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Video | The Suzuki Swift Is a Forbidden Sporty Hatchback

I recently had the chance to drive the Suzuki Swift. This wasn’t easy to do. The Suzuki Swift isn’t sold here in the United States, and so now if you want to find a Suzuki Swift to drive, you have to be a bit sneaky about it. Or you have to leave America. I chose the former.

I borrowed the Swift I drove from a viewer in Mexico, where Suzuki remains a relatively popular brand. I know this because I live in San Diego, just about 20 minutes away from the Mexican border, and I see Swifts all the time. I also see other Suzuki models all the time, and it makes me really sad that Suzuki stopped selling cars here.

There’s something I never thought I’d say. Suzuki sold cars in North America from the 1980s all the way up to 2013, when their last few vehicles — including the Kizashi sedan, a relatively good car — were axed as the brand withdrew from the market. At the time, I didn’t see it as a great loss, since Suzuki hadn’t made anything desirable in years.

But in the years since Suzuki left America, their cars have gotten fantastically better. The new Vitara seems like a highly desirable compact crossover. The Jimny is just awesome, and it’s becoming a popular little urban off-roader thing for people who can’t afford G-Wagens. The Ignis hatchback is very cool. And then there’s the Swift, which has been widely lauded as one of the best global compact cars.

Since I wanted to verify this for myself, I borrowed a Swift from a viewer in Mexico, and I spent a few hours with it. The one I chose was a mid-level model — not the base Swift, which has merely 80 horsepower, but also not the sprightly Swift Sport, with 140 horses. Instead, I drove the Swift Boosterjet, with 110 hp — likely the vehicle that would’ve been the base model, had Suzuki remained in North America.

And my conclusion? It’s shockingly good.

There are two ways the Swift is especially desirable. One is the driving experience: it’s light and nimble, and the "Boosterjet" engine provides just enough power to make it exciting. Handling isn’t sports car sharp, but it’s so far beyond what you’d get in a Toyota Yaris or a Hyundai Accent that it’s amazing they’re even in the same league. No, it’s no Ford Fiesta ST, but it’s not priced like one either: the Swift I drove has a sticker price in Mexico of around twelve grand.

And for that twelve grand, you’re unlikely to find any other car that’s this much of a hoot. It could use more power, of course, but it’s also fun to really wind it up — it’s quick enough, and sporty enough, and charming enough. I cannot believe this thing costs the same as a Nissan Versa (although, admittedly, the Versa must conform to regulations that the Swift avoids, such as a federally mandated backup camera).

The other thing that’s great about the Swift is just how competent it is. The interior doesn’t have a lot of frills, or rather a lot of quirks and features, but it’s still really excellent — just very well designed, with everything in a logical place, and many impressive features for the price point — like a navigation system and automatic climate control. It’s higher quality than rivals here in the States, and it’s very well done. So well done, in fact, that I’m supremely disappointed Suzuki pulled out of North America.

But, indeed, Suzuki did leave us behind — and so we’re forced to watch the Swift, the Vitara, the Jimny, and other excellent new Suzuki models — all from the sidelines. I promise, we’re missing out on more than you might think. Find a Suzuki for sale

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