If you simply need budget transport then there’s no cheaper place to shop than among hatchback mini-cars.
They’re small and cheap but that doesn’t mean they’re no good. In fact the best of them are very impressive little operators.
Here we look at two of the most popular city cars you can buy, the Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris.
The Swift nameplate has been around since 1984 in Australia, although it did go into hiatus between 2000 and 2005 when it was replaced by the Ignis (no not the fridge, a car).
Since it returned there have been generational changes in 2011 and 2017, but through all that the Swift is one car that has refused to grow bigger, heavier and more expensive with age. It has also only been sold as a front-wheel drive five-door hatch.
Almost indistinguishable from its ‘EZ’ predecessor at launch, the ‘FZ’ Swift rolled out in Australia in 2011 with a new 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, the choice of manual and automatic transmissions and a three-grade model range.
In 2012 Suzuki refired memories (for the oldies) of the 1990s Swift GTi hot hatch, when it released the second generation Swift Sport with an updated 100kW 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and near-200km/h capability (on the racetrack of course).
In 2013 the production base was relocated from Japan to Thailand bringing with it Bluetooth for the intermediate Swift GL and cruise control for the flagship GLX. There was another minor update in 2016 with a specific Navigator model – bringing standard sat-nav (der!) to the GL and GLX.
The current ‘AZ’ Swift broke cover at the Geneva motor show in March 2017 and was in Australia within months. It came in two model grades – GL powered by a 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and the GLX powered by a 1.0-litre triple-cylinder petrol engine.
Apart from breaking the styling mould of the two previous generations, the new Swift was 10mm shorter, 15mm lower and 40mm wider than its predecessor. It was also as much as 135kg lighter, which aided sub-5.0L/100km fuel consumption claims for both engines.
The new Swift Sport received a good tickle-up. Benefitting from the same diet as the mainstream models and the shift to a slightly more powerful and significantly torquier 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine that propelled it from 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds. That was 1.5 seconds quicker than the old car!
In mid-2018 the entry-level GL manual was dropped, which meant all models in the range now had autonomous emergency braking standard or available in a safety pack, boosting the Swift to a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
An updated ‘AZII’ Swift in September 2020 actually deleted the option of AEB from the base model Swifts. Range-wide upgrades included a digital speedo, auto-up electric windows and rear speakers. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were already part of the package.
The Sport also received an update around this time that added a bit more gear including blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, but left the fundamentals untouched.
So that’s the history, what about the driving? The modest 1.2-litre engine needs to be driven hard if you’re in the country; there’s not a whole lot of power. But it responds with a willingness that encapsulates the Swift’s loveable character. It’s the sort of engine that doesn’t shy away from lots of revs to tap into its modest power.
At suburban speeds the engine is happier and the nimble steering and city-friendly manners make it an easy companion. Those wanting more can choose the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo, which ramps up the character even further.
Inside, it’s basic and compact, especially in the luggage department. It’s all about honest motoring done well.
The Sport dials everything up that bit further. It’s a warm rather than hot hatch, but it’s still fun in that very simple and basic Swift way.
The Yaris is the smallest and cheapest car sold by Toyota in Australia. It traces its history here back to 1999 when it was launched as the Echo front-wheel drive hatch. It became Yaris in Australia in 2005 coinciding with a generational change.
The entry-level three-door 1.3-litre Yaris was priced just under $15,000 (remember that), but there was also a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, a five-door body and multiple model grades. A sedan arrived in 2006.
Bang on time in October 2011 the second-generation Yaris arrived in Australia. It was on-sale until 2020 and it’s the car you’ll see plenty of on CARS24.
Slightly longer than its predecessor and wider inside (but not outside), the new Yaris also claimed improved fuel economy and equipment levels. The exterior adopted a beaky nose and the instrument cluster was moved from the centre of the dashboard to a more orthodox position in front of the driver.
There were four model grades – YR, YRS, YRX and ZR – as well as three- and five-door body styles and 1.3- and 1.5-litre engines available with manual or automatic transmissions.
The entry-level three-door Yaris was axed in 2014 while the five-doors were given a minor styling tweak. Model designations became Ascent, SX and ZR.
The sedan, by the way, had yet to be updated from the model launched in 2006 and would roll on until 2016 before being axed.
The third generation Yaris finally arrived in Australia in August 2020, but the long wait delivered an all-new car from the platform up.
It boasted a new naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre triple cylinder petrol engine, a petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain and a standard safety equipment list including autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that set a new standard for the baby car class.
It even included Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which Toyota had resisting added to its cars for years.
If that all sounds too good to be true. It was because pricing went through the roof. Nowadays, with the manual transmission recently dropped, you can’t get a new Yaris on the road for under $25,000!
Which means the second-generation examples offered by CARS24 are much more affordable, especially for first time buyers on a budget.
They may not be as equipped or as sophisticated technically as the current car, but they still offer Toyota build quality and reliability.
Both the Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris stand put for being reliable and solid small cars from reputable Japanese manufacturers.
But out of these two it’s the Suzuki that edges ahead. That’s because the Swifts you’ll find on CARS24 will often be the current generation, which includes autonomous emergency braking in some models.