Suzuki Swift Sport

Autocar - - THIS WEEK - RICHARD BREMNER

Ex­clu­sive drive of feisty hatch

Pre­vi­ous ver­sions of this warm hatch have been char­ac­ter­ful, en­gag­ing and fun. Has the pur­suit of so­phis­ti­ca­tion on the all-new one taken a toll?

Ar­rayed be­tween the Swift Sport’s red-edged cir­cu­lar dash­board di­als is a mes­sage cen­tre ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing you with graph­i­cally ren­dered dis­plays, in colour, of your Suzuki’s ac­tiv­i­ties when on the go. It will re­veal its fuel con­sump­tion, its av­er­age speed over five-minute in­cre­ments and in to­tal, your lat­eral ac­cel­er­a­tion, the tur­bocharger’s boost­ing ef­forts and the forces of ac­cel­er­a­tion and braking. In­stant in­for­ma­tion like this used to be the pre­serve of Nis­san Sky­lines and the hot­ter Subarus, but now you can have it in this small hot hatch.

There’s also a dis­play mea­sur­ing the pas­sage of time – that’ll be the clock – and a pair of cir­cu­lar bar graphs re­veal­ing the quan­ti­ties of power and torque you might reck­lessly be de­ploy­ing at any par­tic­u­lar in­stant. Given that both are un­cal­i­brated, they’re largely point­less, es­pe­cially as you don’t need any in­stru­ments to gauge the strength of ef­fort you’re sum­mon­ing from its 1.4-litre tur­bocharged petrol mo­tor.

That’s not be­cause this engine is noisy, but be­cause it’s so ea­ger. These days, a power out­put of 138bhp isn’t huge even for a su­per­mini, but they are lightly bur­dened horses, the Sport weigh­ing just 970kg (some 80kg less than the pre­vi­ous, less welle­quipped model). The re­sult of which is that, even on a mod­est throt­tle open­ing in the lower trio of gears, the Swift surges for­ward with the kind of joy­ful, un­com­pli­cated zeal that re­minds you of pre-in­jec­tion hot hatches if you’re old enough or, more re­cently, pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions of the cheer­fully brisk Swift Sport.

That this is a car of pleas­ingly rude verve is quite a sur­prise when you un­earth some as­pects of its spec­i­fi­ca­tion. This lat­est ver­sion is equipped with au­ton­o­mous emer­gency braking, lane cor­rec­tion, a drowsi­ness mon­i­tor (you’ll be very sleepy if you drop off aboard this en­ter­tainer),

radar cruise con­trol and ad­vanced for­ward pedes­trian de­tec­tion. These elec­tronic cor­rec­tive in­ter­ven­tion­ists have the power to drain the plea­sure from a spir­ited drive, the lane­keep­ing as­sis­tance do­ing just that on a rare piece of twisty, empty road in the Tokyo dock area – an un­ex­pected light­en­ing of steer­ing ef­fort and mild di­rec­tional chivvy­ing slightly spoil­ing the mo­ment. At speeds be­low 40mph, your slack at­tempts to steer are chided with a vi­brat­ing wheel rim. Above that speed and up to 100mph, the steer­ing will au­to­mat­i­cally nudge you back into line. Good news, then, that this fea­ture can be turned off, be­cause it would other­wise un­der­mine the Suzuki’s pleas­ingly un­com­pli­cated char­ac­ter. It would also mean that the rea­son­ably ex­ten­sive ef­forts di­rected at sharp­en­ing its ath­leti­cism would go wasted.

Apart from the par­ing of 80kg, there’s a 52lb ft torque boost, the Vi­tara’s 1.4 turbo Boost­er­jet re­plac­ing the pre­vi­ous nor­mally as­pi­rated 1.6. Power is up by only 4bhp but the ex­tra torque is sig­nif­i­cant. The 162lb ft to­tal eas­ily eclipses the pre­vi­ous model’s rather puny 110lb ft and you get full ac­cess from 2500rpm through to 3500rpm. There are six ra­tios with which to achieve that ac­cess but the gear­lever slots home with a slightly rub­bery re­sis­tance that’s a lit­tle at odds with the crisp im­me­di­acy of the rest of the car’s con­trols.

Suzuki has yet to pub­lish per­for­mance and fuel con­sump­tion fig­ures for the Euro­pean-spec Sport, partly be­cause the car is frac­tion­ally wider. The Swift is based on a rel­a­tively new plat­form shared with the Baleno, and as well as its lower weight, the body is stiffer than be­fore. There are im­prove­ments to the rest of the chas­sis too (see side­bar, above right).

