Find out why this subcompact car stands tall

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It is hard to hate this sedan's looks, according to the author. PHOTO BY HANS BOSSHARD

We love sedans. Most manufacturers of subcompact hatchbacks have come out with a four-door sedan version of their three- or five-door hatchback counterparts, and Suzuki is no exception. The Swift has been well received with its iconic looks and Japanese reliability, with its sedan sibling, the Dzire, following in its success.

Simply looking at it, it is hard to hate it. The shape of the front grille gives it a slightly bubbly look, rather than the abrasively sporty appearance we see from other offerings nowadays. The front fascia features a sizable yet tastefully sized grille (versus the smaller pre-facelift one it had), a pair each of halogen fog lights and reflector headlight assemblies, and a decent sprinkling of chrome. The rear combination lamps have LED brake lights, and the 15-inch alloy wheels give it a striking yet unassuming stance.

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It can command attention in traffic. PHOTO BY HANS BOSSHARD

It looks rather short with slightly weird proportions—especially if you are used to sports sedans with much longer hood space. This sheds some light on the origins of the Dzire being primarily for the Indian subcontinent, with the 3,995mm body length designed to fit within the sub-four-meter vehicle excise tax reduction rule of the Indian government. The car itself is made by Maruti Suzuki, Suzuki’s Indian counterpart, alongside other recognizable models such as the S-Presso. Crash protection of Maruti Suzuki vehicles has been under scrutiny, especially with Global NCAP’s Safer Cars for India Initiative giving the 2018 Dzire model a mere two stars out of five. Nevertheless, Suzuki has packed the Dzire with a lot of the standard safety features you see nowadays, such as front dual airbags, ABS and seatbelt pre-tensioners. The chassis is also designed around the Heartect platform to help with stability and impact absorption while keeping weight low.

This platform shines best with the NVH of the Dzire, but in its own special way. Cruising down SLEX at 100km/h, it was whisper-quiet inside the cabin to the point where you could have a hushed conversation with your passengers. Despite this, you still manage to get excellent road feedback and easily tell what surface you are running on and how the car’s suspension is behaving. Sometimes it seems too excellent with how much you feel the road, but never to the point of it being harsh. It seems rather counterintuitive, but makes a little bit more sense when you find out that the Dzire only weighs 890kg.

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A straightforward sedan—no frills, just a reliable steed. PHOTO BY HANS BOSSHARD

The Dzire is quick and snappy with its steering, yet is not too light. It is well weighted for tackling corners, highway driving, and maneuvering, not too light as to feel easy to mishandle, but not too heavy as to make steering a chore. While it feels like you have to turn the steering wheel a bit more than usual to get the steering response needed, the feedback more than offsets that slight misgiving.

While the driving dynamics of the Dzire is surprisingly good, what piqued my interest initially was Suzuki’s automatic gear shift (AGS) transmission. It is an Aisin automated manual transmission that is essentially a manual transmission and clutch assembly actuated by servos and motors, as opposed to the traditional automatics that rely on torque converters and hydraulics to shift gears. The sluggishness of the power transfer brought about by the torque converter has always been one of the reasons why I have found more fun in manual transmissions. The AGS does away with using fluids to transfer power, instead using the positive contact of a fully engaged clutch plate. This gives you the same near instantaneous feedback from the accelerator pedal as you do with a more traditional manual, and definitely contributes to the fun and the agility that the Dzire gives.

All is not sunshine and roses, however, as the servos take longer than hydraulics to shuttle the clutch and the cogs around, resulting in a more pronounced dip in power from first to second gear unlike with a more traditional automatic. The transmission module is incredibly quick to recognize when it needs to act, and is rather liberal in commanding shifts as needed, which means it has a very defined response that you can easily get used to over time. After a few days of driving, I was already instinctively lifting off the throttle right before the car would shift, as I would in a manual, resulting in butter-smooth shifting every time.

The car tends to shift at conservative rpms as well, rarely exceeding 2,000rpm when driving normally. This, combined with the 1.2-liter K12M engine, delivers an incredibly thrifty ride at 14km/L in the city and 22km/L on the highway. I was driving normally and by no means hypermiling the car, yet I was reaching figures that I could only dream of on my rather thrifty daily.

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It may be an inexpensive car, but its cabin, thankfully, does not feel cheap. PHOTO BY HANS BOSSHARD

The low price of the Dzire does make its way into the cabin, but still manages to keep everything well-executed. The interior cladding is all plastic, yet it evades tacky designs. There is soft-touch cloth panels on the door, alongside electric windows all around. A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment display coupled to speakers allows for playing music, but not having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto leaves it lacking in this day and age. The addition of dual-zone climate controls is very much welcome for when you want to keep dry but not freeze, and the instrument cluster has everything you need presented clearly and elegantly. With the sufficiently cushioned cloth seats, the adequate boot space, and the surprisingly decent legroom, the short stature of the Dzire seems to not have wormed itself into the living spaces of the vehicle. The addition of a rear passenger aircon vent and 12V power socket gives a bit more functionality for when you need it.

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This engine is not thirsty. PHOTO BY HANS BOSSHARD

Overall, the Suzuki Dzire presents good value for money. At P719,000 for the GL+ variant with Auto Gear Shift, it is a tempting choice in its own way. While it may not be as refined as its competitors, the perky dynamics and the thrifty fuel consumption make the Dzire stand tall despite its unassuming size.

SUZUKI DZIRE GL+ AGS

Engine 1.2-liter four-cylinder gasoline
Transmission 5-speed AMT AGS
Power 82hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque 113Nm @ 4,200rpm
Dimensions 3,995mm x 1,735mm x 1,515mm
Drive layout FWD
Seating 5
Price P719,000
Upside Light and small, feels great to drive, and very fuel-efficient.
Downside Debatable safety issues.

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