Swift 4x4, for when 4WD is too much but all-road traction is ideal

Sampling Suzuki’s ingenious ‘AllGrip’ system on a testing off-road ground is unlikely to appeal to all drivers, highlights Iain Robertson, as fear of potential destruction of its tender under-body is sure to rear its head but Swift proves that competence comes in a compact guise.

Serving as a practical trial and a valid reminder of Suzuki’s engineering excellence, as a useful fun break during the test session for the new Swift Attitude model, the extensive grounds of the Beaulieu estate (in the New Forest) provided a gruelling off-road ground for the AllGrip version of the Swift. This largely unassailed (apart from the Fiat Panda 4x4) hatchback uses a simple, well-proven, compact and fully automatic, permanent all-wheel drive system that transfers engine power to the rear wheels on-demand, using a multi-plate viscous coupling.

Consisting of two sets of annular metal plates that rotate in an enclosure containing a silicon-based lubrication fluid, under normal driving conditions both sets spin at the same rate. However, if wheel slippage occurs, the fluid heats up and becomes highly viscous due to friction and shear, in the process transferring torque to the otherwise undriven rear axle. It occurs instantaneously and is barely noticeable. However, the level of traction and grip it conveys to a lightweight car is simply astonishing.

As part of its economic forestry management, the Beaulieu Estate fells and replants several acres of woodland regularly, which means that some very interesting tracks are created off the main gravel access routes. Some are exceptionally steep (around 1-in-4 gradients), while others feature axle deep water splashes and well-mulched muddy surfaces.

On normal gravel, the Swift 4x4 tracks true and accurately at normal road speeds. Despite the lack of a low ratio gear set, or hill descent control, tackling any of the other ‘off-piste’ tracks demands a wary eye, in case of hidden rocks and branches, but the car will tolerate creeping in 1st, or 2nd gears, as it negotiates the truly varied quality of surfaces. Trust me, when I tell you, this Swift was put through its paces and it performed with aplomb. 

When you first sense the amount of grip provided (on normal road tyres, remember), your level of respect leaps skyward. The only limiting factor is ground clearance, as, fortunately, both front and rear bodywork overhangs are minimal. On a couple of occasions, the front-end of the car seemed to ‘bottom out’ but, following a post-drive check-over, apart from mud splashes coating the front lower bumper, there was not even a hint of under body damage.

Driven as a conventional road car, the £16,999 (pre-discount) Swift performs as any other 1.2-litre version…only safer. Its NEDC CO2 emissions figure is given as 101g/km and, having noted that it was still returning 48.3mpg (on the car’s fuel computer; 49.7mpg official figure), despite its low gear, off-road excursion, you can perhaps comprehend why I consider it to be the best compact all-rounder of them all.

MSG Summary

Suzuki proves time and again that it warrants the positive critique that its cars receive. They are keenly priced and immensely capable but they are also charming and engaging, factors that are often worth a lot more than a sticker price.

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