The previous Suzuki Swift Sport was a bit of a standard bearer. It was the last of the hot hatches to stick to natural aspiration while the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, Vauxhall Corsa VXR and VW Polo GTI adopted turbocharging.
But times change and emissions pressures mean that even the stalwart Swift has had to make the move to forced induction.
In place of the old 1.6-litre unit, the new model gets a turbocharged 1.4-litre Boosterjet petrol putting out 138bhp – four more horsepower and 52lb/ft more torque than before.
That extra torque is significant, it means that you don’t have to wring the engine’s neck all the time. You definitely still benefit from keeping the revs up and the engine’s happy to spin towards the red line with a wonderfully raspy, metallic tone, but you don’t have to work it as hard if you’re not in the mood.
Suzuki Swift Sport
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Top speed: 130mph
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
CO2 emissions: 125g/km
By today’s standards 138bhp isn’t a lot – more warm than truly hot hatch – but, like they say, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it and if you keep the Swift in its sweet spot you can make decent progress, especially on twisting roads where straight-line pace isn’t as important.
Part of what compensates for the relative lack of power is the way the Swift Sport handles those twisty bits of Tarmac.
The Swift is all-new and built on Suzuki’s latest Heartect platform, which also underpins the Baleno and Ignis. For the Swift Sport is has been heavily revised and a lot of attention paid to making sure the chassis offers the sharp, responsive character of its predecessor but with more body control. The Sport sits lower and wider than before and is more rigid thanks to the stronger floorpan plus extra welding around the shell. Suspension has been revised and beefed up but at the same time the car has shed 70kg in weight over the old model, tipping the scales at an unbelievable 975kg.
It all adds up to a featherweight car that darts and sprints along good roads like a whippet after a rabbit. It grips tightly with just the right amount of body roll and soaks up bumps and undulations with composure. The steering is quick and feels fantastically natural. In an era where “sporty” can mean heavy but dead-feeling, the Swift’s variable ratio rack has a positive feel with just the right level resistance.
The ride is, of course, on the firmer side but well within what you’d expect of any hot hatch, even if it can’t touch the peerless Fiesta ST’s refinement. Likewise, noise levels are higher than in the class leader but acceptable by hot hatch standards.
The Swift Sport does have its weaknesses, though. The new model is bigger than before but is still relatively small compared to rivals. Space in the front is acceptable but the rear seats are tight even compared to a Fiesta, which is far from class-leading. The boot, too, is much improved but at 265 litres still smaller than most rivals – remember this is still meant to be a practical hatchback as well as a fun plaything.
Inside the Swift Sport is generously equipped but material quality remains a weakness for Suzuki. While there are some colourful highlights, the cabin plastics feel thin and brittle and not up to the standard of a Fiesta, Ibiza or Rio. The media system, too, is fiddly to use compared with rivals.
The lower quality is somewhat offset by a relatively low price. The Swift Sport is listed at £17,999 but until the end of June is being offered at £16,499. For that it comes far better equipped than cars costing thousands more. Sat nav, rear-view camera, forward collision detection, lane departure correction, keyless entry and start, LED headlamps with high beam assist and adaptive cruise control are all standard fit. It puts the Swift Sport on a par with the £21,495 Fiesta ST-3 while costing £2,500 less than the entry-level ST-1.
That’s a dangerous comparison to make, of course, as the Fiesta ST packs an extra 60bhp and possibly the best chassis in the class. For a budget-conscious buyer, however, the Swift Sport makes a lot of sense.
It’s all about accessible fun. The cost is reasonable (especially given the kit levels) and there’s enough power to offer plenty of enjoyment without being intimidating. You can get loads out of its light weight and sharp handling without pushing your luck on the roads but as a track-day toy there’s even more fun to be had pushing it to its very limits.
There’s no question the Swift has made progress over the old model. It feels a bit more grown up than before – a bit bigger, a bit more refined – but it still retains the fleet-footed playfulness that means it’s just as much fun as ever.