I really dislike road-testing small diesel cars. It's nothing to do with the driving experience. But because New Zealand has a ridiculous Road User Charge (RUC) tax system for diesel passenger vehicles that requires you to pay a flat rate based on distance travelled, rather than fuel consumed, I always have to get the calculator out. Then I have to write about how RUCs cancel out the financial savings you make through fantastic fuel efficiency. Then I feel sad.

But here we go anyway, with the Suzuki Swift diesel (DDiS). It's a new model to the local range in a very European specification: it's powered by a 1.3-litre Fiat engine making 55kW/190Nm, and is only available with a manual gearbox.

The Swift DDiS costs $25,990, or $2490 more than the Limited-manual model with the 70kW/130Nm 1.4-litre petrol engine. That's a big price gap for a little car.

It's all down to the engine, because equipment levels are very close between the two: like the Limited, the DDiS has 16-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo with USB input and seven airbags, including one for the driver's knee. Still no Bluetooth connectivity in any New Zealand-specification Swift though, save the limited-edition RS model (which also had climate air conditioning) that was offered last year.


Might as well get this out of the way: the Swift DDiS is a troublemaker. You might remember that Suzuki and Volkswagen got together back in 2009, with the German maker taking a 19.9 per cent share in the Japanese company. Things haven't gone that well: Suzuki has accused VW of failing to share as much technology as it promised.

VW expressed extreme corporate annoyance that Suzuki decided to purchase small-capacity diesel engines from Fiat rather than itself. Small-capacity diesel engines like the one in this Swift.

The DDiS achieves an astonishing 4.2 litres per 100km in the Combined cycle. However, the Limited isn't exactly profligate at 5.5 litres. Let's do maths: using fuel prices current at the time of writing, it would cost you just $64 to drive the DDiS 1000km, compared with $114 for the Limited.

However, add RUCs on to the diesel's tally and it costs more like $107 - a mere $7 saving per 100km. In short, you have to drive the DDiS over 400,000km to justify the extra purchase price.

The Swift, any Swift, is a marvellous little car. Deservedly popular regardless of sex or age. Perhaps the DDiS is just so much more satisfying to drive, that the extra spend doesn't really matter? It's often that way with modern diesel cars.

Sadly not. There's a cheap and cheerful feel to the Swift DDiS, but like I said: this is a small diesel in a very European mould. It's noisy, suffers chronic noise, vibration and harshness problems and is geared for around-town thrashing, not motorway work. It needs six gears. It only has five.

It's fun, of course. In typical Fiat-diesel fashion the engine feels flat low-down, but has real zing when you work it hard. You have to work the gearbox hard, but the Swift is simply sublime when you have to shoot around city streets. Weight is not an issue: while diesel cars are usually heavier than their petrol equivalents, in this case there's only 30kg in it.

It's a giggle then, but I can't recommend this diesel model over the petrol Swift. Cars like the DDiS exist in Europe because they offer genuine fuel savings over their petrol equivalents, which is why you're happy to accept some opportunity cost in refinement. Because of RUCs, the DDiS has all the compromise and none of the financial reward.

That's a shame, as a new Swift variant should be cause for celebration. The little Suzuki is still a sales superstar in New Zealand: number-two passenger car overall last year and still holding second spot in the year-to-date figures.

So please buy a Swift, but a petrol one is fine. You can even have an automatic if you want.

* Ford Fiesta LX TDCi - $26,990
* Hyundai Accent CRDi - $34,490
* Kia Rio diesel - $24,990