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The Swift ICOTY Drive

The Maruti Suzuki Swift recently won the ICOTY 2019 award and to celebrate, we collaborated with Maruti Suzuki to help write ‘Swift’ across the Indian map, via GPS art

The Maruti Suzuki Swift recently won the ICOTY 2019 award, thus becoming the only car in India to win the prestigious award on three separate occasions. To celebrate, we collaborated with Maruti Suzuki to help write ‘Swift’ across the Indian map, via GPS art

When the very first Maruti Suzuki Swift was launched in 2005, I remember driving it and thinking “This thing is going to be a game-changer.” There were other fairly capable hatchbacks available at the time, but the Swift stood out as being all that the competition offered (and, indeed, everything that Maruti Suzuki itself offered) and then some more. It was good looking, practical, comfortable and, most importantly for me, a lot of fun to drive. Clearly plenty of others thought much the same thing, because the car became an instant hit, selling thousands of units and winning the very first Indian Car of The Year (ICOTY) award in 2006. An update to the Swift also won the ICOTY in 2012, and when the current model came around last year, it helped the Swift hit the 20 lakh-unit sales mark since it was first launched – and it won the ICOTY again, for the year 2019. This award is the most prestigious in the automotive industry, and thus the most sought after; its jury, of which MW is a part, consists of the most respected publications and experts in the field, and thus it takes quite a lot to impress it.

The Swift is the only standalone model to win the ICOTY award three times, and Maruti Suzuki decided to celebrate this milestone in a rather unique fashion. In collaboration with the member publications of the ICOTY jury, it came up with a plan to write the word ‘Swift’ across the map of India, using GPS art; teams from the publications would drive Swifts on routes that had been selected to form the five letters in the word. For example, the ‘S’ would be formed by Swifts being driven from Jhansi to Delhi; MW would complete the drive by getting from Bengaluru to Mangaluru, thus forming the lower half of the ‘T’.

Anyone with any common sense knows that if you’re attempting to drive out of Bengaluru, you have to do it at the crack of dawn – otherwise, you run the risk of being caught in the city’s notorious traffic snarls. Thus, at the aforementioned crack, we set out after a quick flag-off ceremony, hitting the highway towards Mangaluru. The last time I had driven on this road was in 2005 – the year the Swift was launched – and at that time it had been one of the best driving roads in the country. Now it was almost as good, but with far more traffic, unsurprisingly, and with some of it barrelling down the wrong side of the road – an unfortunate occurrence that is now so common in India that most don’t even give it a second thought. Nevertheless, we made very good progress, with the excellent highway allowing us to comfortably maintain a cruising speed of 100 kph, at which velocity the Swift barely breaks a sweat. I was driving the diesel version – powered by a 1.2-litre engine, putting out 74 bhp and 190 Nm of torque – which is a very capable highway car, with plenty of torque available for both overtaking manoeuvres and relaxed cruising.

One of the reasons the Swift won the ICOTY 2019 award was because it’s a car that just… works. The jury was unanimous in its appreciation of its fresh new design (funky yet refined), its revamped cabin and its sporty character, which doesn’t compromise on ride quality. Get in the driver’s seat and you’ll appreciate the manner in which all the important controls fall easily and intuitively to hand – there’s nothing you have to hunt around for. The superb steering wheel, with a flat bottom, is great to hold and offers plenty of feedback from the road; the A/C works brilliantly, cooling almost too well; the touchscreen infotainment system offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and is easy to navigate; the audio system puts out crisp, clear sound; the instrument panel is easy to read and well designed; there’s enough room for five occupants to sit in comfort; cubbyholes abound, for all manner of storage; there’s 268 litres of storage space behind the rear seat; and you’ll get really good fuel mileage out of it – the fuel needle dropped at a glacial pace during our drive. With so many things working for it, it really is a car for all seasons and all kinds of people, and its sales figures come as no surprise.

After a quick breakfast stop – idlis, dosa and filter coffee; we were in south India, after all – we resumed driving, heading for the town of Hassan, the midway point between Bengaluru and Mangaluru. By now, it had begun to become pretty hot, with the sun beating down on us, but this was nothing that the Swift couldn’t manage, its powerful A/C keeping us chilled to a nicety; with my favourite Jazz Radio app streaming some bebop over the audio system, we pressed on. Spying a windmill farm some distance away, we attempted to find it in order to take some photographs, but it ended up being inaccessible; still, we came across several other very photogenic spots, where our young and luxuriantly maned photographer, Ritik Singh, did his thing.

Further on down the highway, I was beginning to hanker for some twisty roads, in order to throw the Swift around and have some cornering fun. I got what I wanted not too soon afterwards, as we began climbing a ghat section towards the plantation town of Sakleshpur. The Swift really got into its element here – even though the current generation car isn’t quite the boy racer that the first-gen model was, it’s been given a sweet spot between handling capability and ride quality. As a result, it was easy to chuck it into and out of corners with a great deal of confidence, knowing it would go exactly where I pointed it, and also knowing that the suspension would smoothen out undulations in the road. Bend after bend was dispatched, and as we climbed higher up the hills, through lush coffee and spice plantations, we decided it was time for a breather – a spot of lunch, and the purchase of some fresh coffee.

Prandials done with, we got on with it on the home stretch. The terrain gradually levelled out as we left the hills behind, with not many more kilometres to go before we arrived in Mangaluru. I was really looking forward to getting there; my only other visit, many years previously, had revealed a beautiful, multicultural town, full of wonderful old houses and monuments, friendly people and the some of the most lip-smacking food I had ever eaten. On the approach into Mangaluru, we saw a near-deserted spot on a beach not too far from the highway, and promptly went in search of it (thank goodness for Google Maps, I tell you). The place was gorgeous, but not as deserted as we had believed, with a film crew shooting nearby; however, we found ourselves an undisturbed space on the beach, which was liberally sprinkled with jellyfish (we weren’t about to find out if they were dead or still with us). Photos and videos done with, we finally drove into Mangaluru, thus completing the ‘T’ in ‘Swift and, indeed, the entire Swift ICOTY drive. After a fun day driving the equally fun Swift, there remained only one thing to do – immediately find one of Mangaluru’s famous seafood restaurants and proceed to consume its output. And so we did.