Suzuki Swift Sport: Banzai hatch gains refinement
Suzuki's swiftest Swift is still a Drive favourite, says William Scholes
THE Suzuki Swift has long been a Drive favourite, writes William Scholes. The latest version is one of the best small cars you can buy: diminutively dimensioned on the outside, yet roomy on the inside; value for money, but not cheap and nasty; it’s also economical, comfortable, available with all the latest safety gadgets and easy to drive.
It might be easy to drive - there’s a good view out, the controls are light and predictable, and it’s not hard to park - but the Swift is distinguished from most other small cars by also being fun to drive in an ear-to-ear-grin kind of way.
Now, it’s something of a truism that small cars - at least for anyone who takes an interest in the craft of driving - tend to also be good fun.
There’s a certain enjoyment to be had in wringing out a low-powered engine to the red line, or leaning on - or even going beyond - the modest grip available from their small wheels and narrow tyres and driving everywhere at ten-tenths.
All this is good fun. And it need not be as reckless as it might sound; because there tends not to be many horsepowers corralled beneath your throttle foot, you can corner on your door handles at low - and therefore safe - speeds.
The Swift has traditionally been one of the funnest small cars, the fun factor turned up to 11 by a snappy gearshift, suspension damping far superior to most rivals and go-kart handling.
That the whole thing is shot through with a sense of solid, bombproof engineering - as seems to always be the case with cars from companies who also have a tradition of manufacturing motorbikes - just makes it even better.
The Swift’s dynamic attributes are most keenly focused in the Sport model.
In the old days, this had a rev-happy 1.6-litre engine, unencumbered by a turbocharger and designed to encourage you to thrash it all the time. It wasn’t the most powerful, by a long way - just 134bhp - but it had bags of character that perfectly suited the eager, up and at ‘em attitude of the sporty little car.
It wasn’t really powerful enough to qualify as a ‘hot’ hatch, not when there are 200bhp-plus Ford Fiestas, Renault Clios and Vauxhall Corsas running around, but as a ‘warm’ hatch it was hard to beat.
Much like the Mazda MX-5, it proved that you didn’t need to have buckets of power to have fun - a keen engine, slick gearchange, tenacious handling and supple ride are all you really need.
A new Swift Sport arrived a few months ago. Conceptually, it’s much the same as before. So you get a racy-looking bodykit and gorgeous alloy wheels to set your pocket rocket apart from the more humdrum Swifts.
There’s twin exhausts, arranged like the handles of a wheelbarrow. It really looks the part, in other words.
Inside are heavily bolstered bucket seats and, in time-honoured fashion, lots of sporty red stitching and highlights to the trim.
It is equipped to a very high standard, too. Big car gadgets like adaptive cruise control are standard. There’s a large colour touchscreen, smartphone mirroring, lots of safety gadgets such as lane departure warning - you can turn it off… - and a digital screen on the dashboard which displays G-force, turbo boost and other fascinating information.
In fact, save for some go-faster stripes and decals, Suzuki offers no optional equipment on the Swift. They don’t even charge extra for metallic paint. The price, incidentally, is a single pound less than £18,000.
The new Swift Sport is easier to live with, more of the time. This comes at the expense of some of the old car’s banzai nature, but in the real world it seems a fair compromise
Mechanically, Suzuki has - just like it did with the adorable old car - given the Swift Sport some fancy dampers in its suspension. This is of particular importance on our roads, both in terms of isolating their pock-marked surfaces and offering body control on the sort of undulating B-roads you will want to seek out in a car like this.
There is a sweet shifting six-speed manual gearbox.
This is all business as usual in the world of the Swift Sport.
But there is one huge difference. It is found under the bonnet, where the rev-happy 1.6-litre unit has been replaced by a smaller 1.4-litre engine that has acquired a turbocharger.
This is a big deal, given that the old car’s engine was integral to its appeal.
Happily, the new car’s turbo engine is a peach. With 138bhp it is barely any more powerful, but it packs a wedge more torque, with 170lb.ft playing the old car’s 118lb.ft.
In plain terms, this means the Swift Sport surges forward on even light throttle inputs. The car’s sense of energy is aided by the fact that it is also lighter than before, tipping the scales at 975kg compared to the last Swift Sport’s 1,045kg.
The torquier nature of the turbo engine means that you no longer have to live in the red line to maintain forward momentum. Thrust is easier and more accessible than before.
In practice, this means the Swift Sport now has a broader range of performance. It’s more accessible, too. Yet it is also easier to live with, more of the time. When you don’t want to play, it can be a surprisingly refined companion.
This comes at the expense of some of the old car’s banzai nature, but in the real world it seems a fair compromise.
Perhaps best of all in these austere times, no matter how hard I drove the Swift Sport I couldn’t get the fuel consumption to drop below 40mpg.
With effortless thrust, an eerie sense of lightness and quickness of response, boundless grip and the ability to cover ground at a speed that belies its figures, the Swift Sport remains one of the most complete new-car packages you can buy. That is why it is still one of Drive’s favourite cars.
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: 47.1mpg (WLTP), 43.5mpg (real world), 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