It isn't as if the Swift hasn't faced a big challenge from a competing hatchback before. But when lined up for a head-to-head with the Brio there's the same sort of sizzle in the air as would precede an Arsenal versus Manchester United football game at Old Trafford. The new Swift proved last month quite emphatically that Suzuki is on the top of its game. But the Brio is an equally significant car.
Let's kick off with styling. The Swift update has been a mixture of the sharpened and still the same. It looks a bit too far off the ground and a bit tip-toey but we know from experience this is a smart compromise.
The Brio, on the other hand, is as modern and fresh as any recent all-new Honda you'd think of. It's a cheeky, attractive looking car with a very distinctive rear-end. This is a clear toss-up, the polished-up familiarity of the Swift versus the past-less modernity of the Brio. Both cars display nearly equal attention to fit and finish levels and display similar (high) build quality with the Swift feeling just marginally more robust than the typically light Honda.
On the interiors, Honda does an amazing job of keeping the price in check without letting the Brio feel like City's cheap cousin. It's a high-quality cabin where you can smell the attention to detail. The seats may feel a bit firm at the beginning but is comfortable once you settle in.
The Swift on the other hand, takes its smart cabin from the last generation and ratchets the details up several notches. It's a typically black cabin that could easily have descended into a gloomy, plasticky mess. But it doesn't at all. It's sporty to a fault, the materials feel great to the touch and while it does lose out to the Brio in interior space, it's vastly improved over the old Swift.
Where Swift edges Brio out is in features. Maruti's digital display has more information and the music system looks upmarket and is well specced. In comparison, the shiny black plastic of Brio's system looks a bit sparse - 2 DIN with a handful of buttons looks bare. I'd say the two are tied here - space versus features. Then you spot Brio's alarmingly small boot versus the more convenient and larger one in the Swift and Maruti edges Honda out by a notch.
So halfway through the first half, the game is even with the Swift having a little more possession. Now, the powertrains. The Swift's K-Series engine is among the sweetest engines in the petrol hatchback league and the Brio, with its Jazz-sourced and gearing-changed equi-displacement motor is no slouch either. Both engines love revs, both run quiet at low revs before offering up a likeable snarl when more busy. In terms of gearboxes again, the Swift's clutch is a bit light but the Brio's is well-weighted, while the Swift's short, crisp throws trump the Brio's super-light but longer throws. Still no score.
Then you consider weight. Brio is a 930kg car while Swift is 990kg. This shows up in the acceleration times. Brio proved to be the quickest hatchback in the segment with a sizzling 12.85 second run to 100kmph, but Swift was only 0.08 second behind. Where Swift has the edge is in the gearing where acceleration in fourth gear is over two seconds better than Brio. Top gear 40 to 100kmph in both is super slow, but generally Brio is the quicker car. But if the road is long enough, Swift will eventually outrun Brio. The Honda hits a plateau at 140-odd kmph after which its speed just doesn't rise any further. Swift goes on to 165kmph. Economy? Swift gets 14.9kmpl in the city, Brio is 0.3 less, Brio gets 21.3 on the highway, Swift is 0.8 less overall, its 16.91 versus 16.27 in favour of the Swift, hardly enough to call it a goal.
Even in driving feel they are closely matched. Brio can feel like the gears are a bit too short, or like the engine could easily rev more. But it cruises at highway speed smoothly and comfortably. Revving up high is no issue and refinement is never even called into question. Swift is much the same, with an equal appetite for revs, the same highway ability and feels marginally more linear overall. In the city, Brio shows a slightly better low-end torque spread and is a bit lighter to steer, but it isn't like Swift is hard work. No score at halftime.
Now both cars use the same MacPherson front and torsion beam rear suspension setups. But here Swift sticks to its sporty nature and favours its handling while Brio opts for a better ride quality package and as Bert noted in his road test, trades off in handling ability.
The Honda is clearly meant to be the consummate city car. It has soft suspension, consequently there's a bit of body roll, but it absorbs bumps rather well and Brio's ride would slot in near the top of the hatchback segment. The issue I have with the ride quality is that it feels less than fully controlled in terms of wheel and body control especially over undulations. In the process, the Brio is robbed of what might have been a fantastic handling package. Braking is excellent as expected, though the Brio's brakes aren't all that sharp in feel or bite. It's a bit frustrating because you sense Brio's agility and ability to plant a smile on your face, but never quite reach out and touch it. The Suzuki is clearly the leader in the dynamics department. It does have the stiffer ride package but the balance between handling and ride quality is excellent. The ride is stiffly damped but never harsh and feels strong and robust. And that allows Swift's legendary handling to come out and play. Bends are dispatched with enthusiasm and verve and the weight in the steering wheel, the slick shifts, rev-happy engine all come together beautifully. Brio's steering is lighter - city car - but Swift is hardly oppressive hard work.
Which means it's down to a penalty shootout of sorts. It's features and pricing that will give one of these two an edge. Brio's base variant E and the S variant will not have ABS and air bags but an optional safety package can be bought for the S variant. Only the top-end version of the Swift has the safety package â" what we consider as essential equipment. Score one for Honda. Then again, Honda's bare-bones stereo, lack of a rear wiper and demister and stuff leaves Honda lagging behind.
Honda have aggressively priced the Brio. The base variant, E, is available at Rs 3.95 lakh. The S variant will come for Rs. 4.35 lakh and with the optional safety package it will cost Rs. 4.9 lakh. The top-end V variant will cost Rs. 5.10 lakh (all prices ex-showroom, Delhi). In comparison, base variant to base variant, the Swift (Rs 4.22 lakh) is expensive by Rs 27,000 and top variant to top variant, the Swift is costlier by Rs 43,000. Brio is an impressive product for Honda to enter the volume market with. It has an unmissable premium feel, superb engine, good ride quality, excellent space for passengers and a very attractive price tag. But Swift proves once more why it is so incredibly hard to beat.
The styling update isn't as dramatically unique as I would've liked but Swift's heart is still in the right place. Brio simply doesn't have the involvement levels Swift generates so effortlessly. Add nearly matching engine performance, slightly better economy, only marginally less interior space, bigger boot and a clearly defined sense of purpose and finally the game seems to have a clear winner. Swift is clearly the more mature package here, which grows in ability without losing its youthful, perky feel.
The game went into extra time, was tied in penalties and the Swift won it only in a sudden death shootout. But like football fans like to say, a win is a win.