Sometimes it seems that all modern cars look the same.
It’s easy to point at yet another C-segment SUV and bemoan that it looks an awful lot like the one that came out just last week. However, a closer inspection usually reveals subtle differences be it an interesting line across the doors, a slightly bolder headlight design or some fancy wheels.
But sometimes it really is almost impossible to tell one car from another. Take the Suzuki Swace. From a distance it looks a lot like a Toyota Corolla Touring Sports. Even right up close it looks like one and that’s because, behind the Suzuki badges, it is a Corolla.
It’s part of a partnership that has seen Suzuki rebadge the Corolla and Rav4 as Swace and Across respectively to enhance its offering in Europe, while Toyota gains access to Suzuki’s strong standing in other parts of the world.
It takes the idea of badge engineering to a new level. Almost the only difference is the Suzuki badge, literally stuck on top of where the Toyota one usually sits. It even still has the Toyota-style hybrid badges on the front wings.
That’s not a bad thing though. After years of the dismal Auris, Toyota is back on form with the Corolla and so the Swace shares the well-proportioned and sharply-styled lines of the estate body style (there’s no Swace hatchback).
When something looks as good as the base car, there’s no point in spending lots of money on minor metalwork changes, hence why that boot badge is literally stuck on rather than pressing a new panel.
It’s an understandable approach. The point of the Swace is to offer a quick entry into new markets with minimal effort and expense. And it’s a really smart move for Suzuki.
Like the Across does in the C-SUV market, it gives the brand an immediate presence in the family estate market. And not just a token effort but a seriously well engineered machine.
Under the bonnet, the Swace uses the Corolla’s 1.8-litre full hybrid powertrain. With 120bhp, it won’t set pulses racing but it copes with most day-to-day tasks admirably and the hybrid motor provides a useful extra slug of torque.
That hybrid system is a significant improvement on the basic 12V arrangement Suzuki previously used, delivering more impact in performance and economy. Over several hundred miles of driving the system returned 58.4mpg, pretty impressive for a petrol-powered, family-sized estate. You don’t get the 30+ miles of EV range a PHEV offers but at the same time, you’re not hauling around a heavy battery for no reason once it runs down.
The Swace also impresses with its on-road behaviour. Thanks to the original engineers’ desire to make a more engaging model than before, it benefits from light, responsive steering and decent handling. It won’t worry the Ford Focus or Mazda3 but that’s unlikely to be high up on a buyer’s list of priorities.
The only downside is a rowdy engine under hard acceleration and a lot of road noise from the tyres which detracts from the otherwise pretty refined driving experience.
Like the exterior, the Swace’s interior is pure Toyota, which is, largely, a good thing. There are a couple of unusual ergonomic decisions and it’s hardly a dazzling example of interior design but it’s functional and neat. And, from a Suzuki point of view it’s a major step up in quality. There are none of the questionable plastic switches or touchpoints that still plague the brand’s other cars, instead everything feels solid and long-lasting.
In terms of passenger space, Suzuki says the Swace is among the most generous in its class and there’s certainly room for four average sized adults and a practical 596-litre boot with 60:40 split rear seats.
The biggest problem in the cabin lies with the infotainment system. It’s marginally better than that in other Suzukis but still one of the poorest on the market. Thankfully Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard.
The Swace comes in only two trim levels - SZ-T starts at £27,499 and the tested SZ-5 at £29,299, although Suzuki at the time of writing Suzuki has discounted both models by £3,000. Even before the discount, that means they neatly undercut the equivalent Toyota by around £1,000 but enjoy the same high levels of equipment.
Suzuki perhaps doesn’t enjoy quite the same kudos as Toyota - hence the lower price - but with the Swace that means you get all the benefits of Toyota’s expertise and engineering, a decent looking car and a strong hybrid powertrain, all for a little less money.
It’s win-win for Suzuki and its customers.
Suzuki Swace SZ-5
Price: £29,299 (£29,899 as tested); Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol with hybrid motor; Power: 118bhp; Torque: n/a; Transmission: CVT automatic; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 11.1 seconds; Economy: 64.2mpg; CO2 emissions: 103g/km