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Dzire takes manual transmission to the next level

2018 Suzuki Dzire GL+

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Along with the launch of the Dzire last year, Suzuki introduced a new twist to the manual transmission: the Auto Gear Shift or AGS for short. Technically a manual transmission with one clutch that’s electronically controlled by motors and solenoids, it is not to be confused with an automatic transmission or a dual clutch.

I know your interest is piqued, but before we get there, let me tell you about the spin-off model that’s ushering in this innovative gearbox. Breaking away from being just a sub-model of the Swift, this third-gen Dzire (the first one introduced some 11 years ago but only for the Indian and African market) still shares the same façade and the Heartect platform with its sibling.

For those who don’t know, Heartect is fairly new and Suzuki says it is lighter and more rigid, which improves the vehicle’s ‘running, turning and stopping’ motion.

Like the Swift, it has upswept multi-reflector headlamps that get emphasized by curvy front fenders, and then there’s the similar logo-bearing wide hexagonal grille. Nothing much goes on along the sides but come around back and you’ll get combo taillights with LED and a trunk lid stylized to show a mini spoiler lip. Standing alone it looks extremely compact but parked beside a C-segment car one time, I noticed that the difference in length could have been no more than maybe three inches.

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Suzuki does well to use all of its 2,450 mm wheelbase to lay as much space inside as the vehicle can. It doesn’t feel cramped, which is good, and there’s ample amount of headroom as well. The layout is very neat and as you can see, that black theme with the grey panel and trims also looks very appealing.

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Everything is clearly marked and easy to understand and operate – from the infotainment system and climate control. There are two ports below, just on top of the cupholders, one is the 12V socket and the other is USB/AUX-in. Seats are fabric, very plain, and would probably feel better with lumbar support in the next update or just get one yourself from your friendly neighborhood autoshop. There’s only one control on the steering wheel. It’s for the audio found of the left stalk.

Moving this unit is a 1.2L gasoline engine putting out 82 HP and 113 Nm of torque. As mentioned previously, this unit uses Suzuki’s AGS. Power is just right for its size and weight – 895 kilograms unladen.

It feels spritely and delivers very light steering feedback. As is common with vehicles in this category, it is easy to maneuver and slots in nicely even in cramped spaces on the road and in parking garages.

Comfort is very good for a Php 698,000 vehicle. It dismisses potholes and poorly asphalted road sections just as well as million-peso cars. Rollover resistance not very good though mainly because of the unit’s high ceiling.

Now to the most important part, how to deal with the AGS. In the first half hour or until you figure out that you’re not driving an A/T, it will feel like a terrible management of shift shock.

During upshift, if you keep your foot pressed even slightly on the accelerator, it feels like you lost power for a split second. The unit slows down momentarily before it launches forward again as it enters the next gear. This happens because the gearbox has literally shifted from one gear to the next, but instead of the driver manually doing it, a microprocessor-based system engages the electronically-operated clutch after it reaches the appropriate RPM based on throttle input.

So it doesn’t necessarily shift at 2,000 RPM, but it will during normal throttle pressure. Really step on it, rev the engine up and watch the upshift happen at past 3,000.

Now to reduce or even eliminate the shift shock, treat it like you would a manual transmission because that’s in essence what it really is. The trick is to lift your foot off the accelerator at the proper point during your drive – moderate acceleration 2,000 RPM; overtaking maneuvers 3,000 RPM. That way you don’t unexpectedly lose power with the throttle depressed, which makes your drive just a little bit more fuel efficient and more importantly, more comfortable.

You can also opt to use its ‘manumatic’ mode and shift through the gears manually using the +/- system on the gear shifter. Because there’s minimum transmission losses (versus A/T) and perfectly timed shifts (versus M/T), I got some 12 kilometers per liter even in city driving.

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The AGS is relatively new and for sure will raise plenty of questions from consumers but Suzuki believes in it enough to invest and right now it seems like it can be the answer to people who hate M/Ts on weekdays but love to drive stick on weekends.

If there’s one car out there that can make you see the M/T in a totally different light, that would be the 2018 Suzuki Dzire GL+.

Text and photos by Eric Tipan

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