Suzuki's Swift Sport is the unrecognised hero of the warm hatch sector. The latest model is now offered with both three and five doors and looks to earn some belated recognition. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Suzuki Swift Sport has long been a car embraced by serious drivers who know a great handling car when they see it. The latest car is now offered with the choice of five as well as three doors and hopes to retain that hard core of customers while also appealing to a broader client base. It gets a little more power, even sharper handling and better efficiency but the overall aim might be scotched by its lookalike styling.
There's a video on Youtube that I like to show people when illustrating that a car's power isn't everything. It features a Porsche Cayman on the N??rburgring. The driver is clearly working hard at the wheel but his rear view mirrors are full of something upright and red and it won't go away. A Suzuki Swift Sport. The Cayman is squealing its tyres and leaping over kerbs in a vain attempt to shake the little Japanese box but to no avail. Granted, the Swift is stripped, caged and has had a light tune but it's a testament to the rightness of the formula. The reason I know how fast that Swift was moving is because it was me at the wheel of the Porsche. The Swift Sport is the default option for a number of driving schools at the Ring, drawn to its reliability, its excellent chassis setup and the size of the grin it paints on the faces of those who've never driven the track at speed before. It's a fantastic package and one that deserves more recognition in the UK, where it has been outsold by all manner of mediocre rivals. The latest model, now offered with a choice of bodystyles, might well rectify that situation.
The Swift Sport has never been about pure power. Suzuki could easily shoehorn a 200bhp engine into the thing if it pleased, but that would just make it uninsurable for younger drivers. Instead, and rather sensibly, engine power has been modest, the latest car massaging peak horsepower up from the old car's 123 to a still distinctly manageable 134bhp. Straight line performance improves marginally, but Suzuki has devoted much of their attention - and rightly so - to developing the Swift's chassis dynamics so it offers even more poise and control. Like the shampoo adverts, you may want to pay attention now. This is the technical bit. The torsion beam rear suspension has been tuned to offer better rigidity and wheel control, while beefier rear wheel bearings enhance stability at the rear under hard cornering. Both front and rear springing is firmer and the front struts now provide greater roll stiffness. Modifications to the steering and gearbox bracing, suspension subframe and front wheel bearings all improve rigidity and allow the front suspension to work without having to cope with chassis flex involvement. The result is handling that's even more faithful than that of the previous Swift Sport.
Design and Build
Let's face it, this Swift doesn't look a whole lot different to previous generation versions. It retains the familiar Swift 'sit up and beg' styling, with big headlights and an airy glasshouse. A deeper front spoiler helps with the sports appeal and the wheels look to fill the arches rather more convincingly. The large front grille is flanked by finned fog lamp bezels that add even more sporting character. Newly developed high-intensity discharge headlamps with a metallic-grey coating as well as new design rear combination lamps lend the Swift Sport a more upmarket look. Previous model Swift interiors have tended to be very basic and while this car won't have you wondering if you're behind the wheel of an Audi A8, it does at least look a little more involving. It remains very driver focused, with a trio of overlapping dials in the instrument binnacle and a tapered centre console that draws the eye to the gear lever that marshals the six-speed manual transmission. The sports seats offer plenty of lateral support and the view out of the car is better than in most rivals, thanks again to that upright seating position and big glass area.
Market and Model
It's nice to be able to report that this Swift Sport is not only one of the most genuine hot hatches out there but also just about the most affordable. A budget of around £14,000 doesn't buy you much of anything that's in any way desirable in the modern small car market these days - but it'll get you one of these. The buying proposition is simple, a single three or five-door bodystyle with a single six-speed gearbox option and one decently kitted trim level. There's a £500 premium to go from three to five doors. So this car's affordable, something which, rather pleasingly, hasn't stopped it also being very well equipped. The list price includes 17-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, auto headlamps with washers, privacy glass, air conditioning, a 6-speaker MP3-compatible CD steeo with a USB port and steering wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth compatibility for your mobile 'phone, sports seats, remote central locking, heated power mirrors, electric windows, keyless entry and start, a trip computer, metallic paint and, rather curiously for a hot hatch, cruise control. Safety-wise, you want a car like this - one that'll be driven hard - to be decently kitted out. As it is with twin front, side and curtain airbags, plus a driver's kneebag and ISOFIX childseat fittings. You get the usual electronic assistance for braking and traction, as well as ESP stability control.
Cost of Ownership
Even a car as focused on fun as the Suzuki Swift Sport can't escape the fact that many buyers look to economy and emissions when drawing up a shortlist of contenders. Fortunately it scores fairly well with carbon dioxide emissions being trimmed from the old car's rather unspectacular 165g/km to a more manageable but still not class-leading 147g/km. Fuel economy improves as well, with the combined fuel figure easing up from 39.8 to 44.1mpg. Bear in mind that these figures are for a bigger and more powerful car and Suzuki's achievements deserve more than a little credit. Despite its modest power output the old Swift Sport was saddled with an insurance rating of Group 23 which, coupled with its relatively high emissions, put a cap firmly on its residual values. The latest car will need to do a lot better if it's to resist depreciation.
The Suzuki Swift Sport has been a car that didn't always look great on paper but made all kinds of sense after a B-road blast. This current generation model looks to retain the fun factor but build on the sort of things that get customers into the showroom in the first place. It's quicker yet cleaner, drinks less fuel and offers a far more impressive interior. Best of all, the premise of its predecessor has been carried forward. Yes, it needs to broaden its appeal, but at heart the Swift Sport has always been a car for those who know their onions. The problem with this car is that it looks too similar to previous generation versions for much of the public to cotton onto the fact that it's a very different car. Yes, there's an argument for sticking to a formula if that formula's been successful, but the Swift Sport is a car that has always undersold its talents. For those in on the secret, what's stopping you?