Suzuki Swift VS Kia Picanto
- Good looks
- Smart, well equipped range
- Fun to drive
- Relatively pricey
- Tiny boot & back seat
- Expensive, frequent servicing
- Excellent value
- Seven year warranty
- Makes the most of its size
- S feels a bit basic still
- Both transmissions have drawbacks
- Barren back seat
Did you know Suzuki is one of the most profitable car companies in the world?
In fact, by some measures last year, the Japanese automaker overtook BMW as the most profitable automaker on the planet.
If that surprised you, you’re not alone. Sure, the brand produces some memorable models which have etched themselves on the Australian landscape over the decades, but they aren’t exactly technological wonders.
But nameplates like Swift, Vitara and Jimny have always been affordable, what-you-see-is-what-you-get type cars, and their simplicity gives Suzuki a unique ability to market them to developing economies like India and China as well as cashed-up first-world nations like Australia.
The Swift personifies that appeal, with its range spanning a wide berth from one of Australia’s cheapest hatchbacks, to the last surviving Japanese small performance hatch.
In an increasingly competitive segment though, does the Swift still have an edge? Let’s explore the range to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Kia Picanto is not only one of the smallest brand new cars you can buy in Australia, it’s also one of the most affordable.
Despite that though, the Picanto and cars like it are becoming an increasingly rare breed in Australia.
Read More:Kia Picanto 2021 review: S snapshot
This is partially because manufacturers are finding it increasingly hard to bring small cars to our relatively remote country with our more stringent safety requirements.
But, it’s also consistently true that what might work on the streets of Seoul or Tokyo might not necessarily translate well into the vast expanses of Australia.
But if you are just sticking to a metro capital, isn’t a car like the Picanto all you really need? To find out we’ve driven the updated-for-2021 Kia Picanto range. Read on to see what we made of it.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Suzuki offers a diverse range of Swifts, for the budget buyer who doesn’t mind a bare-bones offering , as well as those looking for a bit more out of their small hatch.
The GL Navi makes a great city car which is good to drive but compromised on storage, the GLX Turbo makes for an even better package, but is priced to make it a choice-over-value proposition, and the Sport is a uniquely positioned alternative to other hot hatches that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The impressive tech and safety features and decent driving characteristics of the GL Navi with the Safety Pack makes it our pick of the range.
What’s more important to you when choosing a small hatch, is it practicality, safety or performance? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Really when you boil everything away, the Picanto is probably all the car you need around one of Australia’s capital cities. This little car is brilliantly equipped on the multimedia front, is smartly packaged with a long warranty, and even offers a decent drive experience too.
It’s the lack of a compelling intercity drive experience that will really stop it from being the kind of car most Australians want. But as a second car or daily runabout, it’s hard to fault.
Our pick of the range is the S auto for its supreme value and better ride quality.
The Swift is up there in the looks department, duking it out with the also good-looking Kia Rio and Mazda2.
It carries the cute styling points that have been built up over the last two generations of Swift.
The swoopy lines dash across the front and side of its bulbous frame, rounded out nicely by chunky light fittings at the rear and that signature convex windscreen. The integrated rear door handles help it maintain a slick profile from the rear three quarter.
There’s little to tell the GL Navi entry-level car and the GLX Turbo apart aside from the addition of LED daytime running lights and slightly different (but still 16-inch) alloys.
The Sport gains a more aggressive, flared bodykit with black and carbon highlights as well as a dual-exhaust, angry-looking dual-colour 17-inch alloy wheels and a unique grille.
All Swifts get a small, but hardly cramped cabin. The dash is dominated by a decently-sized 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen across the range. The stock UX is hardly impressive, especially compared to segment leaders like the Kia Rio and Volkswagen Polo, but every variant supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Every variant also gets a leather-appointed steering wheel that’s slightly flat-bottomed, but the GL-Navi gets a dorky set of manual air-conditioning controls compared to the slicker climate control cluster in the GLX Turbo and Sport.
Embedded in the dash is a simple dot-matrix display which can show trip computer information in the GL Navi and GLX turbo, or a colour screen with some more interesting features like turbo pressure and power output displays on the Sport.
Interior materials are comprised mostly of cheap plastics. This approach is hardly unusual in the segment, but the Rio, Fabia, Polo and Mazda2 all feel less chintzy.
There’s also limited legroom, and, annoyingly, there’s nothing soft to rest your elbow on in the door in any Swift variant.
The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at. I even like how plain the base car is with its dorky 14-inch steel wheels and flat paint, but the Picanto really stands out as a true city car in a segment that barely exists anymore.
Japanese manufacturers (for safety or price reasons) don’t bother to bring cars like this to our market, so it’s unique to see something that literally exudes its practical boxy aesthetic rolling around our streets.
