Volkswagen Golf VS Suzuki Swift
- Ride comfort
- Conservative styling
- Diesel engines' noise levels
- Premium unleaded only
- Good looks
- Smart, well equipped range
- Fun to drive
- Relatively pricey
- Tiny boot & back seat
- Expensive, frequent servicing
The Volkswagen Golf. More than 33 million produced over 40 years and seven generations. It's not quite more popular than blue jeans, or the iPhone, but it's close.
Actually, make that seven and a half generations, because this is Golf 7.5; as the name implies, a substantial mid-life upgrade of the current model.
So, to raise the stakes and, it's hoping, sales, VW has injected new life into its hugely respected marquee player with a range of design tweaks and tech upgrades.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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 Golf 7.5 is a great package from top to bottom. Volkswagen has hit all the right marks to bring its already excellent offering up to the pointy end of the intensely competitive small-car segment. And we think the entry-point 110TSI offers the best value of all. With high-end safety tech, amazing dynamics, a snappy drivetrain and sharp (introductory) drive-away pricing it will give the market leaders something to think about. And buyers as well.
Has Volkswagen done enough with this upgrade to put the Golf on your small car shopping list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
Unveiled late last year at the Paris Motor Show, the new Golf is available in three flavours – the familiar hatch, and a compact wagon, with the latter forming the basis of an all-wheel-drive, Alltrack variant.
From a design point of view you'll be hard-pressed to pick the Golf 7.5, with exterior changes focused on new headlights, revised front guards, and a restyled bumper. Think of it as an almost unnoticeable haircut.
At the back, the bumper has also been refreshed, and LED tail-lights are now standard across the range.
The wagon is a handsome alternative to the ubiquitous compact SUV, with the lines of the roof and glasshouse (identical to the hatch from nose to C-pillar) flowing seamlessly into a gently tapering and neatly composed rear end.
Inside, there's a new 8.0-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support standard on all models (as well as a 'Mirror Link' function for full Wi-Fi connection of tablet or mobile devices).
It's surprising how much of a difference the sleek new screen makes to the interior. Suddenly, the Golf's already premium character has been lifted to a different level.
The cool and classy cabin layout is otherwise largely unchanged, highlighted with dark accents on the volume models, and 'piano black' inserts on the Highline. The quality and attention to design detail are obvious.
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.
At just under 4.3 metres long the Golf hatch is small, but by no means cramped. There's tonnes of room and storage space up front with two cupholders, door pockets with bottle holders, and plenty of oddments space including a decent glovebox and a lidded bin between the seats.
All but the entry model pick-up another pair of cupholders in the rear, with adjustable air conditioning vents and flow control in the back of the front centre console, too.
Speaking of the back, there's heaps of room in there. I'm 183cm tall, and sitting behind my own driving position, I enjoyed surprisingly generous head and legroom.
Volkswagen claims 380 litres of cargo volume with the 60/40 split folding rear seats up, and a generous 1270 litres with them tipped forward.
Pushing towards 4.6 metres in length, the Golf wagon only nudges up 15mm in the wheelbase, so passenger accommodation is virtually identical to the hatch. And not surprisingly, it's in the luggage department where things start to diverge.
Even with the 60/40 split folding rear seats up the wagon boasts a hefty 605 litres of load space, growing to a cavernous 1620 litres with the second-row seats folded.
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.
Price and features
Headline news is an aggressive introductory drive-away pricing strategy, designed to challenge the traditionally cheaper segment leaders, with the standard features list growing appreciably at the same time.
The previous entry-level 92TSI hatch has departed the building, with pricing now set across an $18.5k band from $23,990 drive-away (MSRP $23,990) for the 110TSI, to the all-wheel-drive Alltrack 135TDI Premium at $42,490 drive-away (MSRP $40,990).
The hatch offers a choice of four grades - base, Trendline, Comfortline, and Highline - with the current 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine powering all of them. A 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 110TDI version is available in the top-shelf Highline spec.
