles you smoothly over to the exit lane. Uh-oh, none of those rush-hour bullies are going to allow a space in traffic. You've always hated and feared pulling out into the torrent - but you never had a Suzuki Swift GTi, either. 

Finally a tiny gap appears, and you close your eyes and stand on it. Holy rocket-seat! In a sudden white-knuckle rush, your vinyl briefcase and calculator fly into the buck seat and you're bouncing off the 7500 RPM rev limiter to the accompanying tune of the wondrous racing engine sounds and snicking shifter - thrilling! The higher the revs, the faster you go. You're David, ready to slay a dozen Goliaths. The feather-light Swift GTi achieves amazing low-gear accelerative g-forces that stretch your chubby cheeks back until your mouth is drawn into a grin from ear to ear. All at once, life is good! 

The Suzuki Swift GTi has the power to cure the drearies. It squeezes one hundred horsepower from just 1300 cc, thanks to its double overhead cams, sixteen valves, port injection, and free-breathing; motorcycle cylinder head technology. That's 1.26 HP per cubic inch, race fans, with no boost and almost 30 MPG city. True to its superbike heritage, this little motor is a revving fiend. Under 5000 RPM, it feels like a peppy econobox; above it, hang on. That is meant literally, by the way; we recommend you use both hands. In first gear this chassis is nearly over- whelmed by its power. High revs and deep throttle can be felt clearly through the wheel. 

We were so impressed with the Swift's pick-up, we boldly challenged our Nissan 300 ZX test car to a rolling start acceleration comparison. (Of course it's not a drag race, officer.) First gear was all Suzuki! The little Swift that could hung on all the way through second before falling back rapidly in third gear. Sure, the Nissan had twice the power, but it also had almost twice the mass to get rolling. 

What was not impressive was the 11.6 second 0-60 MPH time measured by our testers using a Vericom 200. This is considerably slower than the manufacturer's 0-60 time of eight seconds, as well as our own times from an earlier test of the car. Why the discrepancy? It's likely our measuring device was fooled by the considerable pitch of the Swift GTi. The Vericom's built-in accelerometer must operate in a horizontal plane, but the Suzuki's nose is aimed skyward at full throttle. The device must be calibrated for degree of body roll (pitch) when measuring lateral acceleration, so further testing is in order. 

Suzuki saw fit to hop up the brakes along with the rest of the car, adding rear discs and impressively large ventilated front discs. While we had the car on the rack getting our BFG test tires mounted, we noticed that the Swift's front brakes were obviously larger than those of a nearby 2800 lb. Chevy Beretta GT--and the Beretta had rear drums! (Get the hint, GM?) 

On the down side, stability under braking, especially from highway speeds, is not a strong point of the Swift GTi. The car exhibits nose dive and a reluctance to go straight, "hunting and pecking" a bit under hard application. 

The five-speed shifter is more important to the Swift GTi's performance than with most cars, because the peaky engine must be kept on a boil to extract all it has to offer. Fortunately, the Suzuki's shifter has a smooth, Teflon feel. light effort, and is quick, with just a little fwd "sproing". The phallic shift knob elicited several comments from our snickering editors, who remarked that it closely resembled those electronic devices advertised in the back of girlie magazines. It even buzzed nicely over 6000 RPM. 

The major flaw in this area is the gap between the ratio of first and second gears. If you rev first gear happily beyond 7000 RPM and then shift to second, you'll find that the Swift is turning only about 4000 RPM. At this point, the engine is well below its torque peak, so the resulting sensation is somewhat like turbo lag. This sag mars the giant-killing gusto of the Swift GTi, and will diminish its effectiveness as an autocross car. 

Almost every tester was struck by the top-end zoom of the Suzuki 1300, but nearly all also noticed the big jump to second. One editor called the car "a slug in second", adding "Nice motor, but needs better gearing." Please, Suzuki, tighten up these lower gear ratios so we can keep this puppy singing. 

The little pedals are reasonably well placed on the Swift, but the lack of a foot-rest/dead-pedal was bemoaned by several testers. Clutch pedal effort is extremely light and a little tricky because the engine has little flywheel effect-- i.e., it gains and loses revs quite quickly. The clutch itself can be beaten: too much throttle and too slow of an engagement can slip it into oblivion, even after it's released. 

The Swift GTi's chassis, which is based on a bargain basement 900cc econocar, is still far from sophisticated. MacPherson struts all around carry "sport-tuned" spring shocks and anti-roll bars. Although it rides rather stiffly, it does roll a lot. 

This is not to say that the car is unpleasant--far from it on the street, the Swift GTi tackles bumps without banging crashing or other percussive impacts, but the ride is rather springy, displaying a moderate level of pogoing and pitch. But response is honest and direct, with no sign of the wallowing of an over-soft suspension. 

Light weight is again the greatest benefactor of this Suzuki, allowing it to maintain the bouncy exuberance of a teenage volleyball player. The Swift is at home in heavy traffic, and it makes mincemeat of the bench-seat brigade. 

If you like front-drivers, you'll love this car at a autocross. It is very reminiscent of an old Rabbit/Scirocco. There's lots of body roll, but the car feels light and is great fun to toss through a slalom. It exhibits steady understeer through a curve, but still goes where you want it. However unlike the Rabbit, the Swift doesn't put power down well, but that doesn't slow it down much. 

Not all of our editors liked the Suzuki's handling on the autocross course. Glenn Marston in particular wasn't thrilled noting "Poor turn-in, slow steering, lots of body roll." But Jerry Stein felt those characteristics made the car easier to drive and said, "I've never driven anything so tossable and predictable." 

The Suzuki Swift GTi tended to provoke strong responses, both positive and negative. However, our editor did agree on two points: it's cute, and the owner gets a lot of bang for the buck. The Suzuki Swift GTi does have its ups downs, from a powerful, quiet, versatile and effective vent system, to very poor paint on its bumpers, But it is always great fun in an unpretentious, vibrant, youthful way. If you're in a rut, go get a Swift GTi. Then just thumb your nose at the world, and rev it right outta sight. 

John Pentelei-Molnar, Jr. West Coast Editor: "This is a fun car, with a lot of bang for the buck. It's perfect for novice autocrossers." 

Neal Bellamy, SCCA Club Editor: "The Swift's Seats were too tall for me, although headroom was okay. It felt like I was sitting up real high. The chopped-off, boxy styling will either make you think it's cute or make you hate it, and the interior looks cheap-but it is. Lots of fun for $9200. 

Jerry Stein, Editor at Large: "You sit way up high in the Suzuki, with a panoramic view. This is the only car I've ever driven that makes me smile and giggle just by stepping on it in first gear. What a wonderful little autocross car."  

1 comment:

  1. I have driven one of these and it felt good. It was more than satisfying!