While you can option the S in ridiculous colours, the GT-Line really brings a bunch of attitude with its over-the-top angry face, slicker-than-they-should-be alloy wheels, and nicer interior treatment. It’s streets-of-Asia kerb appeal won’t be for everyone I suppose, but you’re left with few options in this class.
The interior is, as you might imagine, full of hard plastics. This is especially noticeable in the base S which misses out on soft surfaces for your elbows – a pain (literally) on longer journeys.
Both specs excel with that massive touchscreen and bright multi-function cluster to bring a bit of wow-factor compared to rivals.
The dash design and simple but effective steering wheel help the Picanto feel like it’s no less a part of Kia’s increasingly design-led range with tastefully applied silvers and gloss finishes.
There’s no escaping that the Swift is smaller than some other cars in the segment. The bad news is this means the rear seat and boot are smaller than the competition.
The rear seats come across as more or less of an afterthought. I fit in, but only just in terms of leg and headroom, and unlike the rather good front seats, the rear lacks any kind of contouring for extra comfort.
Because of the roofline that tapers off toward the rear, headroom is also much better in the front seat. No Swift gets leather seats, but the front seats are spongey and come with a decent amount of side-bolstering which can hardly be said for other cars in the segment. The Sport gets chunkier bespoke seats with better support when cornering.
The boot maxes out at 242 litres with the seats up, and a surprisingly small 556 litres with the seats down, so it is hardly versatile if you spend lots of time lugging objects around.
Storage for front passengers is made up of two large bottle holders in the doors, two small bottle holders in the centre console and a shallow storage trench under the air-conditioning controls.
There is one 12-volt power output, an auxiliary input and a USB port hidden away above the trench.
Rear passengers get… not much. There are bottle holders in the doors and a small tray behind the handbrake for extra objects as well as a small pocket on the back of the front passenger seat.
Some competitors offer centre console boxes, bigger cupholders a second 12-volt output, and in terms of boot capacity the Honda Jazz, Hyundai Accent and Suzuki’s own Baleno are far better in this segment.
It should be clear from the outside that the Picanto is all about maximizing the use of its tiny footprint, and from the inside that goal has been achieved.
You’ll notice immediately from the driver’s seat how big the Picanto’s tall roof makes the interior feel. You do sit quite upright, and there’s no telescopic adjust for the steering, but I had no trouble finding a comfortable seating position regardless.
Kias generally have plenty of cabin storage, and the brand has done what it can with the space available in the Picanto. There are small binnacles in the doors with a decent bottle-holder, several small binnacles on the transmission tunnel, with a modest console box in the GT-Line, and a two-tiered shelf with neat flip-out cupholders under the air-conditioning controls.
Connectivity on offer includes a single USB port and 12-volt outlet for front passengers.
Hopping in the back seat is a much better experience for an adult than you might imagine. If you look at the Picanto in profile, it’s clear the brand has maximized the amount of aperture space for the doors, as they take up so much of the car’s diminutive length. This helps the rear seats be 90 per cent as easy to get into as the front ones.
Sitting behind my own driving position, I was pleasantly surprised to find airspace for my knees, and the same tall roofline made ensured there were no issues for my head either.
One area you will suffer in the rear row is a lack of amenities. There are no power outlets, cupholders, or adjustable vents, regardless of variant.
The boot comes in at 255 litres, which doesn’t sound like much, but is on par with the slightly larger Mazda2. I found much of that quoted number is useful, too, as the boot would eat the largest (125L) CarsGuide travel case with a little extra room to spare on either side. A space-saver spare wheel even lives under the boot floor on every grade.
Price and features
The Swift range now spans from the not-so-basic GL Navi manual ($16,990) up to the performance-oriented Sport auto ($27,490). Already that’s a more versatile price range than most competitors, but as you move up the range, the relative value changes dramatically.
From the get-go the Swift justifies its slightly higher price-point with decent equipment. The entry-level GL Navi manual has 16-inch alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, built-in navigation, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and a reversing camera.
You can add a Continuously Variable Transmission automatic for $1000 or step up to the GL Navi Safety Pack (auto only) for another $1000.
At this point I should pause to say that adding the Safety Pack the automatic Swift at $17,990 gives it the best active safety suite available on any hatch under $20,000. It is therefore our pick of the range. See the Safety section of this review for more on the Swift’s safety features.
The next grade up is the Swift GLX Turbo ($22,990 – expensive for this segment). The GLX Turbo adds an improved engine, keyless entry, push-button start, climate control (instead of basic air-conditioning) LED headlights with auto-high beams and a sportier 16-inch alloy wheel design.
Stepping up to the Swift Sport ($25,490) comes at a significant cost but improves the engine out of sight. You can also have the Sport in either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto.
