Words and photos by Ardie O. Lopez
At our group’s briefing prior to our trip to India, our hosts from Suzuki Philippines mentioned that the temperatures in New Delhi would most certainly hit 47 degrees Celsius or even higher. I didn’t know how to react. Having gone through more motoring related trips than I could remember, the differences in the weather from the countries I’ve been to were usually towards the cooler or colder side. A high of about 37 degrees in Manila is what we normally consider as swelteringly hot, but I was honestly curious about how it’d feel like with the heat turned up by 10 degrees. With a stop at Bangkok, the flight to New Delhi was a breeze. But upon exiting the Indira Gandhi International Airport, we were greeted by our first taste of the Indian summer — a moderate gust of hot air despite it being late in the evening… a clear indication of what to expect in the coming days.
Allow me to skip right into day three to appease my habit of getting down to business before pleasure, at least in retrospect — we took a few blocks’ ride to the Maruti Suzuki head office, which also happens to be Suzuki’s regional office for Asia. Impressive in its size, the establishment looked more like a glitzy post-graduate Business Management school, and in contrast to its immediate surroundings, what greets you upon entering is a posh auto-show level display of Suzuki’s past and current lines of automobiles and motorcycles- not to mention probable one-offs like a formula car and a concept SUV. Suzuki’s penchant for producing models for the compact and subcompact categories has made them the recognized experts at it. Clean and simple lines are quite evident in their design principle. Infused with just the right amount trendy cues, it resulted in nameplates with admirable shelf life. Their Philippine releases of decades past like the Beaver, the Samurai, the Super Carry, the Vitara and especially the Grand Vitara can still stack up with some recent years’ releases and hold their own quite well — and that observation segued comfortably to their corporate presentation that followed.
Maruti started out as a small company in the 70’s that focused mainly on the design and manufacture of a totally localized automobile in India. After going through some major challenges and difficulties throughout that decade, the Indian Central Government, through Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s leadership, provided the ailing company its much needed direction and investment as a corporation, and in 1982 forged a joint venture with a brand that would turn its fate around 180 degrees- that brand was Suzuki. From there the joint venture was cemented as Maruti Suzuki of India Limited.
In 1983, the first Indian “people’s car”— the Maruti 800, was launched. It looked slick for its time, performed well, and provided unprecedented mileage with its small but very able engine. Most importantly, it was affordable. Local production began on that same year, and the car became a certified hit. With a low-cost and abundant labor force, Japanese work ideology, and exacting quality control, Maruti Suzuki set out to transform the Indian automotive landscape for good. Aside from a consistent and optimized production output, after-sales service became highly systemized and professionalized. Following up the Maruti 800 with an extensive and innovative model line that met global standards assured a steady increase in sales, as well as the merger’s decisive domination of the Indian automobile market. Today, Maruti Suzuki racks up a staggering 2,500,000 units sold annually in India alone, and that accounts for their lion’s share of the market at 42.9%, followed by Hyundai at a far second at 15.19%. Surprisingly, the global leader in automotive sales — Toyota trails behind Honda at 6th, at 5.14%. Certainly, the merger’s tremendous success locally has spilled beyond the borders of India itself, and they’ve long since benefited from exporting certain Suzuki models to several countries, including ours.
Collectively, Maruti Suzuki’s manufacturing plants are among the world’s largest and most modernized. India is Suzuki’s largest manufacturing and exporting hub as it accounts for 40% of its total output for the entire global market, with Suzuki Japan’s output at only 35%. As to why this is the case, our hosts decided that we should see for ourselves. We were given an exclusive tour of their Manesar manufacturing plant, but not before giving us strict guidelines with regard to documenting what we’re to see. After all, we were the first foreign media group they opened their doors to. You could just imagine my frustration coming in fully decked-out in heavy photography gear with an itchy shutter finger.
