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Second hand: 2004-10 Suzuki Swift+ tainted by roots

Reputed to be a small-car specialist, Japan’ Suzuki Motor got roped into an arrangement that saw it importing cheap Korean cars it could have designed better on its own.

That?s one of the hazards of getting chummy with goliath General Motors.

Daewoo, South Korea?s former number-two automaker, had gotten into deep financial doo-doo in 1998, thanks to the Asian financial crisis. GM bought the bulk of Daewoo?s automotive assets, along with partner Suzuki, in 2002.

As one of the initial products of GM?s Daewoo Auto and Technology (DAT) division, the all-new Kalos hatchback was badged as the Chevrolet Aveo and Pontiac Wave/G3 in North America.

Suzuki Canada got its own version, known as the Swift+ so as not to be confused with the next-generation Japanese Swift that would become popular in Europe and elsewhere.

CONFIGURATION

The front-wheel-drive Swift+ arrived in showrooms for 2004, the five-door-only hatchback forming the bottom rung of Canadian Suzuki dealers? offerings (U.S. dealers passed on it).

Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro?s Italdesign, panel gaps were kept to 3 mm, and almost half of its unibody components were made from high-strength steel to trim weight. Independent struts worked up front while a rear twist beam was chosen for its compact design, which didn?t crimp cargo space.

Offering compact-car interior space within subcompact exterior dimensions, the cabin was narrow but tall, allowing the seats to be well off the floor with class-leading headroom.

?I?m 6?, 6? tall and cannot believe how comfortable the seats are,? one owner gushed online.

The Spartans would have liked the utilitarian dashboard with all of the controls falling readily at hand ? not hard when nothing is very far away. The rear seats incorporated a split-folding bench that revealed a surprisingly useful cargo hold.

An iron-block DOHC 1.6 L four cylinder was the sole powerplant. Good for 103 hp and 107 lb.-ft. of torque, it felt more refined than some of its direct competitors. The motor worked with the standard, and sloppy, five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission.

Front side airbags became standard for 2006, while 15-inch tires (in place of 14-inch doughnuts) became available.

The 2009 Swift+ received updated styling inside and out and a revised 106-hp 1.6 L engine that incorporated variable valve timing ? fancy hardware that yielded three more horses and better fuel efficiency.

ON THE ROAD

Like many Korean cars, the Swift+ was tuned for a soft ride, swallowing big and little bumps quite nicely. At the same time, the car didn?t fall over and play dead in the corners, although the steering felt somewhat lifeless.

The engine coaxed the Swift+ to 96 km/h in 10.2 seconds with the manual transmission, and about 11 seconds with the automatic. Noise levels at highway speeds were acceptable to all but the most discerning drivers.

Don?t let the Suzuki?s Lilliputian scale fool you. Many owners faulted the car for its less-than-stellar economy, typically 9 L/100 km ? mileage they easily could wring from larger vehicles.

?I?d expect great mileage from such a small car, but only got over 35 mpg once,? one owner huffed online.

WHAT OWNERS SAY

Although the Swift+ delighted owners with its pleasant demeanor, great all-around visibility and easy-to-park size ? and a very reasonable price ? the truth is it was no Suzuki, but the product of a manufacturing venture that had resurrected Daewoo?s reliability issues.

There are plenty of mechanical pitfalls used-car shoppers should bear in mind.

Owners reported stalling and drivability issues that could be traced back to a faulty throttle activator control system, which dealers learned to swap out over time. Entire engines have been rebuilt, with new camshafts, crankshafts, oil pumps and other components damaged by leaky heads that allowed coolant to mix with oil.

There was a host of electrical weaknesses, including bad spark plugs, wires and coils, as well as faulty sensors, computers and harnesses. The timing belt has been known to break prematurely in earlier models.

Other common faults included front-end alignment problems, quick-wearing tires, short-lived wheel bearings and radiators, and a bad ignition interlock that can render the gear selector immovable. Locks have been known to fall into the door.

Leaky gaskets and fuel rails, prematurely worn oxygen sensors and catalytic converters, and rattling suspensions round out the litany of complaints.

In short, there?s a reason Daewoo is swimming with the fishes. It?s too bad Suzuki had fallen for this ill-advised badge job.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Ford Explorer Sport Trac, BMW 7 Series and Honda CR-V. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

2004-?10 Suzuki Swift+

WHAT?S BEST: Tight turning radius, outsized cargo hold, roll-yer-own windows.

WHAT?S WORST:
Tight back seat, lousy fuel economy, mechanical fixes galore.

TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2004: $4,500; 2010: $10,000

  • Second hand: 2004-10 Suzuki Swift+ tainted by roots
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