LET me take you back to a time when New South Wales had just won three State of Origins on the bounce, Donald Trump was hosting a game show rather than world leaders, and Justin Bieber had yet to pollute your airwaves.
The happy year was 2006 and yours truly was buying his first new car. Tired of losing my weekends (and dollars) fixing old clunkers I'd bought because they had "personality", I decided - at the insistence of my girlfriend sick of oil patches on our driveway - to buy a shiny new car with a shiny new warranty.
Our choice? The recently released Suzuki Swift S with such niceties as 15-inch alloys, front fog lights and an MP3 player all for $17,990. We managed to keep it just under $20k drive away once we'd added metallic paint. It felt like a bargain, and proved a lovely little thing to own.
Fast forward 11 years and there's a new Swift on the market (the third generation since the model was re-introduced in 2005), and it's still a sub-$20,000 drive away car.
New car prices have remained static or even dropped in the past decade, especially in the price-driven compact and small car segments, and specification levels have ballooned.
Four new Swift variants are on offer. An entry-level GL is $16,990 to drive away (in Queensland and northern NSW), but its relatively skinny inclusions, antique sound system and steel wheels don't help its cause. It is, however, the only way you can get a manual gearbox in the new Swift, but you can option this model with a CVT auto for $1000 more.
The next rung, the Swift GL Navi, looks far better value for the coin. For $18,990 drive away you score the CVT auto gearbox, 16-inch alloys, fog lights, seven-inch screen with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity and a rear-view camera. For just a grand more than a CVT-equipped GL, going this grade is a no-brainer unless you insist on a manual.
Safety conscious shoppers can buy a GL+ which adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking support (braking the car for you if an accident is imminent) for $19,990 on the road.
While these three Swifts employ a 66kW/120Nm 1.2-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, a range-topping GLX offers a perkier 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol, good for 82kW and 170Nm.
This version also features a more conventional six-speed torque converter auto gearbox rather than the single-speed CVT, which can feel somewhat whiny and unnatural, found in the rest of the range.
Still with that recognisable cutesy Swift styling, the 2017 model is a tad wider and lower than the outgoing model, offering a sportier stance.
Its visage has been subtly reworked, the front and rear lights sharpened and the rear door handles now mounted high up beside the window as part of a huge C-pillar.
Boot space is up over before by some 54 litres. Putting that in perspective - and pay attention here uni kids - that means the rear can carry five cases of beer instead of three.
Moving inside and there's much to cheer about. Having owned a Swift in the past my biggest complaint was the rear seating. Cramped, claustrophobic and crashy, adults were certainly not well looked after back here.
Good news is thanks to some clever packaging and a completely new body structure the rear chairs feel more accommodating. It's still a compact car though so don't expect it to be generous, but the greater space back here plus the bigger boot are big wins for new Swift shoppers.
It's also a decent cabin for the driver. The entry-level GL doesn't score an entertainment screen, making the audio panel look like something from the last century.
As the smart buyers will move into the GL Navi model and above, these cabins look far more cutting edge. Clean, simple and with a dash of sporty jazz thanks to chrome rings around the vents and dials, plus a D-shaped steering wheel that feels lovely in the hands.
There's still plenty of hard plastics so typical of this price point, but this takes little away from a funky little interior.
I only had a brief test of the new Swift around Brisbane's Mt Cotton facility, handily enough after sampling the outgoing model.
What became immediately apparent were marked improvements to the Swift's handling manners. Grippy, assured and truly poised, the little car attacked corners with gusto and rarely complained. The old car, however, became enveloped in a sea of tyre noise when asked to perform likewise. It still remained fun though.
The 1.2-litre engine of the first three Swift grades is at its best with the manual five-speed gearbox, making it annoying it can only be had on the bare bones entry level Swift. So good is the slick little gearbox that the GL is the pick of the range for the driving enthusiast: it's a real shame it's not offered through the range, not least on the three-cylinder turbo GLX model.
The turbo is a lovely singing little motor, and certainly more rewarding with its auto gearbox than the other cars' CVT autos. Driving enthusiasts will have to wait for the Swift Sport model for truly involved sporty driving though.
Choice is always a good thing, and the new Swift delivers with two engine variants, three transmissions and four grades offered.
Entertainment, safety and convenience improves the more dollars you spend, and the GL Navi model in particular looks the value pick, but it would be wonderful if offered with a manual gearbox.
Still charmingly stylish and now with improved cabin space, the new Swift is sure to steal city car buyers' hearts all over again.
AT A GLANCE
2017 Suzuki Swift
PRICE From $16,990 - $22,990 drive away (in Queensland)
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km, extended to 5 years/140,000km if capped price servicing is carried out
CAPPED SERVICING From $199 per service
SERVICE INTERVAL Every 6 months / 10,000km
SAFETY Untested; 6 airbags
ENGINES 1.2-litre 4-cyl petrol, 66kW/120Nm; 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo petrol, 82kW/170Nm
TRANSMISSIONS Five-speed manual, CVT auto, six-speed auto, FWD
THIRST 4.6l/100km - 5.1l/100km
DIMENSIONS 3840mm(L), 1735mm(W), 1495mm(H), 2450(WB)
What matters most
The good: Evolution of Swift's good looks keeps things stylish, much improved handling, nice to have a turbo engine topping the range.
The not so good: No manual option except in the base grade when it would suit the turbo model well, lots of cabin hard plastics, entry level GL has very skinny specification and no Autonomous Emergency Braking.
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