The race is not always to the Swift
Do faster small hot hatches than this exist? Of course. Are they better? Not necessarily
It is one of those cars that seems almost mystically dialled-in to Irish conditions
Date Reviewed: May 16, 2018
It takes a certain about of chutzpah to call a car Swift, especially when that car is, largely, sold with either a 1.0 or 1.2-litre engine. It takes a certain amount more of the same to then take that car, add the appellation “Sport” and give it an engine called “BoosterJet”. If ever one was setting a car up for a fall where nominative determinism were concerned, it should be this.
And yet . . .
The thing is that Suzuki has been at this for a while. Digging into the dim and distant past (2001, actually) I still have clear memories of a drive over the Wicklow Mountains in an Ignis Sport, possibly the least prepossessing sporting car of all time, that has stayed with me simply because of how much fun it was. Likewise, the outgoing Swift Sport – a car that stuck with atmospheric-pressure aspiration for its 1.6-litre 134hp engine long after most had switched to turbos – could give many of its more storied competitors a bloody nose if the road became tight and twisty enough. It was cheap, it was fun, it was exactly what a small, hot (well, warm), Suzuki should be.
Now we’re here again, and this time Suzuki seems to be getting more serious. The new Swift Sport has been on a diet (dropping 70kg, to rest at a kerb weight of just 975kg), has seen its suspension lowered and stiffened (it’s 15mm lower to the ground than the old Swift Sport, and uses bespoke Monroe shock absorbers), and most of all it has a new engine. This is the aforementioned BoosterJet (great, great name), a 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol unit, lifted all but unchanged from the S model of the Vitara crossover. So you’ll be expecting a serious increase in power compared to that old-school 1.6, right?
Um, how does an extra 6hp grab you? Not very firmly, I suspect, but then again looking at the headline power figure is not the point here, nor has ever been when it comes to sporting Suzukis. What’s important here is further down the spec sheet, where we find that torque has jumped to 230Nm, and fuel economy has improved to a claimed 5.3-litres per 100km (53mpg – and that’s on the tougher new WLTP economy test) while emissions have dropped by more than 20g/km to a wallet-friendly 125g/km.
Performance is, again, perhaps not all that exciting. 8.1secs to get to 100km/h from rest is not exactly slow, but it’s not going to grab the attention of anyone interested in the likes of a Ford Fiesta ST or VW Polo GTI. Then again, those cars are not strictly rivals – they’re 50hp or more up the horsepower chart, and more expensive again to drive. Actually, the Swift’s closest rival, in terms of price, power and even style (it owes more than a small debt) is the basic version of the Mini Cooper, with its 136hp 1.5-litre turbo engine.
Whisper it, but the Swift actually might be a bit more fun to drive than the vaunted Mini. Certainly it has more lively performance than you might expect. A small, relatively low-powered car such as this should feel all at sea on a race track, but a few swift (ahem) laps of Mondello Park proved that the Swift has notions about its performance, and can actually back them up with some proper thrust. It’s certainly not disgraced if you fancy taking it to an odd track-day here and there.
It’s better by far on the road, though, and it’s rather hard to decide which is the MVP of the performance – those Monroe dampers, or the steering setup. That steering isn’t quite as talkative as that of the (old) Fiesta ST, but it’s still beautifully weighted, fast-geared, and tells you enough about what’s happening under the front tyres to keep you thoroughly engaged. As for the dampers, well clearly someone at Monroe has a granny in Mayo, because the suspension has an uncanny ability to cope with the worst that Irish back roads can devise, without ever feeling harsh, or running out of travel. It is one of those cars that seems almost mystically dialled-in to Irish conditions.
Most of all, though, it’s fun. Aside from the fact that the engine has little-to-now aural appeal (the exhaust note is disappointingly flat) and that the six-speed gearshift is a bit rubbery, the Swift Sport is one of the most enjoyable companions for a spirited drive in the country. It’s agile, it’s fizzy, it’s capable of painting a smile on your face at least as wide as that of far more expensive competitors.
Ah yes, price. We’re still waiting for Suzuki Ireland to give us a final read on that, but it’s likely to fall around the €21-€22,000 mark, That would make it slightly cheaper than the Mini Cooper, and much, much cheaper than the Fiesta ST or Polo GTI (albeit, again, the power gap). You do have to make some compromises (some cheap cabin plastics, a tiny boot, it’s noisy, the sports seats are too pinchy for their own good) but the trade-off is a lengthy standard equipment list; touchscreen infotainment, LED headlamps with high-beam assist, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, sat-nav, and more.
Do faster small hot hatches than this exist? Of course. Are they better? Not necessarily. The Swift may be small, may be from a brand that’s of niche interest to most, and may be down on power compared to much of its opposition, but it’s big on fun and that’s what counts for most. To the Swift, then, this race at least.
The lowdown: Suzuki Swift Sport
Power: 0.4-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine putting out 140bhp and 230Nm of torque
0-100km/h: 8.1 sec.
Claimed fuel economy: 5.3 litres/100km (53.3mpg).
CO2 emissions: 125g/km.
Motor tax: €270.
Price: circa €22,000 as tested
Verdict: Of minor appeal, perhaps, but it majors on fun and for that we love the new Swift Sport.
Our rating: 3/5