1989 Suzuki Swift

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chicagotribune.com
Suzuki and Chevrolet have come up with the Swift and Metro, a pair ofmini economy cars high on mileage but so short on looks that they are long on laughs for those who view the sheet metal.

The front-wheel-drive cars were designed and are built by the outfit that brought us the Suzuki Samurai.

The ad brochure calls the Swift GTi an ``Econohunk.``

Chunk, maybe, but no hunk. A low, sloping nose with a bloated rear end.

The wife said the all-white Swift GTi we drove looked like an egg.

No. 1 daughter said it resembled a snowball.

No. 2 daughter called it a UFO and refused to ride in it.

Then came the Metro-same car but in red.

The wife said it looked like an Easter egg.

No. 1 daughter said it looked like an M&M.

No. 2 daughter said she`d ride in it-after nightfall.

No. 1 son returned from college, saw both, and refused to comment.However, because he didn`t ask for money, he must have been somewhat moved.Later he asked to be returned a block from his dorm.

The reaction from casual observers and onlookers sharing the roadway wasa bit cruel. Motorists would pull alongside and break out in laughter. Onelooked, sneared and made a finger gesture that obviously wasn`t a comment onits styling allure.

John Tondelli, music maven for WGN Radio, came up with the ultimateputdown. Spotting us leaving the parking lot in the Swift, he paused, brokeout in a grin and asked: ``Has it come to this?``

Swift and Metro replace the Suzuki Sprint, which helped prompt Chevy todrop its Chevette for a less expensive import.

Swift is a good name for the mini hatchback from Japan. The 1.3-liter,16-valve, 4-cylinder engine develops 100 horsepower. The engine puts a lot of life into a 1,700-pound machine. The 0-to-60 mile an hour time is 8.18 secondsbut the EPA rating is 29 miles per gallon city/36 m.p.g. highway.

The ad brochure advises you to, ``Check your pulse rate after a testdrive,`` no doubt a reference to its quickness, but perhaps a reminder tothose who embarrass easily.

Swift is built on an 89.2-inch wheelbase and is 146.1 inches long. Though it looks small on the outside, interior room is rather ample. At first glance,you think you`d need a shoehorn to get humans in the back seat. But leg, head and arm room put some midsize cars to shame. The rear seats also fold for morecargo capacity in the hatchback.

The 5-speed is smooth, the controls within sight and reach and the seatscomfortable. Neat touch is the pullout dual cupholder in the dash.

Spoiling the effect, however, is the bulbous and bulky rear end. The back looks similar to that on the Taurus and Sable wagon with the rear window glassbowed out and down as if the design was a compromise between those who wanted more length and those who fought to keep it down.

Suzuki said Swift`s styling is ``futuristic, a sure attention-getter.``Couldn`t agree more. But it`s the same attention you`d get walking down thestreet in a Nehru jacket.

Suzuki also says the Swift is ``expected to find its niche with youngdrivers looking for a sporty vehicle that won`t break the bank.``

The Swift GTi coupe we drove carried a base price of $8,995, which meanswith tax alone you`re at about $9,500. A lot of money to pay for a snowball.

And do young drivers with the least amount of experience behind the wheel really need only 1,700 pounds of protection wrapped around them?

Standard equipment includes four-wheel independent suspension, powerbrakes, halogen headlamps, steel-belted 14-inch radial tires, wheel covers,front air dam and side skirts, rear spoiler, intermittent wipers, rear window wiper/washer, side and rear window defoggers, full carpeting, folding rearseats, power side mirrors, digital clock and AM-FM stereo with cassette andfour speakers.

Metro is the Swift clone sold by Chevy under the GEO designation.

The Metro LSi two-door hatchback coupe we drove was far more tolerable in appearance because it was finished in red, which reduced the harshness of the inflated rear end.

``It`s styling that brings out a love-hate relationship,`` said JanetEckhoff, manager of passenger car planning for Chevy`s GEO operations. ``Inconsumer clinics before the car was brought out, most reactions werefavorable. It`s not a throwaway car.``

Metro is powered by a smaller 1-liter, 3-cylinder, fuel-injected enginewith a paltry 55 h.p., but a hefty 53 m.p.g. city/58 m.p.g. highway ratingwith the standard 5-speed manual. With optional 3-speed automatic the mileage rating is 38/40, but we suspect automatic and 55 h.p. might be a mismatch.

Chevy`s approach with the Metro is more sensible than that of Suzuki with the Swift. Suzuki promotes its car as another in the stream of pocket rockets,which too often refers to very small, very ugly vehicles that gallop from the light. Speed is supposed to overcome all ills.

The GEO Metro is Chevy`s lowest priced and highest mileage offering. It`s one of those ``get you from point A to point B without burning lots of fuel`` machines. No pretenses. What you see is what you get.

However, despite the roomy interior, the exterior dimensions are the same as the Swift, so keep in mind that to get 50 m.p.g. on your commute you`re apassenger in a 1,700-pound cargo carrier.

Standard equipment includes all-season steel belted radials, rack-and-pinion steering, power brakes, fold-down rear seats, carpeting, side windowdefoggers, trip odometer, wheel covers, left outside remote mirror andswingout rear windows. Many of the goodies standard in the Swift are optional in the Metro to keep the base price at $5,995 on the entry-level model, $6,895on the LSi two-door coupe we drove and $7,195 on the four-door LSi.

With optional air at $655, AM-FM stereo at $122 and a preferred equipment group that included intermittent wipers, rear window wiper/washer, digitalclock and a few other goodies, the sticker came to $8,218.

Chevy`s GEO lineup includes the Metro and Tracker four-wheel-driveutility vehicle from Suzuki; the Prizm joint-venture car with Toyota inFremont, Calif.; and the Spectrum from Isuzu of Japan.

For now, Metro and Spectrum are all you can get in the Chicago market.Prizm is added in March, Tracker in October. Spectrum is dropped for a stylinggem called Storm for 1990. A two-seat Metro convertible will be added in 1990,too.

Eckhoff said Tracker (Autos, Oct. 2) is the most sought-after of the GEOline. Only 10,000 will be imported in 1989, so the vehicle is getting aregional rollout starting on the West Coast. Midwesterners have to wait until next October.



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