Suzuki's Swift Sport is the unrecognised hero of the warm hatch sector and the latest MK3 model gains mild hybrid tech. 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 and remains so in this improved third generation form. Though not especially powerful, it's agile, chuckable and brilliant fun for not a lot of money. Now, its 1.4-litre Boosterjet turbo engine has gained mild hybrid assistance, which has enhanced torque, efficiency and in-gear acceleration. This car will 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, here enhanced with mild hybrid power. This car remains one that can routinely put the wind up far more exalted machinery but and sits in the warm hatch sector somewhere between the Volkswagen up! GTI and the Ford Fiesta ST.
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, the engine power output of this model has always been modest. For years, this Swift Sport campaigned with a normnally aspirated 1.6 with 134bhp, replaced at this third generation model's launch in 2017 by a 1.4 Boosterjet turbo unit offering 138bhp. This Hybrid model uses an updated 'K14D'-series version of the same Boosterjet engine with 127bhp and that (plus a bit of extra weight) explains why the rest to 62mph sprint time has fallen by a second to 9.1s, though the top speed remains at 130mph. The eagerness of the original MK3 model remains though, partly because the mild hybrid unit has the ability to 'torque-fill' under acceleration to compensate for turbo lag. And partly because pulling power has actually risen slightly - up from 230 to 235Nm. Otherwise, the appealing recipe that charmed us with this car back in 2017 remains much as before. Suzuki's emphasis on chassis dynamics for this third generation car serves up impressive levels of poise and control, aided by a bespoke suspension design that offers driving stability, optimized roll rigidity and a surprisingly high degree of dynamic response. It's all bolted to the same particularly stiff, light 'HEARTECT' platform that underpins the ordinary Swift model. There's a total kerb weight of 1,025kgs, which is 55kgs heavier than the pre-Hybrid model but that still undercuts most warm hatch rivals. Which is why this Suzuki can match the real world performance of its direct competitors, despite offering considerably less power. Have cake; eat it. Simple.
This look of this third generation Swift Sport hasn't changed with its switch into the hybrid era. 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.
Pricing's risen quite a lot with this Swift Sport Hybrid - you're now looking at nearly £22,000 for ownership. Still, that's not too far off what you'd pay for a well specified version of this car's closest rival, the Ford Fiesta ST. As before, the buying proposition is simple, a single five-door bodystyle with a single six-speed gearbox option and one decently kitted trim level. Suzuki has at least sugared the pill of the price increase by throwing in some extra standard camera-driven safety tech - specifically additional rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and blind spot monitor systems. That's in addition to autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control, 'Lane departure warning', a 'Weaving alert function' and 'High-beam assist'. In fact, this car is better equipped all round than you might expect a relatively affordable warm hatch to be. 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. Inside, there's a Bluetooth-compatible Smartphone Linkage Display Audio Display unit with a 7-inch touchscreen, a six-speaker DAB audio system and SD Card 3D-map navigation. Plus there's a rear view camera, front fog lamps, keyless entry, LED headlamps, LED tail lights. Buyers are offered the car in one solid colour and five metallic colours, along with two further colours available optionally as two-tone with a black roof.
Suzuki reckons that the 48-volt mild hybrid tech has delivered improvements in fuel economy and emissions of up to 20%, though because of the switch from NEDC to WLTP cycle ratings, it's difficult to verify that claim with any real accuracy. The WLTP figures show this model managing 50.1mpg and 127g/km. You may be familiar with the way that mild hybrid engines work but just in case not, here's a quick re-cap. Basically, energy that would otherwise be lost when braking or cruising off-throttle is harvested via a kinetic energy recovery system and sent to a small lithium-ion battery that here has been placed beneath the front passenger seat. This is used to drive a belt-driven 'ISG' unit (an 'Integrated Starter/Generator') and power the engine's stop/start system. Suzuki's old 12-volt mild hybrid package (as previously used in lesser versions of this current Swift) didn't do a lot more than that but this improved 48-volt set-up can also deliver other important benefits, most importantly something quite unusual amongst current mild hybrids - the ability for this Suzuki to idle and even coast on full-electric power, though only below 10mph. 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.
In this mild hybrid form, the Swift Sport remains as much fun as ever and is still one of the best-kept secrets in GTi motoring. It's modestly powered perhaps but still modestly weighted too, which means it can routinely put the wind up far more exalted machinery. Previous versions are 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 or any other shopping rocket. Sure, other fast superminis offer greater levels of straight line performance for not a lot more, but they're mostly not as safe or as well equipped, they'll be less frugal to run and in most cases they'll be less pleasant to use over poorer surfaces. Of course, none of these things will be compelling reasons for Swift Sport purchase - and they shouldn't be. What really matters here is that you get old-school GTi fun without old-school crudeness. True, you probably won't be moved to buy this Suzuki after looking at the specs in the brochure, but take a test drive down your favourite back road and we reckon you'll see this car a whole lot differently. Need convincing that power isn't everything in a performance car? If so, you need to drive this one. We guarantee it'll surprise you.
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