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Sipping fuel at a slow rate in the in the new Suzuki Swift Hybrid

A new Suzuki Swift Hybrid has risen to the occasion by coping with heavily congested Auckland roads and proving both remarkably thrifty and easy on the environment.

In an independent test, one of the first of the petrol/electric 1.2 litre Swift Hybrid GLX five-door hatchbacks to arrive here averaged an impressive 4.2 litres/100 kilometres. The test was designed to replicate the common daily commute for customers involving a mix of open road, around town, and stop/start motorway driving.

A standard petrol-only 1.2 litre Swift GL running in unison with the Hybrid also did well with an average of 4.75 litres/100 kilometres, although it was the newer model equipped with Suzuki’s clever self-charging SHVS system that stole the limelight. The two cars ran together with two drivers swapping over to simulate near identical running conditions.

Over a far from easy 220 kilometre drive, the newly introduced Swift Hybrid CVT automatic was 11 percent more economical than the Swift GL CVT automatic which already has an enviable reputation as one of New Zealand’s most economical vehicles.

The eco-star Swift Hybrid is a first for Suzuki, further reducing the overall fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of its entire range with its clever electric motor assistance.

Electrical energy accrues when decelerating and braking in the Swift’s mild hybrid operation and the automatic stop/start operation also allows more fuel to be saved when the car stops at traffic lights or pauses in gridlock traffic with the footbrake depressed.

The engine stop/start facility is extremely smooth and seamless since it uses the unobtrusive electric motor of the hybrid system to restart the engine rather than the starter motor. Instead of a conventional alternator, an integrated starter generator (ISG) generates electricity as well as restarting and assisting the engine as a motor.

The ISG allows for a quiet and smooth restart because it uses a belt-drive rather than a conventional starter that creates noise when connecting gears.

“One of the advantages of the special 12-volt lithium ion battery, which is additional to the regular lead acid battery, is that it runs enough various ancillaries at traffic lights to keep the petrol engine switched off,” said motoring journalist Donn Anderson who drove the Hybrid in the Auckland region test that also included some open road routes.

While kinder on the environment he said it was also more cost effective than regular petrol only powered cars, especially if drivers regularly commute in heavy traffic where the Hybrid system works best.

“What impress are the simplicity of the Hybrid and the refinement of the overall operation of the system. Owners will never need to be aware the lithium-ion battery is connected to engine electronics, meters and the audio unit, while the lead-acid battery is connected to headlamps, air conditioner and other components.”

Nor is there any requirement for charging as is the case with plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles.

Suzuki says the Hybrid requires no special maintenance and can be treated like any regular vehicle with petrol only operation. However, about 30 minutes of continuous driving is recommended every month to recharge the battery and prevent it from running out.

SHVS - short for Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki - harvests energy from braking and deceleration to top up the battery as the car meets the challenges of everyday motoring. SHVS operates in all ranges from deceleration to cruising where it minimises power, increasing efficiency without changing any driving habits.

The 12-volt lithium ion battery and ISG unit has a capacity of 50Nm of torque which is not enough to power the car alone but provides meaningful assistance on take-off and under heavy acceleration.

Anderson said the test revealed a surprising amount of engine idle stopping time in city and urban driving, with the instrument monitor highlighting just how many minutes the petrol engine did not need to be operating. During all these pauses in vehicle movement came the useful reduction in both fuel consumption and emissions.

The belt-driven ISG is not activated when the car is first started from a cold engine since more power is needed to rotate the crankshaft than when restarting the engine after auto stops. However, the Auckland tests revealed the automatic stop/start operated very quickly and imperceptibly following a cold start and rapid engine warm-up.

“For many of us much of the time spent in our vehicle is on the commute to and from work. This can often involve a large amount of stop start driving that typically uses considerably more fuel than open road running. It is in this situation that the Swift Hybrid shines with allowing customers to make a sizable saving in their running costs while also greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Gary Collins, General Manager of Marketing for Suzuki New Zealand.