suzuki swift

Ford Fiesta – still brilliant in a high-tech Britain

THE future can hang on a minute.

I know that we’re supposed to boldly sailing – on a solar-powered catamaran, presumably – into a brave new world of lab-grown, meat-free burgers delivered by drones, but right now there’s still a McDonalds on every busy road and a JD Wetherspoon in virtually every town centre. Your whole life can be conducted on Android and yet sales of vinyl records are up year-on-year. Perhaps most pertinently, for all the talk that electric cars and automation are the future, last time I looked the decidedly analogue Ford Fiesta was still Britain’s best-selling new car.

At the moment all the muttering is about how the humble supermini is about to embrace zero-emissions motoring. Renault’s Zoe has been chipping away at this bit of the market for a while (don’t worry, the Clio’s still very much available), but Vauxhall is being brave and launching its Corsa in all-electric form first, and it’s a similar story for Peugeot’s latest 208.

But while there is a plug-in hybrid Fiesta on the way the current range depends on a blend of rather more familiar petrol and turbodiesel engines, and it feels all the better for it. It’s as bit like Liam Gallagher – yes, it’s the same old act, and yet only last weekend it was good enough to headline Glastonbury.

I know because last weekend I spent 700 miles thumping up and down the British road network in a Zetec-spec EcoBoost – and couldn’t, with the exception of three very minor moans, couldn’t knock it. With the current Fiesta, introduced 18 months ago, it feels like you sit on the seats rather than in them, it still lacks mid-range thump in one-litre form, and on the motorway the ride’s a bit more fidgety than I’d ideally like, but that’s about it. In other respect Ford’s taken what it had with the 2009-era Fiesta, revisited absolutely everything, and quietly made it better rather than reinventing the wheel.

So while the turbocharged three cylinder engine still revels in a few revs to get results, it managed to average a fairly hefty fifty to the gallon – and I wasn’t on any sort of eco run. On the motorways it was long-legged enough to make light work of a voyage to Scotland and back – and when it wasn’t it could still entertain me on the B-roads, offering just enough feedback through its chunky, three-spoke steering wheel. Even the little things won me over; plenty of superminis integrate their stereo systems into a touchscreen system these days but the Fiesta gives you old-fashioned buttons beneath it as well, so you could flick between Joy Division and The Cure without losing the sat nav.

I suspect the reason the Ford Fiesta, even when every other new car is a crossover, electric car or plug-in hybrid, is still Britain’s biggest seller is because it’s ruddy good at what it does. The Suzuki Swift might match it when comes to generating grins, VW’s Polo has a more premium feel and the Fiat 500 is a lot more charming, but it’s tricky to think of a better all-rounder.

Suzuki Swift – superb, but where’s the fun?

Suzuki has made its Swift better than ever - but not as much fun
THE OTHER night a couple of us went for a meal in Southport where the service wasn’t great – so much so that one poor bloke actually started bellowing rather loudly, in a fashion not at all inspired by Jeremy Clarkson, about his lack of freshly cooked steak.

I’ve had many more evenings out that’ve run more successfully, but I know already that it’ll be this one, and the one at the Yorkshire pub where a cold ciabatta arrived covered in hair and the Aberystwyth café where what arrived wasn’t even close to what we’d ordered, that I remember when I’m old and grey. It’s weird – but you tend to forget things that run smoothly.

So maybe it’s not a good thing that I have such vivid memories of the old Suzuki Swift – and particularly, its go-faster Sport sibling. Long-time Life On Cars readers will know that I’ve long had a soft spot for this petite Oriental offering precisely because it feels like a supermini from the old school – what it lacked in gadgets it more than made up for with its revvy engines, scrabbly handling and general sense of not being an ounce heavier or an inch wider than it needed to be. If you ever misspent your youth in an early Fiesta or a Vauxhall Nova, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Even in non-Sport form I had a real fondness for the 2005-generation model and for its 2011 successor, so I was genuinely excited when I was chucked the keys to the latest version. Having now spent a weekend with the S-ZT model I can report that it’s much better than the outgoing car – and bizarrely, slightly worse.

I am, for instance, a big fan of the three-cylinder BoosterJet one-litre petrol engine beneath its bonnet, which might only have 109bhp to hand but it uses a turbocharger and an insatiable appetite for revs to really make the most of it. It only weighs 925kg too – 200 less than an EcoBoost Fiesta – so it always manages to feel sprightly heading away from the lights.

I like how roomy it is inside too, particularly in the back, and how much more refined it feels on the move, particularly on motorways. It’s also pretty generously equipped too, with an infotainment system and heated door mirrors on the one I tried, and it consistently returned a fairly impressive 55mpg. Even with my right foot doing the bidding.

But – and I know this will sound like the moanings of that miscontent bloke who’s missed out on his dinner – it feels as though in making it ever more refined Suzuki’s somehow managed to engineer a lot of the fun out. Chuck it into a corner and there’s plenty of grip, and it’ll go where you want it to, but the sense of mischief the old models had is gone. It’s as though the Swift has reached the point the Golf did 20 years ago – it’s a thoroughly grown-up car that you really can’t knock, but maybe, just maybe, it’s got a bit sensible in its old age.

I am prepared, of course, to reserve all judgement until I’ve tried the latest Swift Sport, though. Watch this space…