Suzuki Swift Sport
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