The pre­vi­ous Suzuki Swift Sport was king of the af­ford­able hot hatches, but the new one is more expensive and faces stiff com­pe­ti­tion from the cheaper Volk­swa­gen Up GTI. Si­mon Davis works out where he’d put his money

Autocar - - COMMENT -

Has Suzuki been beaten at its own game by the VW Up GTI?

Raw power has never been the Suzuki Swift Sport’s thing. Tra­di­tion­ally, its rai­son d’être has been to wrap up just enough per­for­mance in a rel­a­tively svelte pack­age and sell it at an at­trac­tively low price.

The pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Swift Sport pro­duced just 123bhp from its nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 1.6-litre en­gine. Mea­sur­ing it against a 300bh-pplus, all-paw mega-hatch wasn’t so much like bring­ing a knife to a gun fight as at­tempt­ing to face down a how­itzer with an egg whisk. But on the right road, and when you got that free-revving four-pot whirring like David’s sling­shot arm, it could give any of the hot hatch Go­liaths pause for thought. It used its agility to over­come any per­for­mance deficit and emerged as one of our favourite driver’s cars on a pound-to-pound ba­sis, pro­vid­ing a le­gion of nascent but im­pe­cu­nious en­thu­si­asts with a re­al­is­tic route into the hot hatch club.

Times have moved on, and Suzuki is no more im­mune to the pres­sures of tight­en­ing emis­sions reg­u­la­tions than any other man­u­fac­turer. So it is that this new Swift Sport, the third, is fit­ted with a tur­bocharged 1.4-litre mo­tor. It’s the same Boost­er­jet lump as you get in Suzuki’s larger Vi­tara and S-cross mod­els. That might sound like some­thing of a pas­sion killer, but the unit has been tweaked to pro­duce 138bhp and 170lb ft and it doesn’t ex­actly have a lot of car to pull along; even in its lat­est guise, the Suzuki bucks the gen­eral in­dus­try trend for sig­nif­i­cant model-on-model weight gain by con­tin­u­ing to weigh about as much as a bag of Mal­te­sers.

What’s ex­panded as dra­mat­i­cally as Mr Cre­osote’s waist­line, how­ever, is the price. Suzuki will charge you £17,999, push­ing the Swift Sport to the fringes of Ford Fi­esta ST ter­ri­tory, which is the car in­dus­try equiv­a­lent of smear­ing your­self in chum and leap­ing feet-first into shark-in­fested wa­ters. A tacit ac­knowl­edge­ment of how am­bi­tious this pric­ing strat­egy is can found in the fact that Suzuki UK is of­fer­ing a £1500 dis­count on the price un­til the end of this month.

Of course, the Ja­panese com­pany will point to how you still get a lot

of car for your money, which is true, but the price in­crease leaves the Swift Sport’s traditional bang-for buck su­pe­ri­or­ity ex­posed to some po­ten­tially com­pelling pre­tenders. In­deed, you don’t have to look too far for an­other mod­estly pow­ered hatch vy­ing for top hon­ours in the sub-140bhp, af­ford­able pocket rocket cat­e­gory – and this one’s pert rear bears three evoca­tive let­ters that will rouse the at­ten­tion of any sel­f­re­spect­ing hot hatch fan: GTI.

Wolfs­burg’s an­nounce­ment that it would sprin­kle its magic go-faster dust on the Up, the small­est model in its range, was initially greeted with a mixed re­ac­tion. Glass-half­full mer­chants reck­oned the Up GTI would dis­til the spirit of the Mk1 Golf GTI, meld­ing a light kerb weight with a small, nim­ble foot­print and plenty of power to heady ef­fect. Oth­ers fur­rowed their brows as they sur­veyed the Up GTI’S spec sheet and smelled a cyn­i­cal mar­ket­ing ploy aimed at ex­ploit­ing the rosy-tinged nos­tal­gic glow that sur­rounds the first high-per­for­mance Golf.

Ei­ther way, what the Up GTI did at launch was to slip deftly into a space in the mar­ket that the pre­vi­ous Swift Sport in­hab­ited. So is Volk­swa­gen’s baby the new bang-for-yer-buck cham­pion? Or is the lat­est Swift Sport so good that you’d be well ad­vised to speed-read the re­main­der of this ar­ti­cle and get on the phone to your lo­cal Suzuki dealer pronto be­fore that £1500 dis­count of­fer ex­pires?

Glance at the Up’s vi­tal stats and you may think that it’s at a dis­tinct dis­ad­van­tage. The Up GTI makes do with a 999cc 113bhp three-cylin­der unit. Where the Swift Sport’s en­gine makes 170lb ft, the Up has only 147lb ft. And where the Swift Sport tips the scales at 975kg, the Up weighs in at a com­par­a­tively portly 1070kg.

In a game of Top Trumps, then, the Suzuki has the VW licked. But as is so of­ten the case when it comes to cars of this nature, on-pa­per mer­its count for only so much. Of greater im­por­tance is the man­ner in which they go about ful­fill­ing the brief.

Slid­ing down into the Suzuki’s sport seats, the driv­ing po­si­tion car­ries all the sug­ges­tions of a car that’s been set up with a more spir­ited style of mo­tor­ing in mind. The seats pro­vide just the right amount of bol­ster­ing, and the ped­als are spaced in a man­ner that’s con­ducive to heel-and-toe gearshifts. By con­trast, the Up doesn’t im­press quite as much, feel­ing much more like the ev­ery­day city car vari­ants upon which it’s ob­vi­ously based.

