What is now Sport is no longer GTi
Around 28 years ago, with an offspring celebrating an 18th birthday, I was determined to mark the occasion in grand style. The child had learnt how to drive to an advanced level and (to be frank) I was becoming slightly tired with providing an all-hours chauffeur service to him and his cadre of chums. I bought the lad a new car.
While the first-generation Suzuki Swift 1.3GTi (based on the GA413 but designated AA33S) made its debut in 1986 and played a class dominating role in the British saloon racing championship, I was not a fan. Around the same time, Daihatsu was producing the amazing Charade 1.0GTti that boasted 99bhp from its 999cc turbo-triple, petrol engine. To begin with, it was receiving my vote…until the Mark Two Suzuki Swift 1.3GTi arrived around three years later. This was the car that achieved the right balance.
For a start, it was roomier, despite a three-door body-style. However, the magic lay in its totally gem-like, naturally-aspirated, 101bhp four-cylinder, 16v engine. It revved to just shy of 8,000rpm but its lightweight, aerodynamic body, which was virtually ovoid in shape, was devoid of frills and squatted on a set of fat, 14.0-inch diameter, low-profile tyres. High-backed, bolstered, rally-style front seats and a no-nonsense instrument layout clinched the deal. Once again, it was a model running away with race victories. My son was delighted.
When the car was around 18-months old, I treated it to a visit to my good friends at Salisbury-based Janspeed. The renowned turning firm gave it a rortier exhaust system, while AP Racing provided me with an uprated set of brake discs and callipers. It definitely deserved its GTi tag, not least after carrying out a trans-continental hike, which also took in a 15DM lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit. To say that boy and I loved that car would be a virtual understatement. Yet, for his 21st (my 1993 excuse!) we acquired a brand new and upgraded version of that car.
Coinciding with the opening of the Hungarian production plant in the early-1990s, the GTi model was dropped from the UK line-up and the lad was supplied with his first company car. It was not until 2006 that a new Swift arrived in Sport guise. Powered by a revvy 1.6-litre petrol engine, it remained compact in overall dimensions and played its part as a model sold in North America with Geo, GM, Chevrolet and Pontiac badges, as well as being sold as a Subaru Justy 4x4. The GTi model was judged as being ‘out-of-favour’, as it attracted higher insurance premiums and also the unwanted attention of car thieves.
The latest and long-awaited Swift Sport, equipped with the same 138bhp, 1.4-litre BoosterJet engine as the larger Vitara and S-Cross models, continues the model-naming policy. However, the latest Swift is also a very light machine, which ensures that the current model possesses the performance characteristics of a 1.8-2.0-litre hatchback. Yet, it is not an overt, or over-zealous, high-performer. It’s quick and is the quickest of the line-up of sporty Swifts but its ride quality is sublime, its handling envelope is masterfully benign and it can return 50mpg. Were I buying a Swift GTi for a new generation, the Swift Sport is where my funds would be invested.
Luscombe’s summary: Keen launch pricing boosted the early uptake of the current Swift Sport, although we have received a few calls for an automatic gearbox version, with paddle-shifts (it’s not available!). We still have excellent cash-saving deals on the new model.
Next week: Iain refuses to accept the SUV status granted to S-Cross.
Honest motorcars from frills-free Suzuki dealerships
In analysing his reasons for buying Suzuki motorcars, Iain Robertson considers that a lack of ‘chrome-and-glass’ and more down-to-earth dealerships were and are key attractions to the brand, while the cars provide uniquely definable ‘honesty hooks’.
For some reason, probably as much to do with major corporate groups deciding to invest in their various motorcar purveying outlets, marked by ‘totem-poles’ at the road-edge and flag-poles delineating the retail palaces, a major change in the selling of cars took place in the UK around thirty years ago. The bunting was relegated to a securely sellotaped box in the storeroom, alongside the firm’s Christmas decorations, the showroom floor became shiny tiled and bling and bright-lights pinpointed the hottest of that month’s new models.
There was less need to visit the annual Motor Show, because potential customers were provided showy thrills locally at no extra cost…or was it? Those chrome-and-glass emporia were all very well at turning certain makes and models into fashion victims but the extra outlay could prove confusing. Besides, somebody would have to foot the bill, which meant typically the consumer. New car prices went on an ‘up’ escalator and dealer arrogance assumed new peaks.
When I bought my first Suzuki, I did so, because the dealership I chose was family-owned, possessed a good local reputation and went the important extra-mile to obtain my business. It may sound strange but the magpie attractions of the glossier outlets, despite inevitable market research suggesting the contrary, served more to turn-off my attentions.
Skoda is a brand that has sky-rocketed in appeal, since VW Group took it over in a carefully staged manoeuvre with the Czech government in early-1991. Its ‘value brand’ status was aided in the UK by a network of largely back street and local village dealerships. The owners of those franchises were able to cajole and encourage their customer base to try the new VW-enhanced models. It worked…but so did the increasing pressure by the VW Group for its outlets to meet ‘certain standards’, many of which surrounded fancy new showrooms. Skoda is now a mainstream brand by any definition but it has lost virtually all of its original customers.
Suzuki is a value brand, although it has never heralded that position. Instead, it relies on the honesty of its products. Of course, comparisons can be made with other brands, which is only fair in a commercial market. However, peer a little closer at Suzuki motorcars and you will appreciate that individual benefits are what draw-in customers and very few of those Suzuki benefits are shared with any other car brand. Suzuki ploughs its own furrows. It produces its own unique and leading engineering solutions. It designs its cars for real people, not fashionistas…even though each of its models could lead a catwalk most successfully.
Suzuki adheres to international safety and security legislation but not at the cost of losing a well-defined blend of tactility and superior driving experience, which is supported by a network of (mostly) honest dealers that keep it on a level and straightforward keel. No other manufacturer can boast that less frilly integrity with such well-measured good intentions.
Luscombe’s summary: We pride ourselves on NOT selling people cars but, rather, helping them to buy what they need. Feel free to look around our showroom, without pressure, and, when you have a question to be answered, rest assured that we shall provide it.
Next week: Iain contemplates Suzuki and 4WD.
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