For that shrinking pool of people familiar with three pedals across the driver's footwell, a six-speed manual gearbox is available in the base and Trendline models, with Volkswagen's excellent 'DSG' dual-clutch auto offered across the line-up.
The wagon range comprises the top three grades, with diesel again an option on the primo Highline. The DSG dual-clutch is the only transmission available.
The Alltrack is a two-grade affair – base and Premium - with the choice of a 1.8-litre turbo-petrol, or higher output 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, with any gearbox you like, as long as it's a DSG (six-speed for the petrol, and seven for the diesel).
The entry-level 110TSI hatch is anything but a 'bait and switch' price-leader. It's loaded with everything from cruise control (with speed limit function) to seven airbags and driver-fatigue detection.
In fact, on top of the new multimedia screen and its connected functionality, all Golfs are now also fitted with auto emergency braking (AEB), alloy wheels (of various sizes), air-con, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, and a rear-view camera as standard.
Step into to the Trendline from $25,490 drive-away (MSRP $24,990), and things like rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, parking sensors, different 16-inch alloys, and a rear centre armrest (with cupholders) come your way.
Then the Comfortline from $29,990 drive-away (MSRP $28,990) adds 17-inch rims, dual-zone climate control air, 'Comfort' front seats, chrome interior and exterior highlights (including the wagon's roof rails), and a storage drawer under the front passenger seat.
Stump up for the Highline from $35,990 (MSRP $34,490) and the fruit starts to tumble in, with the highlights including 'leather-appointed' trim, 'Comfort Sport' front seats with electric adjustment and memory function for the driver, keyless entry and start, interior ambient lighting, LED headlights and a panoramic electric glass sunroof.
Three option packs are offered – 'Infotainment' ($2300), available on Comfortline and Highline, brings the excellent 'Active Info' configurable instrument display. It also adds 'Discover Pro' multimedia, delivered through a larger 9.2-inch screen, managing sat nav and other functions via gesture, touch, and voice control, as well as a top-shelf Dynaudio sound system.
'Park Assist', taking over the wheel for perpendicular or parallel parking manoeuvrers, is the star of the 'Driver Assistance' package ($1500), and the R-Line pack ($2500) brings the look, and some of the feel, of the GTI and Golf R, with a bodykit, bigger rims, and tuned suspension.
The entry-level Alltrack 132TSI at $35,990 drive-away (MSRP $34,490) is close to the hatch and wagon's Highline spec, although you'll need to opt for the flagship Premium version from $39,990 (MSRP $38,490) to pick up the partial leather trim, heated front seats and LED headlights.
Alltrack option packs are 'Driver Assistance' ($1800), 'Infotainment' ($2300), and 'Sport Luxury' ($2900), which includes 18-inch alloys, the electric seat adjustment, panoramic roof, and more.
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).
Engine & trans
The Golf hatch and wagon range is in large part powered by the EA211 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, a stalwart of the Australian Golf range since the seventh-generation version arrived here in 2013.
Featuring 16 valves, direct-injection, and a single turbocharger, in Golf 7.5 guise it produces 110kW from 5000-6000rpm, and 250Nm across a broad plateau from just 1500-3500rpm.
Base and Trendline models are available with a six-speed manual, while VW's excellent (and ever-improving) 'DSG' dual-clutch auto spans the line-up.
If diesel's more your thing, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit is available on the Highline model, producing an identical 110kW at 3500-4000rpm, with torque stepping up to 340Nm from 1750-3000rpm.
The diesel's a manual-free zone, with the seven-speed DSG the only option, but no matter what type of transmission you choose, drive goes exclusively to the front wheels.
Climbing (modest) mountains and fording (gentle) streams is the Alltrack's department, with power coming courtesy of a 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four, delivering 132kW from 4500-6200rpm and 280Nm from 1350-4500rpm.
Alternately, a higher output version of the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four is an option on the high-spec Alltrack Premium, delivering 135kW from 3500-4000rpm, and an even gruntier 380Nm, the peak arriving at 1750rpm and hanging around until 3000rpm.
Petrol Alltracks are fitted with a six-speed dual clutch auto, while the diesel features an extra ratio, both sending drive to all four wheels via the '4Motion' permanent all-wheel drive system.
