Friday, November 23, 2007

Driven: Automotive Bliss and the 2008 Suzuki Swift Sport

Automotive bliss can mean a lot of things. One of it could be waking up early on a Sunday morning, taking that sports car of yours for a drive to nowhere and feeling great about yourself. It can also mean the satisfaction of fixing something small yet the pleasure, or pain, derived from it is immense. Bliss is a nice word to describe a feeling that someone who feels naively feels satisfied or truly happy when the actual situation isn’t so impressive.

Imagine this, your sister in law’s Proton Wira decides to not start when your wife, kid and sister in law decide to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon. You being all dressed up in your sports Rolex, Italian loafers, nice Audi T shirt and blue jeans ready to hop into your Subaru Impreza decide to help change the battery under the sweltering sun. It’s an automotive moment there folks, getting his hands dirty fixing a run of the mill Proton and enjoying that moment of pain and suffering yet accomplishing something. The car started, everyone was happy and could go wherever they wanted to.

Imagine this, helping your friend at 10.00 pm, after work, while dressed in your office wear, meaning long sleeve shirt, grey pin stripe slacks, a pair of Italian slip-ons, and an Omega on your wrist, at the rear of a Mitsubishi Evolution 7 pushing that darn car trying to make it start. It’s not everyday you get to see a WRC car getting pushed by 2 men and a guy trying hard to steer wide 235/45/17 tires without any power assistance for the steering. Most of us nearly puked after that as we just had dinner. Luckily the car started, but not after we pushed it. But that’s another tale altogether and I its guess the accomplishment of finishing that automotive task made us all feel good about ourselves even though.

Imagine taking your Subaru Impreza out for a drive through Genting Sempah and up to Genting, stop at the Starbucks CafĂ© at the peak, buy a nice hot cup of mocha and then scoot off downhill enjoying the ridiculously tight bends in your All Wheel Drive car. I’ve done it, it felt great and the thrill of hearing your straight through exhaust pinging off the mountain side makes the experience one to be cherished. The thoughts that ran through my head were that everyone should own a car that sounds like this, or better. I need an SL55, seriously.

Another non sweaty automotive moment was me testing the new Suzuki Swift sport. A 1.6 twin cam 125bhp pocket rocket that seemed to have the DNA from its early 1990s predecessor. Being yellow in colour and its slightly different front and rear bumpers and side skirts, 16in wheels and tires and integrated headrests made it look so much sportier than the run of the mill Swift. However, it still has that high mini MPV like seating position that somehow seems to appear in most small cars (like the Myvi) and that somehow kills the sportiness even though the leather wrapped steering wheel and other controls feel good in your hands. Being a CBU model, the quality is good as is expected. The throttle response is good, even better than the new Lancer GT I tested recently. The manual gearbox feels precise and good in your left hand. The engine is peaky in delivery but with decent grunt at low end which I think is due to the close and short gearing. 0-60mph is around 8.9secs and it has a top speed of around 195km/h. while pushing hard, it does feel nippy and does feel like a 9sec car, which doesn’t make it really fast enough to trouble any Civic typeR drivers out there. But the engine could be made to breathe better and this would ensure more bhp to be released. I’d imagine this car with a more open exhaust and a sports filter as a start.

Now the fun thing about this car is that it lives on trail braking into corners and lift off oversteer if your get off the power to fast or too late into a corner. It feels nimble yet if you provoke it, the tail will ‘assist’ you through the corners. Its short wheelbase actually is a blessing after driving so many larger cars. Much like the Satria Neo, this according to my journalist friend has the same kind of feel in corners. This actually is a scary thought. Cars like the Neo and the Swift Sport are surprisingly tail happy for front wheel drivers. This new school of thought is purposely engineering these cars to somehow behave like rear wheel drive. A good thing, but if you are not aware or expecting it, a dangerous thing. This is because most of us grew up driving normal understeery cars like the usual non typeR Honda Civics and Proton Wira or Waja. It actually is a whole different thing facing cars tuned to handle like this. So future owners beware, get a feel of the car first. The only setback I see with this car is that the steering is an electrically assisted steering. this makes it feel rubbery and has a servoed feel. I do not like these kinds on power assistance compared to the more traditional hydraulic ones. I suppose manufacturers these days want to save an extra 2% in fuel consumption and is willing to sacrifice feel for it. I don't agree and even most performance car manufacturers do not have this setup for their cars. luckily it is still precise and you can safely place the car where you want it to be.

It is old school in a way, with the peaky power delivery and the normally aspirated feel where you’ve got to cane the throttle to actually make progress. Not like most sports cars nowadays, all turbo and either that or large capacity engines. No one actually makes small nimble hot hatches nowadays; take a look at the VW Golf and you’ll see what I mean. It does bring back some memories, some, and that it also a little diluted aside from its handling. Most probably this is due to the slightly strangled feel of the engine due to emission controls.

Anyway, the car handles well on the 16in wheels and tires, but there is some body roll which sports springs some 20mm lower would cure this affliction. That and dampers 10% stiffer would make this an awesome weekend car for some. But in stock form, I felt like a girl. I felt the need to shave my legs, wear earrings and a wig in order to suit its cute image; especially when I parked the car, 2 kids probably college students coming out of their slightly pimped Myvi commented that I drove or owned a ‘nice car’. ‘Nice Car?’ I’d rather own a car that attracted girls. Or if it were guys, a car that makes guys go ‘whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa….it looks brutal. Does it have a million horsepower?’

A metrosexual guy would like this car, feel that its hip and cool, but I somehow don’t suit it. A slightly overweight man that looks mean with a 5 o’clock shadow in his face wouldn’t, and couldn’t look cool in a ballerina’s tutu. This is how I felt. So while it’s a great driver’s car, I can’t buy it as I would look too out of place. If you’re a girl, and you want to drive fast, by all means buy one as it’s the best driver’s car at RM100K. If you’re a guy, make sure you look good in high heels and a skirt or make sure you have another car for weekdays and keep this car for weekend fun. Make sure it’s a manual though.

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