Out the Box - Suzuki Swift 1.4 GLS, OPEL ASTRA 1.4T Enjoy Plus & BMW G650GS

Words & Photos: Francois Steyn

Photo credit: Francois Steyn

Suzuki Swift 1.4 GLS

The second generation Suzuki Swift has finally arrived, three years after Suzuki SA launched the nimble little 1.5-litre Swift in 2008.

As with the previous model, it remains a city runabout with a fun-loving nature. The exterior’s styling is very similar to the outgoing model, but inside there have been numerous improvements, chief amongst which is the new, smaller power-plant.The 1,372cc engine employs intake and exhaust variable valve timing and multi-point injection to deliver 70 kW of power and 130 Nm of torque. The new mill promotes lower emissions and better fuel consumption without diluting the sporty character of the aptly named Swift.

The engine revs effortlessly to the red line and the five-speed gearbox has a short throw for quick changes. The direct steering, matched to the firm suspension and low profile tyres on 16-inch alloys grips when throwing it around. The Swift inspires passionate driving, so I was surprised when I still managed 14.5km/l. With a 42-litre fuel tank, a range of at least 600km is on the cards.

Inside the cabin of the GLS you’ll find a chunky, new, leather-clad steering wheel with audio controls on it. Keyless go means you only need press a start button next to the steering column while depressing the clutch. The previous model’s bland interior has been replaced by a more modern look that has a premium-feel centre console, with climate control and an integrated sound system. You also get an on-board computer, USB port and silver inlays along the door panels and around the air vents.

Both the GL and GLS models have ABS, EBD, Brake Assist and ISOFix child seat anchors. The former has dual front airbags, while the latter sports side and curtain airbags as well. Space in the rear is not exactly plentiful, but I made two airport pickups during my time with the Swift and managed to fit all the luggage in the boot once removing the fake floor.

What I like most about the Swift, and indeed all Suzukis, is that they are different. You don’t get bored with them as quickly as with some other cars. I had a mad week of zipping in and out of town for work, sometimes making two trips a day, and after more than a 1,000km in one week I was still enjoying the experience. These days it is so difficult to find something sensible yet desirable to own. This is Japanese so it will last and being a Suzuki it still gets noticed.

At R169,900 for the GLS model it is well priced with a lot of standard equipment compared to the competition. A 4 year/60,000km service plan is also included in the price.

Expect to pay at least 10 grand more for a similar spec’d VW Polo or Mazda 2 that only have 62 kW of power, more than 10% less than the Swift, and 15-inch wheels compared to the Suzuki’s 16s.

OPEL ASTRA 1.4T Enjoy Plus

The Opel Astra has always been a much loved icon in South Africa, but somewhat overshadowed by the success of its closest rival, the VW Golf. With the Golf 6 getting on a bit in age, it gives the new range of Astra models some breathing space to carve a place in the motoring public’s hearts. And what better way to start than with the 1.4T Enjoy, nominated for SA Car of the Year 2011.

Producing a healthy 103 kW of power and 200 Nm of torque, it’s rather punchy for a 1.4. There is some noticeable turbo lag though, however once past 3,000 r/min it doesn’t take long to hit the rev limiter near the red line before you have to upshift through the smooth six-speed manual gearbox. But that’s part of the fun. The engine doesn’t produce a racy tone, mainly due to the well insulated interior.

Inside you’ll find an up market black interior with silver inlays on the centre console. The controls for the radio and air conditioning take some getting used to without taking your eyes off the road, but the multi-function steering wheel is easily operated. The new Astra Enjoy Plus package has some very sophisticated features as standard, including auto levelling Bi-Xenon head-lights, rain censors for the windshield wipers, Adaptive Forward Lighting and Control Intelligent High Beam. The latter actually works, switching the main beams on at night when there is no traffic and switching off again when detecting light or the rear red lights of the slower traffic as you catch up.

The car has two driving modes, Tour and Sport. If you press the Sport button, it changes the steering input, drive-train and suspension setup. It also changes all the displays on the instrument cluster to glow red. On the centre console there is a configuration menu button where you can customise a whole range of vehicle settings.

To programme the Sport mode for instance, you simply tick one or all four options mentioned. Then you can set up the delay for the head lights on exit and in the language you prefer. This is also where you set up a connection between the audio system and your mobile phone. The on-board display shows trip distance, average fuel consumption, range left and the exact tyre pressure for each wheel, which I thought was an important safety feature and unique to this price range.

Throwing it into a corner the steering feels a tad vague, however it goes exactly where you want it to and feels very light when heating up the pace on twisty roads. Overtaking on the highway is effortless, just drop a cog to get the turbo racing and you’re off! The sporty suspension and stiff chassis makes this a really fun car to drive. It has all the latest safety features expected from a modern car including traction control and features such as Hydraulic Brake Fade Assist and Brake Disc Cleaning.

At R267,970 it’s well priced considering the standard levels of equipment, all the fancy gadgetry and a 5 year/90 000km service plan. Golf 6, watch out!

Photo credit: Francois Steyn


A couple of years ago BMW discontinued the popular 650 single to make way for the new F650GS with its 800cc twin-cylinder engine. This left a gap in the market for an entry level BMW, and so the G650GS was born, or re-born …

I recently attended the media launch of the new BMW G650GS and expected to get dirty. Why then was it held in the city centre of Johannesburg? Before heading out on the bikes, BMW’s representative explained that the new G650GS is aimed at commuters and newcomers to motorcycling. It is not a dirt or adventure bike, but it does have the ability to tackle easy gravel if the need arises.

The route for the day was perfectly matched to the strengths of the bike. We started off in the busy Braamfontein traffic and the light, road-ready 192kg GS made easy work of weaving in and out of traffic. Next a dash on the highway towards Kyalami, with 35 kW and 60 Nm of torque from the trusty old 652cc single delivering enough go to easily keep up with the fast moving traffic. It does not feel fast, but glancing down you see you’re already doing 150km/h on the easily readable digital speedometer.

The new G650GS uses most of the components from the popular old F650GS, including the gearbox and engine. The biggest changes were to the styling, to make it fit in with the rest of the GS family. There are three different seat heights, the lowest being only 750mm, making it easy to ride and accessible to shorter riders.

What surprised me most were the short stints on washed-out dirt roads. Even with the road-biased Bridgestone Battlewings, I immediately felt confident to open the taps around the corners, sliding the rear in second. I forgot about the ABS … scary feeling when you stomp on the brakes and nothing happens. Luckily you can switch it off for dirt riding, something that was not available on the old single. The suspension soaked up the terrain including some small jumps, with both wheels in the air. The preload of the rear shock can be adjusted via a knob on the left of the bike and there is enough under-body protection against rocks. The only drawback for serious adventure riding is the air valves that are integrated into the alloy spokes, which makes fitting a tube in an emergency impossible.

The standard version of the bike is competitively priced at R73,000 and expect to pay around R81,272 with the optional ABS and heated grips included. A centre stand is standard for both SA models. On the day, the bike surpassed any claims made by BMW. Now we wait in anticipation for the Dakar version!