Suzuki's Swift Sport is the unrecognised hero of the warm hatch sector. The latest MK3 model looks to earn some belated recognition. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The Suzuki Swift Sport has long been a car embraced by serious drivers who know a great handling hot hatch when they see it. Though not especially powerful, it's agile, chuckable and brilliant fun for not a lot of money. Few potential buyers know this, so the idea with this third generation model is to widen its appeal with a smarter interior, lower running costs, a little more grunt and even sharper handling. For all that, it'll still be a well-kept secret in this segment, but one loyal buyers will enjoy hugely.
I remember when Hot Hatches weren't all about power. You had a simple, revvy, normally aspirated engine and there was certainly no need to fuss about with extra go-faster gadgetry. Four-wheel drive, trick diffs, double-clutch gearboxes, electronic stability systems - all very nice but all there to add weight and cost to what ought to be a simple, inexpensive formula. You might think that it's too late to turn the clock back in this segment - but Suzuki doesn't, delivering us this car, the third generation Swift Sport. This is one of the best-kept secrets in GTi motoring, modestly powered perhaps but modestly weighted too, which means it can routinely put the wind up far more exalted machinery. Well over 6,000 Swift Sports already pound UK roads, almost all owned by people who wouldn't give any thanks at all for an offer of trading their car against a pricier, pokier warmed-up Fiesta, Corsa or any other shopping rocket.
The Swift Sport has never been about pure power. Suzuki could easily shoehorn a 200bhp engine into the thing if it pleased, but that would just make it uninsurable for younger drivers. Instead, and rather sensibly, engine power has been modest, the latest car massaging peak horsepower up from the old car's 134bhp to a still distinctly manageable 138bhp. More important is the news that to achieve this, the old normally aspirated 1.6 has been replaced by a lighter and more efficient 1.4-litre Boosterjet turbo unit. Straight line performance improves marginally (0-62mph in 8.1s en route to 130mph) and there's 70Nm more torque (230Nm of it), but Suzuki has devoted much of their attention - and rightly so - to developing the Swift's chassis dynamics so it offers even more poise and control. The suspension set-up has been completely revised in a bid to offer greater driving stability, optimized roll rigidity, and improved dynamic response. And it's all bolted to the much stiffer, lighter 'HEARTECT' platform that underpins the ordinary Swift model. There's a total kerb weight of just 970kgs. To give you some perspective on that, a rival Renaultsport Clio 200 EDC weighs over 200kgs. Which is why this Suzuki can match the performance of that Renault, despite offering considerably less power. Have cake; eat it. Simple.
This Swift Sport features an exclusive frontal design. The front grille and bumper project the nose beyond that of the standard Swift, conveying what the brand hopes is a sense of tautness and imminent action. Muscular shoulders, blacked-out A-pillars and vertically arranged front and rear lamps are brought into vivid relief in this top variant, with black aerodynamic under spoilers spanning the front, sides and rear, and a roof-end spoiler at the back. Inside, the Japanese designers have tried to create an immersive, interactive sports driving environment, starting with red interior accents and a driver-oriented instrument panel. The main gauges feature contrasting colours, while evocative boost and oil temperature gauges aim to enhance the sports driving experience. Cabin quality can't hope to match that of pricier supermini hot hatch rivals, but it's a big improvement on the previous generation model and the semi-bucket-shaped front seats look good, while the D-shaped steering wheel with dimpled leather gives a secure grip. The chrome-finished shift knob and sports alloy pedals add a final classy touch.
It's nice to be able to report that this Swift Sport is not only one of the most genuine hot hatches out there but also just about the most affordable. A budget of around £18,000 doesn't buy you much of anything that's in any way desirable in the modern small car market these days - but it will get you one of these. The buying proposition is simple, a single five-door bodystyle with a single six-speed gearbox option and one decently kitted trim level. So this car's affordable, something which, rather pleasingly, hasn't stopped it also being very well equipped, provided kit including a Bluetooth-compatible Smartphone Linkage Display Audio Display unit with a 7-inch touchscreen and a SD Card 3D-map navigation. Aesthetic touches include carbon fibre-style embossing for the front grille, the front-lip spoiler, the side skirts and the rear diffuser, plus thin-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels. This car's safe too, thanks to an included package of camera-driven features that includes five key features - autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control, 'Lane departure warning', a 'Weaving alert function' and 'High-beam assist'.
Even a car as focused on fun as the Suzuki Swift Sport can't escape the fact that many buyers look to economy and emissions when drawing up a shortlist of contenders. Fortunately it scores fairly well thanks to the installation of a clever 1.4-litre Boosterjet turbo engine this time round. This features a clever small displacement, high torque turbocharger and a variable fuel pressure control system that more accurately optimises fuel injection to suit the way you're driving. Expect around 50mpg on the combined cycle and 125g/km of CO2. That's a big step forward from the figures returned by the previous model's 1.6-litre normally aspirated unit which, for reference, were 44.1mpg and 147g/km. What about other costs? Well, every Swift variant comes with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty: Suzuki maybe needs to think about extending this to match rivals now offering four, five or even seven-year plans. There's also a year's breakdown cover that extends across the whole of Europe and includes roadside recovery. You can extend it yourself at extra cost via arrangement with your dealer. A 12-year anti-rust guarantee comes with the car too.
Like many hot hatch buyers at the affordable end of this sector, I'd forgotten about Suzuki's Swift Sport before I checked out this one. Big mistake. Here, you get old-school GTi fun without old-school crudeness. You even get relatively old-school pricing. You won't be moved to buy one after looking at the specs in the brochure but take a test drive down your favourite back road and I guarantee you'll see this car a whole lot differently. I don't think we should under-estimate the scale of this Japanese brand's achievement here. Bringing a hot hatch up to date usually means increasing its weight, price and complexity. None of which has happened here. Leaving the Swift Sport as a car you buy if you've nothing to prove as a driver but everything to gain from driving it. Please don't change this car Suzuki. Don't make it faster or more hi-tech. It's already the way every real shopping rocket should be.
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