Swift is manufactured in Japan, Thailand and India

Swift is manufactured in Japan, Thailand and India

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It's a small car which few outside India think too much about, or can even picture. The Swift might seem like a model which matters little, yet that thinking is mistaken: it and its sedan counterpart are key to Suzuki's increased domination of what could become the world's largest passenger vehicle market in the 2020s.

When Suzuki released images of the latest generation Swift, it was clear that a change was taking place inside the company's Design department. The previous two models had been genuinely difficult to tell apart at a quick glance. In fact, it even seemed that YP6, the car introduced in 2010, was a facelift of YM2. It wasn't. Dimensions changed, as did every panel, although the platform was carried over.

For generation seven, not only weight was reduced (from 910kg) but also length.

For generation seven, not only weight was reduced (from 910kg) but also length. The car is 10mm shorter, though at 2,450mm, the wheelbase is longer. Width and height are identical to the Swift Six.

The current car, production of which commenced for certain markets at the tail end of last year, uses Heartect, which is what Suzuki calls its now main front- and all-wheel drive lightweight architecture. This is remarkable for being a set of modules which can stretch from the size restrictions of Japan's Kei (mini-vehicle) class all the way up to crossovers and sedans which reach into global C / Compact segments.

Examples of vehicles on Heartect include the company's best seller at home, the tiny WagonR, as well as multiple B segment / Subcompact models such as the Vitara Brezza and Baleno. The 4.5m long Ciaz/Alivio uses another platform but it will likely become the largest vehicle for Heartect when the time comes for it to be replaced.

Considering global spread, the Swift is probably Suzuki's best known and most widely retailed car. The company might have withdrawn from the US and Canada but this B segment hatchback remains available in Mexico as well as many other markets in The Americas.

In the Pacific Rim and most of Asia, the Swift one of Suzuki's most popular models. As at the end of August, Japanese market deliveries had reached a healthy 27,368 units for calendar 2017. Without this car's contribution, Daihatsu would be breathing right down Suzuki's neck for third position behind Honda and Toyota. Instead, it was circa 30,000 vehicles adrift. Given the firm's size relative to TMC-Daihatsu as well as to that of Nissan and Honda, the brand punches way above its weight in Japan, as a total of 457,597 passenger vehicles delivered for the year to the end of August attests.

Those 27,000-odd Swifts sold in Suzuki's home country are small beans compared to what Maruti manages month-in, month-out though. Year to date sales stand at 1,054,016 and market share for August reached 51.7 per cent.

The Dzire, which is the sedan version of the Swift, recently became not only Maruti Suzuki's best seller but also India's number one passenger vehicle.

The Dzire, which is the sedan version of the Swift, recently became not only Maruti Suzuki's best seller but also India's number one passenger vehicle. Year to date, Maruti has sold 126,491 but that includes the old generation model which was called Swift Dzire. As for the Swift, it has found 118,191 buyers in the same eight-month period. Together, they are India's best selling model series, although neither Maruti nor Suzuki Motor ever highlights this, the Alto being the official number one vehicle (YtD: 169,943 deliveries).

Given how competitive the Indian market has become, the Swift and Dzire cannot simply be marketed on price and brand heritage alone. That would be a great way for SMC and its Maruti Suzuki subsidiary to fritter away the dominance of this large and one day potentially massive market.

As a reminder of the level of where India is as of now, the tally for the 1 January-31 August period is a record 2,113,527 units. This is not only a year-on-year gain of nine per cent but also also the fastest that the two-million mark has ever been crossed.

The short production life cycles which are an ongoing Suzuki speciality are, and have been, another key part of the firm's success. Even though Sagara has been making the current model since December 2016 - Japan, in January, was where and when the car first went on sale - we'll likely see a facelifted model roll out worldwide during 2019.

One of the biggest changes from a manufacturing standpoint, is the fact that the latest Swift is no longer made in Hungary.

One of the biggest changes from a manufacturing standpoint, is the fact that the latest Swift is no longer built in Hungary. Sales for EU and EFTA markets commenced in June and our cars are built in Japan. Magyar Suzuki's Esztergom plant now concentrates on higher priced crossovers, the SX4 and Vitara being the only models which are made in Hungary.

The other production locations for the Swift 7 and/or its sedan derivative are Rayong in Thailand and two Indian facilities. Manesar, which is a Maruti factory, is in the northern state of Haryana, while the newer Hansalpur Plant 1 near Ahmedabad is in Gujarat, to the west, not too far from the border with Pakistan. SMC recently announced plans to erect two more passenger vehicle plants at Hansalpur as well as an engine factory. When completed, this will give a combined output of 750,000 vehicles in Gujarat.

Swift impressions

It has to be said that the latest Swift isn't as much fun to drive as the previous two cars, and that's surprising, given the weight loss. The car I tried had the K12C engine in combination with all-wheel drive. The 1,242cc Dualjet engine produces 66kW (90PS) and a mere 120Nm of torque. Far better to go for the alternative (there is no diesel in Europe), which is coded K10C DITC. Instead of the K12C's four cylinders, this one has just three but has both direct injection and turbocharging. Its outputs are 82kW (111PS) and 160Nm (auto) or 170Nm (manual).

Something unusual is the lack of a six-speed manual transmission. Even though the automatic has that number of ratios, there are five if you choose to change gear yourself. And this applies to both engines. Also, the auto can only be ordered in combination with the 998cc engine. In practice, you can see Suzuki's logic in keeping costs down by eschewing the extra ratio as five gears are perfectly adequate, even at 70mph and beyond.

Look inside the Swift to see how this company makes as much money as it does.

What some would call ruthless penny pinching is a major part of how SMC remains highly profitable - it is an example of a mass maker which never seems to spend a yen or euro or rupee more than it needs to.

Look inside the Swift to see how this company makes as much money as it does. Aside from the large touch screen framed by gloss-black plastic, the interior could be from the previous model. The driver's door has window switches and mirror adjusters which surely were carried over. If not, they look remarkably similar to what went before. Suzuki would ask, what's wrong with that? And yes, you have to agree.

Dynamically, this is a curious car. The steering isn't as direct as on the previous model and it's no longer up to the standards of the class best. The ride too, is a little lacking and can at times be too firm for Britain's maddeningly indigent A and B roads. By contrast, grip is first rate and there is hardly any torque steer no matter how hard you push the limits.

There's little point in revving the Dualjet beyond about 4,500rpm as it just gets noisier but doesn't deliver much more oomph, and the redline is at 6,250rpm anyway.  Zero to 62mph takes 12.6 seconds and maximum speed is 105mph, which is 170km/h. Is that enough? For the typical Swift buyer, certainly. In top-spec SZ5 trim, this car costs GBP15,499 but Swifts start at only GBP10,999. In the range, it sits above the Ignis and below the Baleno.

Suzuki GB outsold Mini, Mazda, Land Rover and Fiat in August, and was fewer than 100 cars behind Renault.

Proof that not every manufacturer has been having a tough time of it in Britain during these last months, can be found by looking at Suzuki's performance. In August, deliveries shot up by 27 per cent to 1,758 units, taking the YtD number to 26,366, as compared to 24,213 for 1 Jan-31 Aug 2016.

Would you believe that this brand outsold Mini, Mazda, Land Rover and Fiat in August, and was fewer than 100 cars behind Renault? Looking at the overall trend, it may even become larger in Britain than Volvo after September's numbers are released. What's more, Suzuki's latest numbers show that its European operations are doing well. At a global level, SMC believes it will deliver net profit in fiscal 2017-2018 of ¥145.0 billion (US$1.293bn). Who says you can't make money out of low-price cars?