With South Africa’s currency in ICU after it slipped on the banana-republic peel and broke its back, acquiring a decent set of new wheels for under R200 000 has become no easy task.
While there are still many new cars on the market between R150 000 and R200 000, in most cases their build quality and drivability can only be described as horrific.
These budget cars’ shortcomings are hidden under layers of smart technologies and gadgets, however, a touchscreen the size of a small TV will never make up for a rudimentary suspension or a gearbox so rough it feels like one is mixing concrete.
But a few decent cars below R200 000 that drive well and have enough comforts, too, are still out there, and at R194 900, the Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL Manual definitely stands out.
A perfect match
The Swift 1.2 GL’s strong point is its handling and performance. Suzuki made the car ultralight, so 66kW and 113Nm are enough to give it much haste in town as well as on the open road.
The five-speed manual transmission is smooth to operate and most important, has gear ratios that match engine outputs just perfect. In fact, this particular engine and gearbox combination performs so well that it makes driving the car easy, because, even in heavy traffic, it asks for minimal shifts in order to keep pace.
The Swift’s suspension is just as impressive, making for surefooted handling around bends and giving the hatch a compliant ride on our poorly maintained roads. Now those are the attributes I look for when testing a car, because, in my opinion, good handling and performance are key features that should never be compromised.
At under R200 000, getting a good drivetrain and suspension means there was no money for a colourful touchscreen. So, no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto digital joy for the Swift 1.2 GL Manual buyer.
He or she will also have to rely on their own ability to judge distance without any help of features like reverse sensors. And hubcap-covered steel wheels are standard instead of fancy alloys.
However, what you do get is not that bad at all, because GL trim includes all-round electric windows, a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel audio controls, central locking and the most important of all if you live in anywhere in South Africa, an aircon.
There is a USB charging port in the centre console as well as a 12V socket and lastly, a security alarm plus immobiliser. As for safety kit, the Swift 1.2 GL Manual comes with ABS brakes, EBD, Brake Assist, dual front airbags and ISOFIX child seat anchors.
That is enough to get you around in relative comfort and in one piece.
The drivetrain as a whole – suspension, engine and transmission – is quite a few notches above that of other budget offerings and even outshines some more expensive cars.
What is more, overall build quality inside and out is fair and quite modern and stylish, so the Swift 1.2 GL Manual package as a whole makes up for the lack of high tech.
You will really have to search far and wide to find another car which drives this well for the same price.