Some might say it's a pity that it doesn't take its nameplate from the original Suzuki Swift GTi - a car that so perfectly embodied the term 'Affordable hot hatch' - because the 2012 Suzuki Swift Sport is a cracking piece of kit, on and off the track.
It's good timing too. The latest iteration of Suzuki's Swift was only released in Australia around a year ago, so this week's official launch of the Swift Sport, means that customers get access to the performance flagship early on in the model lifecycle, rather than the more common practice of releasing halo variants at the end of a lifecycle.
Suzuki Australia is hoping to find two hundred new homes for Swift Sport each month, but after a launch program that included a combination of public roads and considerable track time, we think a revised number north of that budget might be in order. This is an exceptionally well-engineered car, and better in every way than the previous Swift Sport.
If there were any criticism at all to be levelled at the 2012 Swift Sport, it would be Suzuki’s rather conservative approach to the new car’s styling. Clearly, the Sport is based on the standard Suzuki Swift (good thing) and to the casual eye; there probably isn’t a lot of differentiation between the two models, until you start looking at the detail. And there is plenty of that, inside and out.
For starters, there’s the oversize dual exhaust tailpipes integrated into a metallic diffuser, which to any enthusiast worth their salt, is a dead giveaway in the light car segment. So too are the very tasty 17-inch alloys with flow-formed rims; which are both thinner and lighter than comparable wheels of the same size. There’s a full body kit too with front and rear spoilers and side skirts, but they’re colour coded, so not quite as obvious as the all-new and very deep grille, which is blacked out with a mesh look.
The new Swift Sport is not only more aggressive at the front end, but it’s also more stylistically driven too with dark fog lamp surrounds, complete with aero foils. The headlight assembly is also darkened and encompasses bi-xenon headlamps; an unusually high end bit of kit for this segment, particularly at this price point.
Blacked-out A and B pillars are also unique to the Swift Sport, but you take that further still by optioning a black-coated C-pillar for added effect.
Inside, the Swift Sport treatment is more dramatic and far more obvious than the exterior. You’ll immediately notice aggressively bolstered front seats with contrasting red stitching and ‘Sport’ logo embroidered on the seat back. The seats themselves are unusually wide, but don’t let that worry you, as it won’t matter how hard you throw this thing into a corner, your torso will remain bolt upright. They’re also incredibly comfortable and can accommodate a wide range of body shapes.
You’ll also appreciate the efforts of Suzuki’s interior design team to install one of the better sports leather steering wheels in the Swift Sport with audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls. They’ve also used soft leather that’s also perforated with thumb contours for extra tactility.
The ‘Sport’ styling continues inside with familiar contrasting red stitching on the shifter gaiter and steering wheel.
Another obvious hint to the performance attributes of the Swift Sport are the aluminium pedals with rubber inserts.
Apart from the seats, there are precious little soft touch materials used in the Swift Sport, but the general finish and combination of the various plastics looks good. Although the general design of the centre stack is the same as the standard Swift, the Sport also picks up digital climate control air-conditioning as well as a neat instrument cluster, said to be modelled off a chronograph watch.
The push button start/stop is a convenient feature, as is the remote lock and unlock buttons on both front doors. It means you never actually need to remove the key fob from your pocket.
But while the unique styling and extra generous kit are important considerations, my guess is that they’re not going to be the primary purchasing triggers for the latest Swift Sport. They would far more likely be performance and handling, and not necessarily in that order.
On paper, it’s hardly inspiring stuff, a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine putting out 100kW at 6900rpm and uninspiring 160Nm of torque. But Suzuki’s new M16A powerplant is far from dull, especially when you realise that the new swift sport has shed 30 kilograms and gained the added benefits of a variable intake system and enhanced VVT system. The end result is a sharp throttle response from very low revs.
Hit the starter button and although engine refinement and noise insulation has been dramatically enhanced, you’re immediately aware that this is not your average Swift. Even at idle the engine note has more depth – ready and willing, as they say.
Suzuki engineers have done some work on the new six-speed transmission too by adding triple-synchros for first and second gear, so pulling onto Victoria’s Broadford circuit half way down the main straight doesn’t present any issues, as by the time we brake and shift down for turn one, we’re already in fourth. You need to be deliberate with the shifter, but you never need to muscle it.
Maximum torque output is at 4400rpm and all 100 kilowatts comes on song from 6900rpm, so this engine like to rev, and you won’t mind the sporty induction note either.
While the Swift Sport isn’t a sprint star, 8.1 seconds from 0-100km/h in this class, is more than respectable. It pulls well in all gears, even from low revs, but third is a particularly versatile gear ratio and lots of fun on twisty roads.
If the Swift Sport’s straight-line performance is good, and it is, then what has been achieved in the ride and handling department is no less than a revelation and a textbook lesson on chassis engineering in the light car class.
The balance between a pliant ride and cornering ability is first class, and made all the more evident on the race track, where the cars were driven flat out on a tight circuit for near enough to two hours straight.
First up, there’s no body roll, regardless of how hard you push the Swift Sport and how tight the turn-ins are. The body feels incredibly rigid no matter how quick the steering inputs are through the chicanes on this circuit. That’s mostly the result of a 15 per cent increase in spring rate at the front end and 30 per cent at the rear.
Suzuki engineers have made some front suspension enhancements that have resulted in a better yaw response for faster and more direct steering.
In fact, it’s the steering response and directness that set the Swift Sport from any other vehicle in the light car class. The electric power steering is also perfectly weighted right from the dead centre through the steering wheel arc, making light work of high speed cornering, on or off the track. Equally reassuring is the car’s straight-line tracking at high speed along a poorly maintained country road. Rock solid stable is how we would describe it.
Even more remarkable is the fact Swift Sport rides on relatively narrow 195/45 low profile tyres, but you would never know it from the grip levels and traction, which is exemplary from the factory fit Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber.
The front brake rotors and calipers look small behind the 17-inch alloys, but rest assured, after two hours of high load work on the circuit, they were still doing a fine job. It helps when the car weighs in at just 1060 kilograms.
One of the key benefits to using a small displacement powertrain in a lightweight body is low fuel consumption and the Swift Sport doesn’t disappoint. Suzuki says that the six-speed manual version will consume a combined average of 6.5L/100km, while CVT Automatic will do
6.1L/100km. The remarkable thing is though, that after one hundred laps of Broadford, the cars were showing an average fuel consumption of just 8.3L/100km.
It’s difficult to find fault with the latest Swift Sport, such is its breadth of capability in almost any condition. If we had to nitpick, it would be the fact that this car is a classed as a five-seater, but you would be lucky to find enough cargo space for two of those passengers. Leg space for rear seat passengers is only adequate, despite the 120mm increase in overall length, but headroom, even for the likes of a 6’4” colleague, is ample.
On a level playing field and at this point in time in the highly competitive light car class, there is nothing that can come close to the latest Suzuki Swift Sport. It’s a complete package and a proper hot hatch, which is also hugely affordable.
Suzuki Australia expects the Swift Sport with the optional CVT automatic transmission to be in showrooms next week and CarAdvice will post an update on what we think of it as soon as we can get into one.