There’s one car in my driving history that I’ve mentioned in passing but never really delved into. For a short period of time, while I was between cars, my father lent me his 1995 Suzuki Swift Cino. It couldn’t have been more different from what came before or after.
Dad had wanted a crew-cab pickup but stumbled into the Swift somewhere, priced dirt cheap. I was 14,000 miles away and couldn’t talk him out of it. My dad is a tall, solidly-built fellow and the Swift looked like a little clown car when he (or any other adult male) was driving it. Instead of a cavalcade of clowns crammed inside it, however, there were power tools, planks of timber, home improvement supplies and a multitude of other things. It was impressive seeing how my dad could wedge an ungodly amount of stuff in this tiny hatchback, particularly at election time when it was filled to the brim with A-frame signs. If you ever think you need a big car to haul stuff, have a chat with my dad.
My dad is a pretty firm believer in cars being mere vessels to get you from A to B so he never took any photos of the car. I didn’t really either, so please enjoy these shots of the Swift’s rebadged counterpart, the Holden Barina, as well as some photos of an identical model.
The Swift was cheap and easy on fuel so it worked for Dad. That is, until it began to not work. The battery was regularly on the fritz and, to get the car going, you had to pump the gas as you turned the key in the ignition. It was rather daunting when you were parked nose forward on a downwards sloping driveway. One of the windows was busted too, from memory.
My mother had long discouraged the idea of Dad getting a ute (pickup) because she’d had to occasionally drive his old company Hiluxes and hated them. Well, Dad succeeded in finding a car Mum hated to drive even more than a ute. No, this wasn’t some kind of devious stratagem to convince her a ute wasn’t that bad – he still is ute-less.
Fortunately for my mother, she didn’t have to drive the Swift that often. I, meanwhile, had to use it on a number of occasions. You know how they say it’s fun to drive a slow car fast? It’s often true but not in the case of the Swift. Its steering didn’t have power assistance, making even the simplest of manoeuvres a laborious affair. Its 67-hp 1.3 four-cylinder was also seriously lacking in grunt which made highway merging rather terrifying. As for overtaking, just don’t bother.
Thank goodness Dad’s Swift had the five-speed manual. Ok, the shifter was a bit notchy and it had that weird plastic, concertina shift boot, like seemingly every small Japanese car from the 1990s, that reminded me of Bookworm. But if the Swift felt leisurely with a manual, I can only imagine how horrifically slow the three-speed automatic must have felt.
It’s not that I had an aversion to small cars. My first car was a ’97 Holden Astra which, while a size above, was more than a class above: trim dimensions, peppy engine, great transmission. The Swift, however, felt so dinky. You sat lower to the ground and, while visibility was excellent, you felt so exposed and small. I’d just come from a Ford Falcon and was about to buy a Holden Calais, too, so here I was going from a modern, mid/full-size sedan to a late 1980s-vintage subcompact.
The Swift “Cino”, as it was renamed in 1994, was definitely feeling its age by the time Dad’s example first left the showroom. Its interior was dated in appearance if sturdy, down to the hard-wearing but uninviting cloth seats. The Swift Cino had a low price but so did the new Hyundai Excel (Accent), a much more modern-looking car that offered more metal for your money. The fresh and handsome Canadian-built ’95 Swift was restricted to North American markets, leaving us Aussies with the old car.
Hungarian production of this generation of Swift/Cultus actually continued until 2003 and European-market models were little changed during their lengthy run. This Swift was also offered with four-wheel-drive as the Subaru Justy.
Mercifully, Australia’s time with the Swift came to an end in 1999, the hatchback version of the Baleno (Esteem) briefly serving as Suzuki Australia’s entry-level model until the crossover-esque Ignis arrived in 2000.
We missed out on the North American Swift, sadly, but those of us outside of that continent got our payback in the 21st century when we received the genuinely excellent 2004 Swift while Americans received nothing and, possibly worse, Canadians got a rebadged Chevrolet Aveo.
Overall, I can’t complain about my brief time with the Swift. Dad had kindly lent me his car when I needed to get around town and I’ve always maintained that it’s important to drive a variety of vehicles to broaden one’s automotive experience. And though my next car ended up being rather disappointing, you have no idea how good it felt to be once again behind the wheel of something with power steering, power windows, a powerful engine, airbags and greater crash protection.
As for the Swift? It was eventually put out to pasture when it kept failing to reliably start. I have no idea how high the mileage was but, suffice it to say, it earned its keep. And this time I was there when Dad went looking for another set of wheels and I helped him pick something good – my old Liberty (Legacy). The best part? Mum actually likes driving it. Everyone wins!