The hot-hatch wars: where the Swift fits in

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Driven -

Telling the story of the hot-hatch is a well-worn path, and one that we’d be shy to re-tell for the sake of it. Equally, the Swift’s in­volve­ment in the UK mar­ket when the GTI was launched in 1986 was very much as a bit player.

The first Swifts, the SA310s, went on sale in the UK early in 1984, and were im­por­tant if only to prove to buy­ers that the com­pany was ca­pa­ble of build­ing more than just mini-sized off-road­ers (the SJ) and Kei- cars (the Alto). Although the tidy hatch­back re­ceived warm re­views, it hardly set the world on fire in terms of sales. Nor would you ex­pect it to, given the tal­ent of the op­po­si­tion.

By the time the Swift GTI went on sale, Suzuki had es­tab­lished that its three- and four-cylin­der su­per­mi­nis were hugely ca­pa­ble and re­li­able, but were lack­ing in piz­zazz. Like all hot-hatches, the Swift GTI’s prin­ci­pal job was to add glam­our to the line-up, but also act as a tech­ni­cal show­case for the range as a whole.

In terms of size, and ul­ti­mate power, it wasn’t a full-fat hot-hatch, like the Golf GTI, As­tra GTE and Es­cort XR3i. But it cer­tainly ar­rived slap­bang in the mid­dle of a jostling match with the ju­nior up­starts, and was very much spoil­ing for a fight. With 102bhp, it was more than a match for the MG Metro Turbo (93bhp), Ford Fi­esta XR2 (96bhp), and Citroën AX GT (85bhp). Un­like those cars, its twin-cam de­liv­ered more-ish top-end push. In fact, its per­for­mance was so im­pres­sive, that the Peu­geot 205 and Golf GTI in eight-valve form were within its sights, given a 0-60mph time of 8.6 sec­onds. As for the lethar­gic XR3i, with its wheez­ing CVH, it wouldn’t even know which way the 1.3-litre Suzuki Swift GTI went. So, the Swift GTI had the power to sur­prise, of­fer­ing enough per­for­mance to trade blows with the 1.6- and 1.8-litre op­po­si­tion. In terms of its place in his­tory, it was a solid start for Suzuki, and led to fur­ther gen­er­a­tions, which have steadily built an im­pres­sive fol­low­ing – so much so, that the cur­rent GTI is a class-lead­ing con­tender in terms of driver en­ter­tain­ment and per­for­mance. You can see where that all comes from – and per­haps, in time, the orig­i­nal Swift GTI will find its nat­u­ral fol­low­ing. So, why isn’t it bet­ter recog­nised as a hothatch great? Put that down to a lack of sales and im­age. As it hails from an era where im­age and as­pi­ra­tion were all, this was a se­ri­ous short­com­ing. The good news is that it now makes it great value to buy – if you can find one.

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