I’ve never intended to buy a new car, the thought of the depreciation is anathema to my sensible financial head, but occasionally events align and in this instance a maturing company share save scheme, dealers keen to sell cars in a traditionally dead time (the week before Christmas!) and some pre-registered vehicles at great prices meant it started to look like a sensible idea.
The thought of ‘bugger it, treat yourself’ also came to mind, every car I’ve ever owned until now has been purchased on a very limited budget and with a purely practical requirement.
My sensible head remained though and driving 24 thousand miles a year with fuel paid for out of my pocket, some of the four-wheeled excesses I might consider, if my daily commute was shorter, went out of the window.
Before I get on to the car, I want to say something about car sales in general.
I needed a car urgently, had funds available and wanted the best deal I could find. Being without a car and relying on public transport, visiting lots of dealers on lost errands wasn’t an option. I wanted the best possible deals, in writing by email so I could compare and then bounce them between dealers. Some dealers were happy to engage in this, they could tell I was serious and obviously wanted my business. I also got a lot of ‘we don’t do business that way Sir, why don’t you pop in and visit us?’.
It’s hard to believe we’re in 2015 sometimes and have had the Internet for so long, a life changing technology we use for all manner of communication and purchases, but much the car industry is still in the dark ages. I understand why, their sales bullshit and painful, cliched, sales patter doesn’t work unless you’re in their grasp, but that’s exactly the reason I refuse to engage in it. Suffice to say dealers from the dark ages played no part in the purchase of my car, whereas of those that did, one ultimately got a sale. An easy sale in many ways and one I’m very happy with, along with a dealer I’m very impressed with. It was the most pleasurable car buying experience I’ve ever had, and that was mainly because I didn’t have to put up with car salesman 😉
Back to the car…
For the journey I do, a diesel makes a lot of sense, but modern diesel cars are sensitive things, marvellously efficient pieces of engineering when they are working, but the slightest wobble can result in truly stupendous repair bills. Need a fuel pump? That will be £700 just for the parts, Sir. New injector? That will be £250 + labour. (Oh, and the other four are likely to need changing too).
On a new car, with a warranty, the risk is low, but since depreciation is anathema to my sensibilities, if I’m considering a new car it needs to last a while, in order that the early years depreciation gets amortized over the years of ownership.
So, having been burnt at the stake of highly-stressed common rail diesel engines, a move back to petrol, seemed a less risky long term prosition and opened up the possibility of some driving fun once again.
My previous car had been our primary family vehicle, so needed to seat four in comfort and offer luggage space for holiday trips. Having bought my wife a Ford C-Max recently this was no longer a requirement, most of the journeys I make are single occupancy, so a smaller, more fun, and less practical car became a possibility for the first time.
That said, I still needed enough seats for me and our two children which immediately ruled out some fun two seaters.
There has been some amazing advancements to petrol engine technologies in recent years, and the wonderful Ford Econetic engines came to my mind when considering a new car, the Ford Fiesta is available with a 3 cylinder, 999cc engine producing 125ps, and this sounded like it could be fun, coupled to low running costs since 60mpg was on offer under careful driving.
I enjoyed the test drive in the Fiesta, it’s a much more refined and significantly larger car than of old and it has a feeling of quality and solidity to it that impresses. The engine is a marvel, once you get over it’s slightly sewing-machine buzz (a result no doubt of that missing cylinder) and it offers incredible, diesel-like, levels of torque which makes for easy and economical driving, once you adjust to changing gear at RPM’s that seem too low to be sensible.
Ultimately though it’s not a car that excited me; there’s no doubt it was a refined motorway cruiser, a good handling car, and well equipped, but it wasn’t for me. It’s also quite pricey in the higher levels of sporty trim and out of my budget.
After a few interesting, but ultimately uninspiring test drives in other vehicles, three cars came to the fore that sounded just like the ‘hark back to my youth’ I fancied. I always wanted a Peugeot 205 GTI, but as a teen I could never afford one.