It’s not hard to dis­tin­guish the Sport from the rest of the range. At­trac­tive two-tone 17in al­loys fill the wheel hous­ings and there’s a slightly more pro­tu­ber­ant nose, what Suzuki calls un­der-spoil­ers all round, a roof spoiler and a pair of wide-spaced ex­haust tips. The black sec­tions of the bumpers are fin­ished in faux carbonfibre and the car has been low­ered by 15mm and the body widened by 40mm.

The in­te­rior leaves you in lit­tle doubt that you’re sit­ting aboard a speed­ier Swift, ei­ther. Red hot decor is there to raise the pulse, these glossy, strobe-like in­serts span­ning the dash­board, arm­rests and the cen­tre con­sole, and the black bucket seats are edged with red stitch­ing.

None of this warpaint is in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Apart from its pleas­ingly un­com­pli­cated throt­tle re­sponse and the lightly en­thu­si­as­tic sounds em­a­nat­ing from its engine bay, the Sport scores with fairly di­rect, con­sis­tently weighted steer­ing, a con­fi­dence-boost­ing driv­ing po­si­tion and cor­ner­ing that’s pretty flat at low to mid­dling speeds. It’s wieldy and dart­ingly fast and has man­ners that en­cour­age you to ask more of it. For the most part, it won’t be found want­ing, ei­ther. Roll does build in tight turns tack­led hard, but grip is good enough to ward off run-wide un­der­steer at bold speeds in the dry, and sud­denly shut­ting the

throt­tle mid-bend com­pletely fails to un­set­tle it. There is, how­ever, a dis­ap­point­ing side to this un­ruf­fled dy­namic char­ac­ter.

The Swift is just the kind of com­pact, rat-fast pack­age that ought to dance to your right foot’s tune, but the only means of chang­ing its di­rec­tion is via the steer­ing wheel. Given that Suzuki is still tweak­ing the car for a Euro­pean launch sev­eral months away, it would be great to think that there might be time for some light re­flex-sharp­en­ing tweak­ery. Most keen driv­ers would hap­pily trade the lane-keep­ing twitches for a bit more on-the-edge ad­justa­bil­ity, although this pro­tec­tive elec­tronic tic is prob­a­bly too deeply em­bed­ded to delete. Yes, you can turn the lane-keep­ing off, as you can the trac­tion con­trol, but tight­en­ing its line on a trail­ing throt­tle the Swift sim­ply isn’t up for.

Apart from this mild bal­letic short­fall, the Sport seems to be a well­rounded pack­age for an en­thu­si­ast af­ter some­thing com­pactly prac­ti­cal and af­ford­able. There’s re­fine­ment be­sides the verve too. The engine qui­etens at a cruise and the ride is ab­sorbent enough not to be in­ces­santly re­mind­ing you that you’re hav­ing fun of a sport­ing kind. The seats are sup­port­ively en­velop­ing as well. Soft fur­nish­ings are lim­ited to seats, car­pets and head­lin­ing, but the hard-feel dash­board is lifted by those flashes of colour and the cheer­i­ness of the Swift’s in­stru­ments and in­fo­tain­ment dis­play. You also get a stylish leather-bound steer­ing wheel and al­loy pedals.

Equip­ment is com­pre­hen­sive, what with a 7.0in touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem that in­cludes Ap­ple Carplay, An­droid Auto and Mir­ror­link, cli­mate con­trol and the cam­era and radar sys­tems re­quired to pro­vide the as­sorted driver as­sis­tance. Radar pro­vi­sion means that adap­tive cruise con­trol is stan­dard, and you also get a rev­ers­ing cam­era. The re­sult is a small, dash-about car that’s well equipped for long dis­tance and ought to be easy to live with.

In terms of equip­ment and so­phis­ti­ca­tion, the Swift Sport has ma­tured sub­stan­tially. The good news is that it has ac­tu­ally lost weight de­spite all of these ad­di­tions. If it could be made to play in re­sponse to the throt­tle, it would make an ex­cel­lent, old-school hot hatch with 21st cen­tury elec­tron­ics.

You can pick out a Sport vari­ant by its faux carbonfibre bumpers, tailpipes, two-tone wheels and lower, wider body with aero ad­denda

The new Sport is 80kg lighter than its pre­de­ces­sor, has a stiffer body and an up­graded chas­sis

You get plenty of equip­ment and a cabin with a cheer­ily sport­ing am­bi­ence

Turbo 1.4 brings ex­tra punch at eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble revs, although the gearshift ac­tion is a touch rub­bery

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