IF YOU’RE AFTER a little hatchback, you’re spoilt for choice. Want something that’s fun to drive? There’s the Ford Fiesta. Fancy a classy interior? That’ll be the Mini. Or, if you need a true all-rounder, the Skoda Fabia is our top choice. The outgoing Suzuki Swift, meanwhile, looks fairly funky, but it’s cramped inside and has a low-rent interior and engines that are some way behind the best turbocharged units out there. So, it’s time for a reboot, and here it is: the new Swift, a car that takes inspiration from its predecessor but improves on it in almost every area.

Easy to drive
Underneath the Swift’s cutesy body is Suzuki’s latest lightweight mechanical platform, which is shared with the larger Baleno hatchback and the Ignis small SUV. The Swift is slightly shorter than before, but it’s wider and its wheels have been moved farther towards its corners, creating more room for passengers and a much bigger boot. Impressively, the Swift has also shed an impressive 120kg, the equivalent of not giving your burly rugby-playing mate a lift. To top it all off, there’s an upgraded engine range. The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol is a familiar, frugal face, but the 1.0-litre Boosterjet turbocharged petrols (with or without mild hybrid assistance) are new options. You can even get four-wheel drive for all-weather traction. If you want a diesel, though, you’re out of luck. Here we’re driving the 1.0-litre SHVS (Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki), which is available only on top-spec SZ5 trim. This takes the 109bhp turbocharged Boosterjet engine and adds a small battery and a combined motor/generator unit. This is able to recover otherwise wasted energy when you brake and then reuse it to increase pulling power from low engine revs.

While the Swift can’t run on electric power alone, unlike full hybrids such as the Toyota Yaris Hybrid, this system does make the little petrol engine feel far bigger than it is. You really don’t have to rev it hard to get up to speed, and this doesn’t just help ease of driving but also improves fuel efficiency. Not only is this engine flexible and powerful enough to get you up to motorway speeds without fuss, but it’s also smooth. It transmits very few vibrations through the pedals and steering wheel, the start/stop system works quietly, and engine noise is well contained and fades into the background as you pick up the pace.

That said, you still hear a fair amount of road noise and plenty of wind noise at speed. Refinement is also spoilt somewhat by the ride; on rough roads, the suspension noisily sends jolts through the base of your seat.

The upshot of this, though, is keen handling. Throw the Swift into a few twists and turns and you’ll find the steering is nicely weighted, quick and accurate. Body lean is well controlled. Even so, it’s not quite as much fun as the Fiesta.

Interior failings
Aesthetically, the Swift’s interior has taken a noticeable step forward. The cowled instrument dial display and centre console angled towards the driver set the scene, while the flat-bottomed steering wheel adds to the sporty flavour.

Yet if you prod around, you’ll soon find that things don’t feel as nice as they look. Yes, the leatherwrapped steering wheel, tactile gearlever and soft-touch materials are welcome, but there are still far too many cheap-feeling materials; the class-leading Fabia proves that hard plastic can still be used to make an attractive, substantial interior. The Swift’s feels like it could have been made from recycled primary school chairs. The infotainment is also off the pace. It’s easy enough to navigate, with big icons and a simple menu layout, but it’s laggy at times and its graphics look a bit like they were taken from Windows 98. Inside, the Swift is noticeably roomier; there’s now far less chance you’ll be rubbing elbows with your front passenger, and you’ll both have plenty of head and leg room. There’s reasonable leg room in the rear seats, but the car’s roof curves heavily, so you don’t have to be that tall to have your head touching it. At least there’s room for three adults across the rear bench. The Swift’s boot is significantly bigger than before. It’s now more spacious than the Mini’s but still worse than the Fiesta’s and well off that of the Fabia.

Money matters
While we’ve now driven the Swift, there remains one very large elephant in the room: pricing. If it’s similar money to a Fabia or Fiesta, it will be hard to take the Swift seriously. If it can undercut them, then its enjoyable handling, generous standard equipment and punchy engines could make it a tempting alternative.