The Sport has all the refinements of the GLX Turbo but is overhauled with a bigger, punchier engine from the Vitara, front bucket seats, a more exotic bodykit and sporty 17-inch alloys.
The Sport is the last surviving Japanese performance hatch in this segment, and its only realistic competitor for the time being is the Kia Rio GT-Line ($23,090).
Like its size or not, the Kia Picanto is a relatively rare offering which is also great value. The base S, for example, starts from just $14,390 before on-road costs, which makes it the second cheapest brand new car on sale in Australia (pipped, just, by the soon-to-be discontinued Mitsubishi Mirage ES).
Imagine how taken aback I was to discover that this incredibly affordable little car has wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto (an Australian first) on its giant 8.0-inch touchscreen. Amazing. This is a feature we were surprised came on a $50k Audi Q3, and here it appears on what could soon be Australia’s cheapest brand-new car.
The base S also has ‘upgraded’ (but still dull) halogen headlights, and a full colour multi-function display in the dash cluster. The same cloth seats, 14-inch steel wheels, plastic steering wheel, and basic air conditioning also feature.
Next rung up is the GT-Line starting from $16,140. It gets re-designed and more aggressive styling front and rear, a set of upgraded projector headlights and LED DRLs, 16-inch alloy wheels, a better interior treatment including gloss finishes, soft-touch surfaces, as well as a leather bound wheel and leather-look seats, alloy pedals, and a centre console box.
A somewhat antiquated four-speed (torque converter) automatic transmission can be optioned to replace the standard five-speed manual at a $1600 premium on either variant.
Both cars also get a decent safety suite (with a caveat) explained later in this review, and as always this car’s lengthy seven-year warranty is a major draw.
The top-spec GT manual will also return later this year at $18,990 and will include a slightly revised 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and five-speed manual at $18,990. Final spec hasn’t been locked in for this halo variant, so stay tuned for a single car review when it becomes available.
How does the Picanto compare to rivals other than the Mirage? You could compare it against the increasingly popular MG3 Core (auto-only from $17,190) or similarly-sized Suzuki Ignis GL (from $16,960).
Engine & trans
Across the Swift range there are three engines. The GL-Navi has a 1.2-litre non-turbo four-cylinder ‘DualJet’ offering 66kW/120Nm.
Stepping up to the GLX turbo introduces a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 82kW/160Nm. That’s a significant boost in power over the base car, and peak torque arrives much earlier (1500rpm).
Finally, stepping up to the Sport adds a much spicier 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine normally tasked with propelling the heavier Vitara. The Sport can make use of 103kW/230Nm.
The GL-Navi can be had with either a six-speed manual or a CVT auto, the GLX Turbo can only be had with a six-speed traditional torque converter auto, while the Sport can either be had with a six-speed manual or torque converter.
The Swift’s range of engines and transmissions is fairly expansive but unlike some competitors in this segment, none of the options feel underpowered or outdated.
The S and GT-Line continue to be powered by the same 1.25-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine with outputs of 62kW/122Nm. While not an impressive number to quote, it’s about right for something this size and weight.
This engine can be paired to either a five-speed manual or throwback four-speed torque converter automatic.
The GT will offer more oomph with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo providing a punchier 74kW/172Nm, although it's only offered with the five-speed manual. The Picanto range is front-wheel drive only.
Combined cycle fuel consumption for 1.2-litre variants is rated at 4.8L/100km. We produced a real-world figure of 6.8L/100km in the Swift GL Navi manual.
Moving up to the 1.0-litre turbo, fuel consumption is rated at 5.1L/100km. I scored 7.0L/100km in a real-world test of the GLX-Turbo and Peter Anderson scored 6.9L/100km.
The Sport has a combined fuel usage figure of 6.1L/100km against which I scored 8.0L/100km on my most recent week-long test. (good luck getting under that. It’s damned fun.)
Old engine tech means not particularly impressive fuel figures. At least, that’s what I found after testing the S manual and GT-line auto back-to-back over two weeks.
Official combined cycle figures have the five-speed manual S (as tested) consume 5.0L/100km, while the GT-Line auto is claimed to sip 5.8L/100km.
Our real-world figures over city, suburban, and freeway kays saw the manual S return 6.4L/100km and the auto GT-Line slip to 7.5L/100km
Those numbers are by no means a deal breaker, given they're not much higher than the claim, but hatchbacks a full size larger than this with 2.0-litre non-turbo engines can deliver equal or better real-world consumption.
The Picanto’s tiny 35-litre fuel tank needs to be called out. This car may be a fuel sipper, but you'll still be refueling with annoying regularity.
Thanks to some competent engine choices, all Swift variants are at least decent from behind the wheel.
Unlike entry-level versions of the Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio, the 1.2-litre engine in the GL-Navi feels up to speed. It’s not quick, but more than adequate for city driving duties. The availability of a manual is a plus for those who want to wring a bit more out of the little engine.
