Unexceptional Classics

Unexceptional Classified: Suzuki Swift

by Antony Ingram
24 January 2024 3 min read
Unexceptional Classified: Suzuki Swift
Photos courtesy eBay/Cherished Autos

Price: £2999
Mileage: 23,852
Condition: Straight out of the brochure
Advert: Cherished Autos (via eBay)

It’s difficult to think of a model of car so comprehensively overshadowed by its successor than the second-generation Suzuki Swift.

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Launched in 1988 and available in the UK soon after – not especially memorably but certainly most appealingly in GTi form – the Fiesta rival soldiered on all the way until 2003, by which point it was positively geriatric, the GTi was even more of a distant memory, and it was a regular feature on lazy internet lists of automotive misnomers. Then, in 2005, Suzuki dropped the third-generation Swift on us, and suddenly people cared even less about the old car.

A brief digression: If you want to get nerdy, the 2005 Swift was technically the second generation. In its home market, the old Swift had been called the Cultus, and the first-generation Swift was the car the UK received as the Suzuki Ignis. To make things more confusing, the second-generation Ignis was only sold in Japan as the Chevrolet Cruze, and today’s third-gen Ignis was the first one actually sold under the Ignis name in Japan.

Digression number two: The Cultus-Swift had a shorter albeit notable life in the US market, too, badged variously as the Suzuki Swift, Geo Metro, Pontiac Firefly and Chevrolet Sprint. With absolutely minuscule engines and weight by US standards, examples are still prized today by hardcore fuel-saving types. Anyway…

1999 Suzuki Swift front 3/4

Back in the UK, our third-gen Swift was a revelation compared to its predecessor. It was stylish, for a start, with a chunky modern look that some commentators likened to the Mini, perhaps because of its quite upright and heavily curved windscreen. But it was well-equipped, fun to drive, and felt much more substantial than the old car, and the range was soon bolstered by the Swift Sport, a revvy little thing that seemed to channel the spirit of hot hatches of the 1980s, without being anywhere near as flaky, or as tricky on the limit.

Just like that, all memories of the previous Swift were … well, swiftly washed away. Apart from those of us who have a fondness for the unexceptional, that is, and the second-gen Swift is surely now one of its maker’s most appropriate vehicles for Hagerty’s annual festival.

This 1999 car being sold by Cherished Autos in Bury and, in age terms at least, becomes Concours de l’Ordinaire eligible this year. Which is perfect, because this one is probably among the best you’ll find. It’s averaged under a thousand miles a year since being registered and is in appropriately unexceptional spec: five doors rather than the sportier three, automatic transmission, and steel wheels wearing trims.

1999 Suzuki Swift rear 3/4

It does, however, have the larger engine of the two Suzuki still offered in 1999, with a 1.3-litre four-cylinder rather than the basic 1-litre triple, giving you 67 horsepower rather than 52, a number still no doubt neutered by the auto ‘box.

Familiarity probably bred contempt for the Swift’s styling back in the day. It was actually lightly facelifted once more after the model you see here, before it went off sale, and it gained some unusually sporty bucket-style seats along the way. But today it’s relatively easy on the eye, in an inoffensive kind of way. With those glazed panels behind the rear doors, visibility must be absolutely fantastic, and the slim rear lights seem almost modern.

The interior less so, the design looking like the result you’d get from asking an AI image program to create a generic Japanese interior from the 1980s. The steering wheel is a bit of a bait-and-switch, too; at a brief glance you might imagine it had an airbag, thanks to its large four-spoke boss, but there was nothing of the sort.

1999 Suzuki Swift steering wheel
1999 Suzuki Swift rear seat

While the three-grand price tag might seem punchy, it’s a classic case of “find another.” Not only are low-miles ones like this going to be rare, but the survival rate for this generation of Swift seems fairly low in general. As we type, the only other ones for sale are on Facebook Marketplace from people who struggle to upload a photo let alone look after a car, so this one’s probably your best option.

Overshadowed, unappreciated, and now very rare, the second-gen Swift sounds like perfect Festival of the Unexceptional material to us.

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