Japanese carmaker Suzuki, known better here for its motorcycles and small trucks than cars, is breaking into the U.S. sedan market this year with a four-door version of its Swift subcompact.
Also offered in a three-door hatchback, these are essentially the same cars Suzuki will start manufacturing at a Hungarian plant in 1992 to satisfy demand from Eastern European motorists.Astute observers will notice that the Swift looks a lot like the Geo Metro, Chevrolet's front-drive minicar, which now is the nation's reigning fuel economy champion, thanks to its miserly 1.0 liter three-cylinder engine.
That's because the Metro also is made by Suzuki, but badged as a Geo for Chevrolet's new small car division.
Suzuki also sells the three-door model under its own name, but the Swift sedan is an exclusive for U.S. buyers who still prefer four doors and a traditional trunk.
All Swifts get an extra piston under their sloped hoods with a 1.3 liter four-cylinder engine that musters 70 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. A 5-speed manual transaxle is standard, with a 3-speed automatic offered for $600 more.
The Swift sedan competes with the Honda Civic, Hyundai Excel, Mazda Protege and Ford Escort as well as the Metro. It is offered in three separate models with different levels of standard equipment or amenities for 1990.
The Swift GA starts at $7,399 and has a split folding rear seat, rear window defogger and power front disc brakes as standard. An upgraded interior is offered in the GS model for $500 more.
The Swift GS starts at $8,599 and adds electric mirrors, tachometer and fancier exterior.
Evaluated for this review was the base Swift GA sedan. But it cost $8,809 as tested after a $260 destination fee and $1,150 worth of options were tacked on, the biggest one being air conditioning for $665 extra.
Also swelling its sticker price was a cheap sounding AM-FM stereo cassette ($430) and floor mats ($55). One may do better by adding those items afterwards.
Turning the key in the Swift's door makes a hollow sound, causing this writer to brace for another loud and lumpy small car test drive.
But this car was a pleasant surprise because of its generous interior space and a smooth, relatively quiet ride that lays to rest the notion that "basic transportation" means cramped, noisy and uncomfortable.
The Swift's cloth-trimmed seats offer good comfort except in the thigh area, where long-legged drivers need more support. Head and leg room is generous for four adults, in fact, better than in some larger sedans.
Its trunk measures 11.5 cubic feet with the rear seats upright and has a low liftover height to facilitate loading.
Its rounded, low dashboard is a simple but stylish design, with a large speedometer flanked by the fuel and temperature gauges. But there is no tachometer in the base model, and the ventilation controls have stick-on labels and a notchy, cheap feel.
The Swift's three-point automatic front seat belts are extremely awkward if left fastened as intended and a poor choice, indeed, to meet the passive restraint law. Still, those smart enough to buckle up each time will have no problem using them.
The Swift sedan has a smooth ride for a car weighing only 1,848 pounds and riding a 93.1-inch wheelbase. But its skimpy, P155/70 tires on 13-inch rims make themselves known once a full load of passengers are aboard and curvy roads are encountered.
Its 1.3 liter engine was found to be both peppy and economical, complemented by a manual transaxle with good gear spacing and a smooth shifter. EPA mileage ratings are 40 city-44 mpg highway.