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Maruti Suzuki Swift 2018, first drive review: Hot hatch returns with a bang

Swift makes a resounding comeback 13 years after it was first launched in India. At the time, there were four main rivals. Now, there are 11. Does the Swift live up to the high standards it has previously set for itself?

Lonavala, Maharashtra: Launched at a time when the 800 was still a common sight and the Hyundai Santro was fast emerging as a favourite, the Swift became a cornerstone on Indian roads since its very inception in India in 2005. There is hardly any surprise that 17 lakh units were sold in around 13 years and the car became took no time in becoming a common sight on roads here. Unconventionally sporty looks and even sportier performance meant the young and the young-at-heart embraced the car with open arms and clenched fists... (...around the steering). It was the dawn of performance driving, the emergence of mass mod kits - all with the reliability that comes with a Maruti Suzuki brand.

Time though is generous to none and while still doing decent sales numbers, the Swift - despite receiving upgrades, lost some ground to not just highly-competitive and better-equipped cars in its segment but also fell behind some of its own siblings. Just when the car had begun looking rather jaded though, the company announced it will bring a completely new Swift to Indian shore - one that will not just bring back lively old memories but entice newer generation of Indian car buyers as well. To be officially launched at the Auto Expo in Greater Noida next month, ZeeNews.com took a test drive of the highly-awaited car to find out if it stays true to the rich legacy it has created for itself over the years.

Take a look:

The Swift has been one of the most customisable cars in the country. Auto enthusiasts have expressed themselves by bringing about a slew of changes in their Swifts over the years. Standalone, the new Swift has the looks which are as striking as those on previous versions. And that is the trump card with Maruti considering 43 per cent of Swift buyers over the years have been people under 35 years of age.

The front is defined by a single-aperture front grille seen previously in the Dzire although chrome bits are missing this time. Highlighting the grille on either side are sharp DRL LED projector lights which give the car a sleek appearance. For some disappointing reason though, the LED projector lights are only on the manual top-end versions and not on the automatic trims that would also be offered from now on.

On the side, the extremely stylish diamond-cut alloys too are once again only on the manual top-end versions. Not that the silver-cut alloys on the automatic options are shabby. The overall side profile is characterised by a forward-looking stance which accentuates Swift's aggressive image while the new floating roofline has a seamless visual stream. Interestingly, Maruti opted to mount the rear door handles on the C Pillar - a first for the company. Full points for trying something new but its visual and practical purpose remains subject to personal preference. Personal preferences though would almost unanimously appreciate the longer wheelbase - up by 20mm over the outgoing model - making for more legspace on the inside.

Over at the rear, the Swift gets a redesigned bumper with the numberplate below it, and new LED taillights which look somewhat similar to that on the Baleno and those on some rival cars. From the back angle though, the 40mm increase in width is also amply evident.

Overall, the car is well proportioned with a clean yet sporty profile. Ditching chrome at a time when almost every car company - including Maruti, is going overboard with it to add visual character, is a gamble that pays off well.

Take a seat:

There is a whole lot new happening inside the new Swift as well. For starters, while the all-black dash remains, the 5 degree tilt in the console provides the driver with a more engaging feel. Quality of plastics at some places is a little suspect but the big and round speedo and tachometer with a reddish hue, futuristic AC control knobs and the addition of a seven-inch infotainment system - imported straight from the S-Cross, Baleno and Ignis, more than makes up for it. Again, the automatic options do not get the infotainment screen and instead, make do with a rather obsolete looking music system. The glovebox too is rather plane. The flat-bottom steering - first seen on the 2017 Dzire, however is standard across variants. Phew!

The front seats deserve a special mention courtesy decent under-thigh support, good amount of cushioning and side bolsters which do a great job in supporting the body during sharp turns.

If only the special mention could be extended to the rear as well. It can't. Not completely anyway.

On the positive side, passengers at the back will appreciate the increase in legroom thanks to a longer wheelbase. There is slightly better shoulder room as well. The seats are relatively well padded although better under-thigh support could have been provided. On the flipside, that the rear door handles are now on the C Pillar means that some of the window space is eaten into - cutting the airy feel of the rear cabin. Things are not helped by the fact that rear AC vents remain conspicuously missing at a time when rivals are extending the convenience even in its small-car offerings alongwith rear USB and charging points. Oh, the those are missing too and instead, the Swift gets a square open storage box - open because there's no driver arm-rest. Not even in the automatic options where cruising along would be the focus.

A big round of applause for the boot which is now larger by 28 per cent vis-a-vis the outgoing model - by 58 litres to be precise. It is not just another numerical highlight because the boot indeed looks bigger than ever before - gobbling up all the luggage we had for our 2-person, 2-day trip, camera equipment included!

Take a drive:

For the purpose of this review, the automatic diesel and manual petrol variants were put to the test. It is important to note that while the AGS option on petrol and diesel are new and much-needed additions, the engine options remain the same - a good thing considering the reputation that the 1.2 K12 petrol and the 1.3 DDiS diesel have built for themselves.

Based on Maruti's HEARTECT platform, the new Swift is lighter - by 85 kilos, and quicker on its toes. The petrol manual moves with more purpose than before and the engine has been further refined to make it even more thorough. No, you will still not get any power punch in your drive but the petrol manual will respond to every input given without a worry. That the gearshifts are also linear and smooth further make the drive pleasant.

Over in the diesel AGS, things become both more engaging and more relaxing. It was about time an auto option was brought in to the Swift and Maruti does not disappoint much with the AGS technology. Yes, much like in the new Dzire, the AGS in Swift also requires some throttle inputs to keep the gears moving but that is a microscopically small trade-off for the sheer joy of not having to work the gears. In city conditions, the Swift will thrive. On the highway, the Swift will cruise. It's a near-perfect confluence.

Overall, the car remains peppy as ever and promises an engaging drive even if the lighter steering dulls the famed feedback - something much appreciated by motorheads in erstwhile Swifts.

Be safe:

Swift - much like other new cars from the Maruti and Nexa - does not compromise on the safety front. ABS with EBD, dual airbags and ISOFIX (child seat restraint system) come as standard across variants. Maruti also says an increased use of high tensile steel makes the new Swift more rigid and adds to its build strength.

Be informed:

Swift will officially be launched at the Auto Expo next month but bookings are open at all Maruti Suzuki dealerships for a token amount of Rs 11,000. To be offered in six colour options including a brand-new 'Prime Lucent Orange', the car will have the following variants:

Petrol: Lxi, Vxi/Vxi AGS, Zxi/Zxi AGS and Zxi + 

Diesel: Ldi, Vdi/Vdi AGS, Zdi/Zdi AGS, Zdi +

The company also claims that the new Swift will return better fuel efficiency than ever before. Overall, Maruti Suzuki has done a great job in re-inventing the Swift and the addition of safety and convenience features work really well. AGS option is the real winner as more and more city-dwellers are looking for a more relaxing drive. More space also means more comfort. Barring some strange decisions in terms of AGS feature list and minor drawbacks in and around the rear seats, the Swift 2018 has all the right ingredients to possible rankle the list of top-selling cars in India - one that is any way dominated by Maruti cars.

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