The newly refreshed Suzuki Swift range brings a few welcome additions, including a more practical five-door Sport model and this new 4x4 version, which is offered in the UK for the first time.
What is it?
Outwardly it looks like any other Swift model, with its discreetly handsome good looks and chunky body. Look closer, though, and you'll see the little details that differentiate the 4x4 version: the raised body and colour-contrasting underside protection plates front and rear. It uses a full-time four-wheel-drive system which automatically sends power to the rear wheels when the fronts struggle for grip. Interior and load space hasn't been affected with the additional oily gubbins, but despite the taller ride height, ground clearance remains the same as the regular front-wheel-drive model.
What's under the bonnet?
The Swift 4x4 is available solely with a 1.2-litre four-cylinder motor, which develops 93bhp. While that sounds quite miserly given the demands of the additional driven wheels, the engine revs freely and rarely feels underpowered around town. It's no fireball, however, as its 0-62mph sprint time of 13.4 seconds proves. The flip side is impressive combined fuel economy of 56.5mpg. Power is dispatched to the road via a sweet-shifting five-speed manual gearbox.
You can't get the 4x4 in entry level SZ2 spec, with the range starting at £13,819 for the well equipped SZ3. It comes with all the creature comforts you could reasonably ask for, including air-conditioning, Bluetooth and MP3 connectivity. Our test car came in range-topping SZ4 trim, which not only adds the silver bash plates for a more rough-and-tumble look, but also comes with keyless entry and ignition, as well as cruise-control, rear tinted glass and LED daytime running lights, making it excellent value at 15,739.
Those simply looking for a good value supermini have a wealth of talented alternatives to choose from. However, buyers after four-wheel-drive can only really consider the Fiat Panda as an alternative to the Swift. It's very similarly priced, starting at £13,950, and is available in both in 1.3-litre diesel and 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol guises. It's also very closely matched in terms of practicality, though the Fiat offers a larger load space with the rear seats folded. More likely to divide buyers is the styling. The Fiat's interior is very design led, though we felt the no-nonsense, solid functionality of the Swift's cabin a far more agreeable proposition on an everyday basis.
What's it like to drive?
Light and effortless, much like the regular Swift, until you get to a corner. With power being transferred to the rear wheels, turning in at speeds that would normally send the front-end washing wide sees the 4x4 Swift staying resolutely on line – very reassuring should you arrive at a corner that's tighter than you were expecting. Despite the additional 65kg of weight the four-wheel-drive system adds, thanks to shorter gearing, the Swift 4x4 doesn't feel any less spritely than its front-wheel-drive counterpart. That said you do need to keep the engine in its sweet spot to maintain forward momentum, particularly when it gets hilly. And at motorway speeds the engine is spinning far out of its comfort zone, with noticeably increased fuel consumption being the result. For town use, however, the Swift is very well judged, with light steering and a slick manual gearbox. The jacked-up ride height hasn't affected ride quality unduly either, though there is a slight bounciness at higher speeds.
The AOL Cars verdict
If you've been mulling over the idea of buying a 4x4 for improved traction and stability in slippery conditions, but don't want the city impracticality or increased running costs of a big off-roader, the Swift is an ideal alternative. No, it won't perform particularly well in the rough stuff, but we did subject it to a little light green laning, which it managed with aplomb. Instead think of it as a good value, comfortable and well built supermini that won't leave you stranded when the snow comes down.
Model: Suzuki Swift 4x4 SZ4
Engine: 1.2-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 93bhp 118NM
Max speed: 103mph
0-62mph: 13.4 seconds
MPG: 56.5mpg (combined)
Emissions: 126g/km CO2