The candidates were the Mini Cooper, the Renault Twingo Sport and the Suzuki Swift Sport.
The Mini appeals from the residual value perspective, they hold their value amazingly well, but it’s the priciest of the bunch and it’s the slowest. It’s biggest failing though is it is I found it a bit too detached as a driving experience.
The Renault is the most communicative of the bunch, the steering is great and it’s a huge amount of fun, but equally its less forgiving nature might get tiring on those motorway slogs.
The Swift Sport felt immediately right, it’s comfortable and relaxed around town, it has almost every conceivable standard feature one could want and when it’s pushed it comes alive. The steering is maybe just a tad more detached than the Renault, but it’s huge amounts of fun and faced with the choice of a French or Japanese car, when long-term reliability is factored in, the Suzuki was pressing all the right buttons.
The Suzuki is a real blast from the past, a classic retro design of light weight, coupled to a revvy, normally aspirated, engine producing 134 bhp.
Most importantly it communicates with the driver.
It’s a car which you will tell you what is happening underneath you and for a front wheel drive car it has a surprisingly neutral feel, push too hard into a bend and you’ll get typical, yet modest understeer, but in the right conditions, a little lift on the right foot can bring in some oversteer that doesn’t feel at all like the front wheel drive cars I’ve been accustomed to.
The steering is electrically assisted but has plenty of feel. It may not be up there with the best, but it tells you all you need to know, you will be able to judge the road surface you are on and believe me you’ll want to, as you take the buzzy little engine to its 7200 RPM redline.
It’s not a torquey motor, kept below 4000 RPM, it’s quiet, docile and a great city car, or pretty good motorway mile-gobbler. Above 4000RPM though that engine note changes, which kicks off the adrenalin flow and encourages you to take it all the way to the redline between gear changes.
Having driven almost 30000 miles in it so far I’m not tired of it yet, it’s a huge amount of fun, in a way that many more powerful cars often aren’t. The fact that it requires some work, some driver input, to make the best progress is what makes it so much fun. I can honestly say that it puts a smile on my face, every time I get behind the wheel. It’s also easy to manage, the small size means you can have a blast down a rural lane and still get to keep your wing mirrors at the other end.
Running costs have proven to be sensible too, I knew it wasn’t going to give me diesel-like fuel economy figures, but most forms of fun ultimately carry a cost, and the Suzuki has been very reasonable. I’ve logged every single fill on the Fuelly website and on average it’s close to 40mpg, I toggle between sensible weeks (best tank: 48.5 MPG) to fun weeks (worst tank: 32MPG). I know most people with a modern eco-box will laugh at those figures, but I don’t think there’s a car out there offering as much driver fun, for so little and I have no regrets whatsoever.
Servicing intervals are on the short side for the Suzuki (9000 miles), but I take the view that any car that’s getting synthetic oil changes with that regularity is going to stay in fine shape for many years to come and at present I see no reason why I’d want to change the Suzuki; it’s everything I wanted in a car.
The first set of tyres (Continental Sport Contacts) are just coming up for replacement, and have worn remarkably evenly. The standard tyre size is 195/45/R17 and there’s not a lot of choice at this size, but swapping to 205/40/R17, which fits the standard rims and leaves the diameter very similar, brings lots more choice and £15-20 / tyre price drops. I’m going to stick with the Continentals, they have been utterly superb.
No car is perfect, and the Swift doesn’t have the same level of internal materials of some of it’s competitors, but it does seem solidly constructed. I have no doubt it’s built to last in the important mechanical areas, but the odd trim rattle is occasionally apparent. Some of that is no doubt just the nature of a lighter car, where noises and awareness of your surroundings are more apparent.
The paint seems quite delicate too, although I think this is frequently true of modern paint finishes, they are inherently less robust than those of old and the cars dark colour, coupled with this, makes bird lime a real threat, especially in the summer months.
Overall though I’m really pleased that I treated myself and look forward to many more, fun packed, years behind the wheel, I still love every minute I spend wringing pure driving pleasure from it.