The 1.0-litre three cylinder in the GLX Turbo is a load of fun. It has the gruff snarl unique to three-cylinder engines, and the turbo kicks the boot in nice and early for a characterful drive experience.
The six-speed automatic, which is the sole transmission choice for the GLX, is better than the lackluster CVT in the GL Navi, and the addition of paddle shift adds temporary bursts of entertainment.
The Sport, true to its name, has far more power than it realistically needs, while not being as off-the-hook (or anywhere near as expensive) as properly ‘hot’ hatchbacks like the Renault Clio RS or Peugeot 208 GTi. For those interested, the Sport has a 0-100km/h time of 8.0 seconds.
It’s all the hot hatch most people will need, with its improved suspension qualities keeping it a little less skittish around corners and over bumps than the rest of the range.
All Swifts have solid, direct steering and standard MacPherson struts at the front with a torsion beam at the rear. Most of the time this set-up is reasonably comfortable around town, although the front is far softer than the rear which can sometimes result in the very light Swift becoming unsettled over poor surfaces. Road noise could definitely be better in any Swift.
Regular swift variants have turning circles of 4.8m whereas the Sport with its larger wheels has a turning circle of 5.1m.
The Picanto offers a pretty straightforward driving experience, which is a plus in a car this simple.
The 62kW 1.2-litre engine in both our test cars proved peppy enough for the Picanto’s weight. It won’t set any hearts on fire, but I think it’s more than adequate for the task at hand.
The basic transmissions threw up a few typical issues. The four-speed auto is particularly transparent, lurching through each gear with little panache. The lack of ratios on offer makes accelerating in the auto a noisy, thrashy experience, and it’s evidently not the best for fuel consumption, either.
The manual meanwhile proves a bit better for keeping the revs in check with its extra gear, but has a simple and somewhat sloppy action, which makes switch cogs yourself a less than 'sporty' experience.
The ride is locally tuned, although I found it most compliant in the base S with its larger tyres. The 16-inch sporty wheels on the GT-Line increase cabin noise and ride harshness significantly.
Neither car was quiet above that 80km/h freeway mark, in terms of road and engine noise (with the 1.2 running at 3000rpm at 100km/h on the flat) making for predictably raucous inter-city drives.
I found the steering to be surprisingly direct and full of feel, giving the Picanto at least a little spark of entertainment for driving around city streets.
The Picanto also has to be one of the easiest cars in Australia to park. Visibility is fantastic all-round, and you’ll fit in pretty much any spot you can find. GT-Line owners will need to keep an eye out on those giant alloy wheels, however.
All Swifts in the range carry maximum five-star ANCAP safety ratings as of June 2017.
However, unlike the entry-level Mazda2 Neo the base GL-Navi is void of active safety features.
Thankfully, there is a must-have safety pack which adds $1000 to the price. It’s worth every cent as it adds auto emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane keep assist with lane departure warning and active cruise control.
As mentioned earlier, that’s the most impressive active safety suite available in cars under $20k. Suddenly that extra $1000 on the GL Navi is worth every cent…
Unlike the base Mazda2, even the cheapest Swift has a reversing camera.
All Swifts have the expected stability controls, six airbags, dual ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer rear seats and three top-tether points.
The good news here is the Picanto impresses with standard city-speed auto emergency braking and forward collision warning regardless of variant chosen.
That’s great, and puts it ahead of its main rivals, the MG3 and Ignis but annoyingly that’s where the active items stop.
Interesting, given in its Korean home market the Picanto scores rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and driver attention alert.
Passive items include two ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat mounting points (good luck getting a third child seat in the rear row), six airbags, and the usual electronic stability and traction controls.
The Picanto carries a four-star (from a possible five) ANCAP safety rating as of 2017.
Suzuki offers a five-year/140,000km warranty on the condition that you service on time at a Suzuki dealer.
Otherwise the warranty is limited to three-years/unlimited km. Most rivals now offer at least non-conditional five-year, unlimited kilometer promises.
To really twist the knife, Suzuki requires that you service the Swift at inconvenient six-month intervals (or 10,000km, whichever comes first).
Servicing isn’t particularly cheap either. For the life of the five-year warranty, Turbo variants cost an average of $490.40 to service a year, while the 1.2-litre non-turbo is hardly cheaper at an average of $476.40 per year. Expensive for a ‘cheap’ car.
Like all Kias the Picanto carries that famous, class-leading seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty promise, rivalled in this segment only by the MG3 which now has a warranty of the same length.
Service pricing is capped for the life of the warranty and varies from $269 to $565 per yearly (or 15,000km, which ever comes first) interval, for a surprisingly expensive average yearly spend of $389.42.