Let’s look at the district nurse. The image is a pretty classic one of the uniformed lifesaver on board her trusty bicycle. It’s been reinforced by many TV dramas over the years with the central characters dotting round the rolling countryside from patient to patient on a robust Raleigh or in a Morris Minor.
The 21st-century nurse is more likely to be seen at the wheel of a VW Polo, Toyota Aygo or Nissan Micra, which is all very well in the summer months when the weather’s fine and the roads are dry and clear. It can be a very different story over the winter when nursie could be called upon to attend in the middle of the night after or during a snowfall when the going could be extremely tricky. She’d need something she can depend on to get her through the worst of the conditions – which is exactly the thinking behind Suzuki’s latest version of their hugely successful Swift hatchback.
The 4x4 combines practicality and economy with extra ability through a simple four-wheel drive system to boost security when the going gets a bit tougher. Without going into too much technical detail, it’s a fully automatic and permanent all-wheel drive system which transfers extra power to the rear wheels when it’s needed in slippery conditions or to help with cornering.
At its heart is a viscous coupling containing silicon fluid which acts as a centre differential between front and rear axles. Increased friction in demanding conditions heats the fluid and allows two metal plates to lock and transfer power to all four wheels. How it works will no doubt excite automotive techies but for the rest of us, all that matters is the effect it creates.
Obviously it’s not designed for the really rough stuff, but for everyday use in a range of conditions and for added security in winter, the Swift 4x4 is a great value compact alternative to a conventional SUV-sized vehicle. It has a slightly raised ride height over the standard saloon to allow for rougher surfaces, but I was a bit concerned at how low and seemingly vulnerable the rear differential was to damage from rocks even on modest tracks.
The SZ4 specification test car has a beefier appearance with front and rear skid plates, black wheel arch extensions and black side skirts – and both that and the cheaper SZ3 spec have 4x4 badges as the only other clue that this is something different from the standard model. Cold weather tyres are also available and Suzuki run a programme where they’ll supply them on steel wheels for £130 each – and for a charge of £30 they’ll change the complete set and store the others for you when not being used.
The car weighs only 65kg more than the standard model and fuel consumption is only 5mpg higher. Alongside the 4x4, the entry-level Swift and the new five-door Swift Sport have been given a makeover with a new front end, wheels and extra features on the upgraded models, including LED daytime running lights, keyless entry and cruise control on the SZ4 version.
The current Swift has been a big success for Suzuki since the fourth generation arrived in 2005. It’s the firm’s best-selling model, with more than 85,000 taking to UK roads in that time. Suzuki has been enjoying great success in the cost-conscious car market. It claims to be the fastest-growing top 20 brand in Britain and is outselling the likes of Mazda and Volvo. Their sales figures for the first six months of this year are already up 34 per cent and that’s without introducing any new models.
Its current VAT-free deal has been very tempting to existing Micra, Punto and Fiesta owners who can immediately save more than £2,000. Things are likely to get even better towards the end of this year when Suzuki is bringing out an all-new crossover vehicle, the SX4 S-Cross, which should combine greater ability with low emissions and good economy.
In the meantime the Swift 4x4 will meet all the district nurse’s needs unless her patient lives halfway up a mountain – and it would probably make it up there too.
CAR Suzuki Swift SZ4 4x4
PRICE £13,116 (VAT free until Sept 30th) Full price £15,739
PERFORMANCE Max speed 103 mph; 0-62 mph 13.4 secs
MPG (combined) 51
CO2 EMISSIONS 126g/km