COAL: 1999 Suzuki Swift – An All Too Brief Experience With An Ok-Car


(Not my exact car, but a virtual twin)

So after my 1988 LeBaron was no longer safe or reliable to drive and with a bit of cash to spend, it was time to look for another car. A friend of my partner owned a used car lot. I told him what I was looking for (high fuel economy, recently made, not too common). He delivered a 1999 dark green Suzuki Swift.

This generation of Swift was actually based on a Suzuki design but was manufactured at the CAMI joint GM-Suzuki plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. I’d had a little experience with their vehicles before (I’d had a Suzuki Sidekick as a drivers ed vehicle and my aunt gave me driving lessons in her four-door automatic Geo Metro), and I felt that they were well-screwed together and reliable.

It was also my first manual vehicle. While the learning curve for this was a bit steeper than i’d anticipated, within a couple months I was reasonably proficient at it.

Coming from an elderly and increasingly decrepit Chrysler LeBaron coupe, the Swift was pretty great. Although not as padded as the buckets in that vehicle, the Swift’s seats were pretty comfortable, The one I had used the 1.3 litre engine, which wasn’t any kind of fire bomb, but was adequate with the manual.


Despite the petite dimensions, my car was large enough inside to fit 4 actual adults . I remember once driving my younger brother to the movie theatre with his girlfriend; they both occupied the backseat while I felt like their chauffeur.

The Swift wasn’t perfect though. The interior was pretty well screwed together but that couldn’t hide the fact that the materials were decidedly budget-grade. It was also quite easily blown around on the highway if even a stiff breeze was blowing. Perhaps most surprisingly, the fuel economy was never quite as good as I expected it to be. Particularly on the highway, I doubt whether it ever got more than 28 mpg – a lot less than the Suzuki ads ever claimed. It also had an annoying quirk while filling up the gas tank – the pressure from inside the tank would constantly shut off the gas pump before the tank was even half full. This meant I either had to clue any gas jockeys into the problem or fill it up myself. I soon went to only self-serve places.

I’d like to say that me and the Swift had a long and happy time together, but it wasn’t to be. As the bulk of my driving since I’d gotten my license had been in the summer, my amount of winter driving experience was pretty limited. I’d never experienced the phenomenon of black ice before the frigid February day when I was driving to Ottawa. I saw a bunch of cars stopping or slowing up ahead, so I tapped my brakes, only to find that the entire road surface was a sheet of ice. I quickly lost control, and ploughed into the back of a fire truck that was assisting the other vehicles that had also hit the ditch, the median or each other.


It was totalled, the air bags blew and i hit at such a speed that the engine was driven into the passenger compartment. In hindsight, I was lucky that I wasn’t injured, although it took a few years before I felt comfortable driving in winter.

Fortunately, there was another car in my spouse’s stable that was free, and soon became my next ride. It was definitely more fun than the Swift, but also a bit more compromised as a daily driver.