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Decades from now, people are going to look back on this era as a golden age for hot hatches. What else could you call a time when the Ford Fiesta ST, Volkswagen Polo GTI, Renault Clio RS 200 and Peugeot 208 GTi exist simultaneously?
Another contender quietly plying its trade in this end of tiny town is the Suzuki Swift Sport, a much-lauded pocket rocket that offers the purity — not much power, but even less weight — of yesteryear in that familiar cute, well-proportioned package.
Thing is, the Suzuki Swift Sport as you see it here has been around in this generation for about four years, unchanged but for some running tweaks to the specification (the new Navigator tag denotes the fitment of sat-nav). Does this throwback compete with the modern breed? We thought it worth a re-visit.
The Swift Sport kicks off from $24,490 plus on-road costs, climbing to $26,490 for the CVT version with paddles. This undercuts the three-door Fiesta ST manual ($25,990), five-door Polo GTI (manual $27,490, DSG $29,990) and five-door Clio RS 200 auto ($30,000).
However, it also cedes a lot of ground in the engine department. A decade or two ago, a 100kW (at 6900rpm) and 160Nm (at 4400rpm) 1.6-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder engine would have been almost par for the course.
But not today. Not against the turbocharged 134kW/240Nm Fiesta ST, 147kW/240Nm Clio RS 200 and 141kW/320Nm Polo GTI. On paper, the little Suzuki looks very much humbled.
The saving grace, however, is mass. In typical Suzuki fashion, the Swift Sport figuratively weighs less than a photograph of itself (hat tip to Dylan Moran for that one), with a kerb weight of only 1075kg. This undercuts its rivals by between 100kg and 160kg.
It brings the power-to-weight ratios closer together, though not by enough to close the gap. In fact, at 93.5kW-per-tonne as tested, the Swift Sport is closer to lower-grade and few-grand-cheaper warm hatches such as the Fiesta Sport turbo three-cylinder or Mazda 2 Genki.
And so we start to see that the Suzuki Swift Sport simply cannot be called a hot hatch in the modern sense. But if you’re considering this little number anyway, how does it stack up in a more general sense?
First things first, the Swift Sport is still terrific fun, even in the CVT guise we test here. Yes, the CVT. We know what you purists are thinking. How could we drive the automatic version? Do we lack souls? Well, yes.
But also, the fact is that this version accounts for about 60 per cent of sales, and reflects a general trend towards self-shifters at the cheap end of town. We offer buyer advice here, and this is the Swift Sport people buy.
The little 1.6 engine is classic Suzuki, an honest toiler that thrives at higher engine speeds and uses remarkably little fuel — we averaged 5.8L/100km, which actually beats the factory claim. A 0-100km/h sprint time pushing nine-seconds is nothing special, or even good, but this was never designed as a red-light warrior.
The fact that the engine is naturally aspirated means the torque hole lower down is evident, but if you keep this engine buzzing along above 5000rpm and you maintain momentum through sequences, you can hook along fine.
Naturally, the CVT strips away some of the fun you elicit with a six-speed manual by dulling the immediate throttle response. Suzuki has programmed a manual mode operated solely by paddles, and to its credit it changes between these artificial ratios swiftly (sorry) and without much hesitation. It’s also devoid of aural feedback in the DSG mould.
The flip side is that around town, it’s much better behaved that the hesitant Clio RS 200’s dual-clutch unit in particular. Of course, if this is your priority, you may as well just buy a base Swift and be done with it.
Naturally, no CVT will ever be as engaging as rowing through the gears yourself, and my personal opinion is I’d rather walk than own an automatic hot hatch. But to say the CVT kills the Swift Sport’s mojo would be an exaggeration.
Part of this is because the handling is as good as ever. As Colin Chapman always said, lightness is everything. And the Swift Sport’s petiteness is evident from behind the wheel.
The chassis balance, turn-in and general handling are all as good as, or at least close to, anything in the price bracket, while the steering is light and largely feel-free, it’s also quick. The only gripe in this area is the way the electric-assisted system loads up in a rather alien way at car-park speeds. It can be needlessly heavy for low-speed manoeuvring.
Under the body is a MacPherson strut-style independent front suspension setup while at the rear is a less sophisticated torsion beam, though a little bit of rear end play suits the ethos here. The brakes (only ventilated at the front) are fine, though past experience on track tell us that they fade fast.
The firmer dampers mean it feels more tied down and responsive that the already fun regular versions. The trade-off is the occasionally brittle urban ride on the larger 17-inch wheels, compared to a Polo GTI with its standard adaptive dampers.
Reflecting the Swift’s ‘Sport’ moniker, there are a number of changes inside the cabin that differentiate this variant from its more humble siblings. Unique features include the 'leather'-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching that feels good in the hand, the alloy pedals, well-bolstered and supportive sports seats with labels and the silver-ringed instruments.
Standard equipment includes a (fairly aftermarket-looking) touchscreen interface with satellite-navigation, USB/Bluetooth, cruise control, one-touch indicators, climate control and electric windows.
There are a few issues that would annoy day-to-day, potentially, namely the speedo with 30km/h increments and no digital readout — in speed camera-infested Victoria, this is a problem — the lack of auto-off headlights and the way the Bluetooth sometimes fails to re-pair. At least on our tester it did.
Finally, we understand that this is a tiny car that’s a breeze to park, but the lack of a reverse-view camera or even parking sensors at this price point is beginning to look quite anachronistic.
Naturally, the cabin is still a humble place, with lots of hard plastics. But in classic Suzuki style, this lo-fi design is nevertheless very sturdily screwed together. It feels as hardy as a Cold War era bomb shelter.
The driving position and ergonomics are also excellent, with everything in easy reach, and the large side windows and small upright A-pillars give the cabin an airy feel. Ditto the large rear window.
Cabin storage includes handy door bottle holders and a few cupholders, along with a decent glovebox and a little nook above it. There’s no centre console but you can’t have it all.
Space in the rear is obviously tight, but outward visibility is great. You get one map pocket and a take-away hook, plus grab handles. Space in the back sure beats the two-door Ford Fiesta ST, for one thing… The rear seats flip-fold 60:40 and there are two Isofix points for child seats.
Cargo space is listed as 210 litres, which is rubbish even for the light-car class. There’s a two-tiered loading floor, but room for only a few moderate suitcases at best. You also miss out on a space-saver spare wheel, getting a patch kit instead.
To ownership. The Suzuki comes with a warranty term of three-years or 100,000km. You also get capped-price servicing at intervals of six-months apiece, priced between $199 and $289 at current rates.
So that’s the Suzuki Swift Sport. The fact is, at $26,490 as tested, it doesn’t compete with the hot hatch leaders any more, either on performance or equipment. It’s a charming throwback with a lot of heart, that offers barrels of fun in this right context. But you also have to be realistic about the class in today’s era.
What we advise is to haggle and look at it as a rival to warmer versions such as the Mazda 2 Genki, Clio GT or Fiesta Sport. That’s where the case really lies. If Suzuki cut a few grand from the price and made your job easier, we’d be more inclined to recommend it.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.