Built around an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch pack, 4Motion uses an ECU integrated with the car's ESC set-up to continuously vary the torque split between front and rear axles.
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.
Gone are the days where a manual gearbox would outperform an auto transmission in the battle of the bowser.
Volkswagen claims the base (petrol, manual) Golf will consume 5.7L/100km on the combined (urban/extra urban) cycle, emitting 133g/km of CO2 in the process.
But swap out the manual for a dual-clutch, and that figure drops to 5.4L/100km for the hatch (128g/km) and 5.6 for the wagon (131g/km).
Tick the diesel option for the top-shelf Highline and your wallet will be even happier; the hatch consuming just 4.9L/100km (129g/km), and the wagon a round 5.0 (132g/km).
Step up to the Alltrack petrol and you're looking at 6.8L/100km (160g/km), with the high-output diesel sipping only 5.4 (142g/km).
The fuel tank in the hatch and wagon holds 50 litres, while the Alltrack's grows to 55 litres. And it's worth noting the petrol units are tuned for minimum 95RON premium unleaded.
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.)
The overriding, almost overwhelming first impression in driving any recent Golf is the outstanding ride quality. You'd swear the wheelbase was half as long again, because it rides like a larger, luxury car.
Even the entry-level vehicle is quiet, comfortable, and refined. Steering feel is great, and the petrol 1.4 is smooth and eager; there's simply no way you'd pick it as a turbo.
Volkswagen claims 8.2 seconds for the sprint from 0-100km/h for the base car, whether you're shifting the gears yourself or the tricky dual-clutch is doing it for you.
That's pretty much the Goldilocks performance zone for a car that's likely to do most of its work in the urban jungle, yet needs to retain the ability to confidently stride out onto the open road when required.
The diesel version is only fractionally slower to licence-loss velocity (8.6sec), and while it doesn't feel as revvy and urgent, it packs a satisfying punch of mid-range torque. It is definitely and noticeably noisier, though.
As usual, the Golf is a model of ergonomic efficiency, with the new multimedia screen enhancing ease of use and connectivity, the seats front and rear are comfortable yet supportive, and you're spoiled for choice between the sweet six-speed manual and rapid-fire DSG (with wheel-mounted paddles on upper variants).
The wagon employs the same strut front, four-link rear suspension arrangement as the hatch, and despite its extra length and interior volume it gives nothing away in terms of noise suppression or general refinement.
Moving up the spec pecking order from 16-, through 17-, to optional 18-inch alloy wheels does nothing to compromise overall composure;, body control is exceptional, and the brakes are agreeably progressive.
Response from the Alltrack's more powerful engines is partially offset by an increase in kerb weight (petrol +165kg / diesel +101kg), with the 1.8-litre petrol and high-output 2.0-litre diesel both recording 7.8sec 0-100km/h. But despite its more macho appearance and SUV-focused rubber, the Alltrack is an equally refined drive.
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.
Golfs of all descriptions incorporate an impressive array of standard safety tech, including active features like cruise control (with programmable speed limiter), distance warning display, driver fatigue detection, AEB, ABS, EBD, BA, EDL, multi-collision brake, ASR, tyre-pressure indicator, and a rear-view camera.
And when all that isn't enough to avoid a collision, no less than seven airbags are on board (driver and front passenger head and side, driver's knee and front and rear curtain).
There are three child-restraint top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
As well as the previously mentioned auto-parking feature, the optional driver assistance package includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist, blind spot monitor, and rear traffic alert.
Although the 7.5 upgrade hasn't been specifically tested by ANCAP, the current Golf scored a maximum five-star rating when it was assessed at launch in early 2013.
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.
Volkswagen Australia's new-vehicle warranty covers three years/unlimited km, with paint covered for the same period, and the main steel body structure is under warranty for no less than 12 years (unlimited km).
Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, with indicative costs for the first five years/75,000km ranging from a low of $318, to a high of $751, for a total of $2276, and an average of $455 per service.
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.