The Suzuki Swift Sport may not instantly appeal as the sort of car you'd buy to regularly take to a racetrack, but we've come to appreciate the little hot-hatch as more than just a sporty runabout.
Over the past few months we've driven the Suzuki Sport Sport around Victoria's Broadford Raceway twice and even hammered it around Brisbane’s Mount Cotton hill climb. Although its 100kW/160Nm 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine doesn't exactly sound like a recipe for pocket-rocket success, it compliments an excellent package that is ideal for newcomers looking to do the occasional track session.
Starting from $23,990, the Suzuki Swift Sport manual is the sort of car you’d buy if you needed a city runabout with street-cred and performance DNA. There is no legitimate reason to write off the Swift Sport as a worthy regular track car either. With a kerb weight of just 1090kg, the Sport is perhaps the most sensible way to participate in a local track session or motorkhana.
Suzuki Australia actively promotes its Swift Sport as a car that is much more than just an enhanced version of the standard Swift. It has released TV commercials that have landed their share of complaints and continues to run popular competitions giving its facebook fans the opportunity to drive the Sport on track.
Last week CarAdvice attended the latest Suzuki Swift Sport hot lap day at Broadford where we got to compete head to head with the likes of NRL star Billy Slater, numerous world champion sports personalities and members of the public who’d won the chance to come for the drive.
When it comes to racing the Suzuki Swift Sport, Broadford Raceway is a well-suited track. Designed primarily as a motorcycle track, its tight corners and limited emphasis on outright speed makes it a thrilling circuit to race the Suzuki Swift Sport around.
The six-speed manual gearbox is simple to use and the pedal positions work well if you’re into heal-toe (using your right foot’s toes to brake while the heal taps the accelerator pedal to increase revs for a smoother downshift). One thing we absolutely love about the Swift Sport is its steering feel and overall handling capabilities.
While the normal Swift provides better than average steering, the Swift Sport’s is Volkswagen Polo GTI-like in its directness. One of the hardest lessons to learn when driving on track is to produce consistently smooth and clean motions, be it in regards to steering, braking or acceleration. For that you need a steering system that is responsive, direct and one that provides good feedback. For the Sport, Suzuki engineers have made front suspension changes that have resulted in a better yaw response for faster and more direct steering.
Around both Broadford and Mount Cotton hill climb, we were consistently surprised by the directness of the Sport’s steering. There’s no fighting the wheel to enter or exit corners; it’s simply a case of understanding the racing line, pointing the car in the direction of travel and letting the suspension and chassis do the rest. If you’re worried about body-roll, you must be thinking about a different car because it’s virtually non-existent in the Swift Sport. It is, however, far more comfortable than the previous Sport.
We say the Swift Sport is an ideal beginners car to the world of track sessions because it provides an excellent balance between running costs, power-to-weight and handling characteristics. Of course a Volkswagen Polo GTI would also make an ideal candidate for a relatively low-cost regular track car that doubles as a city runabout, but given the simplicity of the Swift’s engineering principles, it may prove a more affordable option in the long run.
Perhaps the biggest cost of repeated track days will be replacing the very grippy but expensive Bridgestone Potenza RE050As (or Continental ContiSportContacts depending on your luck) that wrap around the Sport’s 17-inch alloys with flow-formed rims.
During our time around Broadford we did notice the brakes starting to fade after six or seven full-paced timed laps. Something that’s to be expected of almost any car without performance brakes. If you intend on doing regular track days we would recommend a basic upgrade to enhance the brake pads and rotors from DBA.
If you’re thinking the Swift Sport doesn’t have the power to thrill you on track, you’re missing the point. As we’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on our own personal cars to go faster at track days, the simple lesson we’ve learnt over the years is that improving driving skills is the first and foremost action required for better lap times. The Sport’s front-wheel-drive nature is an advantage for beginners as it requires a deep understanding of braking and acceleration points to attain the best lap times - something an all-wheel drive sports car like the Subaru WRX would be more lenient on.
The ESP system can be left on when on track as it tends to simply provide corrections to get the Sport going in the intended direction and not necessarily kill too much power in the process. It also acts as a silent teacher to remind you of when you’re doing something wrong. A perfect lap around most racetracks is unlikely to see the Sport’s tolerant ESP kick in at all.
On another note, we were a little disappointed by our five laps behind the wheel of a Swift Sport CVT. Although few are likely to buy a Swift Sport CVT for track purposes, the need for a practical everyday city car that can double as a track car without a third pedal is more than valid.
Around Broadford the seven-speed (artificial preset ratios) CVT transmission was best left in drive mode as the steering-wheel mounted paddle-shifters seem to have no real control over the predefined gears. For example, coming into turn one at Broadford, one would ideally carry enough speed to stay in third in a manual Swift Sport. In the seven-speed CVT, third is also a good option but trying to command the CVT to maintain gears is far more difficult. The CVT transmission tends to have a mind of its own and changes gears at varying revs and not always on cue. As a city car it’s more than good enough but it’s by no means made for the track.
This is where the Volkswagen Polo GTI’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission makes perfect sense. Given the price difference between a Swift Sport CVT and a Polo GTI 7-speed DSG is only $1800, the choice becomes a little harder. On one hand you have a basic naturally aspirated 1.6-litre engine pulling 1090kg, while on the other you have a more powerful 132kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbo that is roughly 100kg heavier.
The German is faster in a straight line but there is something pure and simple about the Japanese approach. A traditionalist would simply pick a Swift Sport manual and be done with it (and pocket a cool $3800) but if you’re seriously considering tracking your everyday hot-hatch but don’t want to be changing gears in traffic, then the Polo GTI may pose a good option. It’s unfortunate that the now-sour partnership between Volkswagen and Suzuki never led to a Swift Sport DSG.
Overall it’s hard to fault the Suzuki Swift Sport manual as both a daily driver and an occasional track car. Its simple design and excellent ride and handling make it an ideal performance car for any enthusiast.