We were all thoroughly impressed, as there were more robots than people at work. It could well be a scene from a sci-fi “Rise of the Machines” movie, albeit without the foreboding feel and dim lighting. Protective screen fencing separated us from the hulking robotic arms that rapidly articulated the flurry of sequenced movements, repeatedly executing difficult tasks with surgical precision. Photo-safe areas were very limited, so what you see here on print can’t really depict the scale of their operations. They also have their own state-of-the-art research and development, and crash test facilities, so they’re understandably finicky about what they reveal to the public, since there are tech and processes in place that are proprietary to Suzuki. Without a doubt, even a limited tour of their plant would dispel a lot of notions one may have about India.
Doubling back to day two, we took a 5-hour drive to India’s most famous landmark, the legendary Taj Majal. With a couple of Suzuki Ertiga units flanking our Swift, we were able to get a good feel of our rides in various conditions- from the densely populated and congested village roads to the their very impressive 6-lane Yamuna expressway that spans 165 kilometers — India’s longest. New Delhi traffic would make you understand why sub-compacts overwhelmingly outnumber every car category there – “personal space” between cars is much smaller, and leaning on the horn seems to be preferred over using turn indicators. There is also a much larger number of motorcycles to share the road with, so any slight opening or gap will surely be utilized. That’s where Manila-honed driving reflexes would come in handy.
Ahead of the trip, I’ve actually been able to drive the Suzuki Swift 1.2 extensively on our streets, and I could see why its power band is configured as such. In tight but flowing traffic conditions, abundant power on the lower rev range does well for the Swift for bursts of acceleration or short sprints, as it enables it to zip in and out of tight spots easily. The Swift 1.2 isn’t simply its 1.4’s sibling fitted with a smaller powerplant, as curb weight has been considerably reduced to 960 Kg. for an optimal power-to-weight ratio. Dynamics though aren’t at all small-car-quirky, as it feels very planted even at expressway speeds. Steering is tight and pleasurably responsive, and there’s no hint of flimsiness in its suspension and damping. In fact, the Swift 1.2 provides impressive agility with a larger car feel and a bit of a bonus when it comes to ride comfort.
As with any vehicle in this growing category, pack it with passengers to full capacity and its handling characteristics and power delivery will change significantly, but anyone in the market for a sub-compact with a 1.2-liter or lower engine displacement can’t be seriously looking for a brisk people-hauler. The Swift 1.2 excels at what it’s designed to be, and that is a dynamic city commuter that rewards its occupants with a genuinely enjoyable driving experience, excellent fuel economy at an average 18.6 Km/l, with creature comforts and amenities that aren’t downgraded to match its engine size.
As one of the latest contenders to join the fray, the Suzuki Swift 1.2 will undoubtedly face stiff competition since the price tag is usually its market’s main determinant to sign on the dotted line. But within that market is also a growing segment that knows how to discern between compromise and great value, and would opt for real satisfaction and pride of ownership for the long term. The game’s about to change, and Suzuki’s move is Swift.
Location: Front, Transverse
Displacement: 1,197 cc
Cylinder Block: Cast aluminum Cylinder Head: Cast aluminum, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel Injector: Multiple-Point Fuel Injection, Variable Valve Timing
Max Power: 87 bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Max Torque: 84 lb ft @ 4,000 rpm
Drag Coefficient: 0.32 cd
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic Transmission
Suspension: (Front) Independent, MachPherson strut, coil springs, (Rear) Torsion Beam & coil springs
Fuel Capacity: 42 liters (11.0 gallons)
L x W x H: 3,850 mm x 1,695 mm x 1,530 mm
Wheelbase: 2,430 mm
Brakes: (Front) 11.6” Ventilated Disc Brakes with Single-Piston Sliding Calipers, (Rear) 8.75” Leading and Trailing Drum Brakes with ABS
Wheels: 15” x 6J Aluminum Alloy Tires: 185 / 65R15
Weight: 1,020 kg (2249 lbs.)
0-100 km/h (0-62 mph): 12.6 sec. Top Speed (km/h): 168 km/h (105 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 18.6 Km/l
Price as tested: P608,000 (MT), P648,000 (AT)
+: Zippy with moderate load, handling and ride comfort are tops for its category
-: Choice of materials for interior and detailing could be better
Editor’s rating: 9/10