Buying a Suzuki Swift

 

SECOND-HAND SENSE: The new Suzuki Swift has recently won the Semperit Car of the Year award and it is a justifiable recognition for a small car that manages to combine big car features with value for money.

The Swift has extra air bags, great space and very good driving features. But these qualities are a reminder of the gulf that exists between the older Swift and the new car that replaced it.

The older Swift has been around since 1992 and it shows. It did manage to establish itself as a reliable small car, but without any imagination and it has dated in every way. If you were looking for a small Japanese car that was reliable, had reasonable looks and made for a perfect runabout it would be hard to put the Swift up there against the Toyotas and the Nissans.

There are plenty of Swifts around on the second-hand market but its distinct lack of character and its dated looks do not make it a good prospect. Interestingly, the Swift GTi was, in its day, the hottest of the so-called "hot hatches". The far more sober three- and five-door models, however, never managed to capture the imagination.

The car came with a 1.0 litre and a 1.3 litre petrol engine until it finally came to the end of its life two years ago. The engines were fine, although some of the 1.3 eight-valve units had a propensity to crack their cylinder heads. Light on petrol - especially the 1.0 litre - and generally very reliable, the engines made for ideal, if limited, driving and performance.

The interior is cramped, in the front and especially in the back, and there is a generally old-fashioned feeling about the interior. You certainly won't find as many extras in the older model as you will get in the new, and the overall impression is spartan and dated. Poor seating build does not help either.

The driving is an unremarkable experience. The Swift is at its best in city driving conditions, because ride and handling are also dated, especially when you have experienced just how far Suzuki's competitors came during the same production period.

There are no EuroNCAP crash test results for the Swift but I think the results would be fairly predictable if there were. The car is not the strongest I have ever sat in and even the airbags were relatively rare on some models.

A relatively small number had to be brought back to garages for problems with fasteners on the steering rack and inboard engine mounting. They could have become undone resulting in loss of control of the car. Another problem was with the crankshaft position sensor, resulting in possible engine stalling.

The Swift's lack of finesse has meant it has a relatively low second-hand price, so it is still a good option for cheap and cheerful motoring. This is especially true of cars that have been well looked after. A 2001 model with driver's airbag, metallic paint, electric windows, a CD player and 30,000 miles on the clock has an asking price at one garage of €4,999 and this price should attract a good cash discount. Another 2002 model with the same equipment and 27,000 on the clock has an asking price of €7,950. - DONAL BYRNE

FOR: Cheap and cheerful option at keen second-hand prices.

AGAINST: Terribly dated looks, levels of equipment and technology.