The sports seats – resplendent in their ‘Jacara’ cloth up­hol­stery – are rel­a­tively flat and wide, and aren’t anywhere near as cos­set­ing as those in the Swift. They’re by no means un­com­fort­able, but they don’t give

In a game of Top Trumps, the Swift Sport has the Up GTI licked

off the im­pres­sion that they’ll keep your torso sta­ble when the time to throw the Up into a faster cor­ner in­evitably comes.

The ped­als are de­cently spaced but also po­si­tioned quite high, which means that there’s a fair deal of an­kle ar­tic­u­la­tion re­quired to rev-match in a tidy fash­ion.

Swift pips Up once again, then, but things im­me­di­ately start look­ing up for the, erm, Up as soon as you fire up the three-cylin­der en­gine.

It’s not the sort of en­gine that’ll make the hairs on your neck stand on end with its sonorous sound­track, but it’s char­ac­ter­ful and rorty in the way many three-pots are, and the hearty thrum au­di­ble in the cabin lends the Up a per­son­al­ity not dis­sim­i­lar from that of a feisty scrum half: it’s small, but there’s no way it’ll back down from a scrap with big­ger lads.

De­spite its tiny dis­place­ment, it’s a mus­cu­lar en­gine. Its 147lb ft ar­rives at a lowly 2000rpm courtesy of its tur­bocharger, so there’s plenty of low-down shove. From a stand­still, it’ll get to 62mph in 8.8sec and hit a claimed top speed of 122mph, so it’s cer­tainly not the fastest car in the world, but it’s the man­ner in which the Up’s diminu­tive foot­print helps pro­vides the il­lu­sion of speed that is one of its most en­joy­able traits. Re­gard­less of how fast you’re trav­el­ling, the Up never feels any­thing less than en­ter­tain­ing.

By con­trast, the Suzuki has a far more sober de­meanour, ar­guably the prod­uct of a pow­er­plant that seem­ingly has more in com­mon with a blender than an ef­fer­ves­cent, hot-hatch four-pot. Still, de­spite its unin­spir­ing sound­track, the Swift is faster than the Up by a no­tice­able mar­gin, and be­cause its peak torque is avail­able higher up the rev band, at 2500rpm, it also en­cour­ages a greater level of in­ter­ac­tion with its pre­cise, if a lit­tle for­get­table, sixspeed man­ual gear­box.

Through the bends, both cars feel as though they suf­fer slightly from their taller statures and rel­a­tively slab-sided shapes. Their in­her­ent top-heav­i­ness leads to a no­tice­able amount of lat­eral roll through faster cor­ners, caus­ing them to hun­ker down on their out­side wheels. That said, nei­ther feels par­tic­u­larly way­ward or short on grip, and the ad­justa­bil­ity and re­spon­sive­ness of their re­spec­tive chas­sis makes both of them plenty en­ter­tain­ing at speeds that won’t get you into trou­ble with lo­cal law en­force­ment.

De­spite the play­ful nature of the way each car goes about tack­ling a chal­leng­ing sec­tion of road, though, nei­ther has par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable steer­ing. The Swift’s rack feels ar­ti­fi­cially heavy yet lacks feel, and al­though the Up’s is weighted more nat­u­rally, it’s equally as tight-lipped about what the front wheels are do­ing as the Swift’s.

It’s also worth touch­ing on prac­ti­cal­ity. The Swift is the larger of the two, so it un­der­stand­ably offers more space in the rear, as well as a larger boot. Don’t write off the Up as grossly claus­tro­pho­bic, though. Two adults will fit in the back rea­son­ably com­fort­ably – over short dis­tances, anyway – and its 251-litre boot is only 14 litres less ca­pa­cious than the Swift’s.

But which of the two is the one to go for? Well, a brief sum­mary goes like this: the Swift is the quicker but it lacks the Volk­swa­gen’s up-and-at’em zesti­ness. The Swift’s driv­ing po­si­tion is a touch more in tune with a hot hatch’s than the Up’s, but the VW coun­ters with a much more ap­peal­ing sound­track from its three­cylin­der en­gine. And while both have an en­thu­si­as­tic and en­gag­ing de­meanour through the cor­ners, they’re both slightly com­pro­mised by steer­ing racks that leave you want­ing for a bit more in the way of feel.

A close call, then. Ex­cept we need to come back to the thing that made the orig­i­nal and sec­ond-gen Swift Sport the feath­er­weight cham­pi­ons that they were: price. And boy, do things start un­rav­el­ling fast for the Suzuki when you fac­tor the ask­ing price into the af­ford­able hot hatch equa­tion. VW, by con­trast, is ask­ing for £13,750 for the Up GTI. And al­though you do get a proper in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem (the Up has a ba­sic 5.0in screen and a smart­phone con­nec­tion) and adap­tive cruise con­trol with the Swift, a £4249 pre­mium for a car that’s not quite as char­ac­ter­ful or en­ter­tain­ing is ul­ti­mately a tough pill to swal­low.

A strange role reversal has taken place with the Suzuki, then. David has be­come some­thing of a Go­liath. And be­cause of this, the smaller, cheaper and more fun Up GTI sling­shots past it into first place.

The Swift Sport is the quicker of the two, but it lacks the Volk­swa­gen’s up-and-at-’em zesti­ness


Swift Sport is so bright that we had to wear shades

1st Dinky Up GTI proves out­right speed isn’t ev­ery­thing. Fi­esty, charm­ing and huge fun for a com­par­a­tively tiny price

New Swift Sport is a bit more se­ri­ous than its pre­de­ces­sor, but it still prompts a smile

Up’s in­te­rior has typ­i­cal VW qual­ity, but lim­ited in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is dis­ap­point­ing

Both Swift Sport and Up GTI are re­spon­sive and en­gag­ing through cor­ners

Suzuki Swift Sport Volk­swa­gen Up GTI

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