The hot-hatch wars: where the Swift fits in
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.