Suzuki Swift Sport: Turning up the heat on the warm hatch
The new Suzuki Swift Sport has big boots to fill - but it rises to the challenge, says William Scholes
THERE were few cars with a smile-per-pound ratio as high as that which Suzuki shoe-horned into the old Swift Sport, writes William Scholes.
A Drive favourite, it was a hot hatch with an old school vibe. It might have been small, light and cheap, but there was real depth to the Swift Sport's engineering.
The controls were responsive to your will but also fizzing with communication. It was blessed with proper suspension, building on the basic Swift's already excellent ride and handling through the addition of some neat Monroe dampers.
This helped give the Swift an air of sophistication that even hot hatches from several rungs up the price and size ladder couldn't match.
The engine was an essential part of the Swift Sport's character. It might have made only 136bhp and not a lot of torque, but the high-revving, thrash-the-nuts-of-it 1.6-litre was an effervescent companion.
It added up to a giant-slaying package that in its own way was just as much fun as something like a Mazda MX-5 - further proof that top speed and 0-60mph times are blunt tools when it comes to assessing just how involving and satisfying a sporty car is.
The new Swift Sport has big boots to fill, then. Having brought us an all-new Swift last year, Suzuki has just got round to wheeling the much-anticipated Sport model into showrooms.
The good news is that it is a cracker. The bad news is that it has taken a £3,500 price jump, and now costs a relatively steep £17,999.
This means the Swift Sport is not the bargain it was once.
Yes, you get lot of standard equipment for your money. A lot.
Not just electrically-adjustable everything, but high-end stuff like adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and start, LED lamps front and rear, smartphone connectivity and a little screen in the dashboard that tells you how hard you are accelerating or braking, and what the turbocharger is doing.
That's right - there's a turbo attached to the engine this time. It's the biggest difference, both technical and philosophical, between old Sport and new Sport.
With the Swift Sport, less mass plus the turbo-assisted torque boost equals fast just about everywhere
It is Suzuki's excellent 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine, a version of which we've already tried in the superb Vitara, and though it makes barely any more power than the old car's 1.6-litre non-turbo unit, it is the way it goes about its business that makes the difference.
That is thanks to oodles more torque, that part of an engine's performance that makes itself felt when you apply the throttle and the car responds by pulling you up the road.
The old car's outputs were 136bhp and 118lb.ft; the new model has 138bhp but 170lb.ft.
But that is only part of the story. A gain in power and torque would be significant if the Swift weighed the same as before.
But thanks to some sort of design and manufacturing alchemy, it is actually lighter, with a kerb weight of 975kg compared to 1,045kg.
Given the equipment on board and enhanced safety of the new car's structure, plus the fact that it is far more spacious than the old Swift, this is remarkable stuff.
Flab is the enemy of efficiency in any car, and shedding weight is a virtuous circle.
In the case of the Swift Sport, less mass plus the turbo-assisted torque boost equals fast just about everywhere.
Because turbo engines do their best work lower down the rev range, the engine doesn't need to be thrashed as before; that might rob the Sport of some of its old character but the trade off is effortless acceleration and speed pretty much all the time.
Of course, this isn't the sort of speed or acceleration that will give a BMW M5 a sleepless night.
Far from it; the Swift Sport is not fast in those sort of absolute terms. But it feels fast - certainly brisker than the quoted acceleration figures suggest - and that is exactly what a car like this ought to deliver. More than that, it is fun.
Some of the finest driving roads in Co Wicklow, including old Circuit of Ireland stages like Sally Gap, put the Swift Sport through its paces.
Loaded with kit, spacious and great fun to drive thanks to a nimble, chuckable chassis and eager engine, it is still a hatchback hero
The chassis remains engaging, the brakes sharp and grip plentiful. It doesn't egg you on to corner-on-the-door handles at every turn as the old car did, but this is perhaps more appropriate to the plusher equipment level and higher price tag that indicates the Sport has grown up a little.
For a car of this size and performance the ride is supple, with the well-tuned suspension damping that we have come to expect from Suzuki. Suffering with a bad back, I was particularly grateful for this, as well as the tight embrace of the sports seats.
On top of the engineering upgrades, the Swift Sport gets some rather tasty 17-inch alloy wheels, a new honeycomb grille, lots of sporty-looking black trim and a body kit. Twin exhaust pipes poke from the rear bumper.
Interior Sport cues include those bucket seats, lots of red stitching, a wonderfully tactile steering wheel and a really sweet, short-throw gear shift.
Judged in isolation, the Swift Sport is a triumph. It isn't fast compared to a larger hot hatch like a Hyundai i30 N, but it feels fast and entertains, both of which are arguably more important.
But we tend not to judge cars in splendid isolation, and the Swift Sport's biggest headache could well be the fact that the cheapest version of the new Ford Fiesta ST costs just £1,000 more.
Sure, it isn't as well equipped as the Suzuki and that will only get you a three-door car, whereas the Swift comes only with five doors. But the ST packs an altogether more serious 197bhp and 214lb.ft...
If that puts the Fiesta firmly into 'hot' hot hatch territory, then the Swift Sport is perhaps best regarded as the king of the 'warm' hot hatches.
There is much to like about the Swift Sport, even if the price blunts its appeal because it puts it into proximity with more serious machinery, this presenting prospective buyers with a dilemma they never faced before: "If I spent another £1,000...".
Loaded with kit, spacious and great fun to drive thanks to a nimble, chuckable chassis and eager engine, it is still a hatchback hero.
Sometimes it is more comfortable to be warm rather than too hot - and the Swift Sport gauges the temperature just right.
AT A GLANCE
Suzuki Swift Sport
Engine and transmission: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 138bhp, 170lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 130mph, 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 50.4mpg, 125g/km (NEDC)
Car tax: £165 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 26 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Four stars (88/75/69/44), 2017