The third-generation Suzuki Swift Sport pocket rocket is launching at a very fortuitous moment for its maker.
With the Ford Fiesta ST currently between generations and not available new in Australian showrooms, and the current Volkswagen Polo GTI entering the runout phase as a new model nears, there’s clearly a gap in the market for something fresh.
In hits showrooms at $25,490 before on-road costs, which is only $100 more than the RRP of the old car. The auto model is another $2000. The previous range-topper was the turbocharged three-cylinder Swift GLX at $22,990 with an auto.
This Swift Sport price is about $2000 less than the old Fiesta ST was, and the much more powerful Polo GTI, plus $3500 less than the Clio RS. On the other hands it's only $500 less than the bigger and more powerful Hyundai i30 SR...
In typical Suzuki fashion, the Swift Sport doesn’t match any of these rivals for power or torque output, but any true fan of hot hatchery knows that it’s not just straight-line speed that matters.
The figure you really have to know about the 3.9-metre long Swift Sport is it kerb weight: a measly 970kg, which is 80kg (or one average bloke) lighter than the old model, and equivalent to the two-door fabric-roof Mazda MX-5.
At the same time it’s much pokier than before, thanks to its new 1.4-litre ‘Boosterjet’ turbo engine shared for the most part with Suzuki’s Vitara crossover, producing a modest 103kW of power but a meaty enough 230Nm of torque.
The old atmo 1.6 Swift Sport needed revs and plenty of them, but this new engine provides some mid-range muscle, giving a notable surge from about 2500rpm where peak torque comes in, and largely free of lag (it’s a small turbo).
Our launch drive was restricted to the Broadford motorcycle race track, though we’d have loved some J-WRC dirt stages! A tight and tricky circuit where the willing little unit got us to about 160km/h in fourth on the main straight - pokey enough, without over-awing.
Side note: that 103kW power output tells us there's plenty of gap to the engine's ceiling, music to the ears of the tuning scene. Suzuki itself tacitly admits as much.
Torque is sent to the front wheels via a largely carried-over snickerty six-speed manual gearbox with a shorter shift than before and a revised clutch, or an optional six-speed torque-converter auto with paddles in place of the dour old CVT.
The new auto is a massive improvement, with slick enough shifts in manual mode and a smoothness in more sedate driving. It does, however, override inputs near the 6500rpm redline and upshift, and also forbids you aggressively grabbing a low gear if the engine speeds are deemed too high. Damn self-preservation...
Obviously it's the manual (with spiffy metal pedals) that we preferred, with a lovely shift action and a better clutch weighting than before. Second gear is very short. Broadford is a third-gear track, luckily...
The little turbo engine also happily lets you throttle blip to rev-match on downshifts, which makes it laudably responsive.
Dynamically, the stiffer new platform and 80kg weight loss (about 40 per cent of which comes from body mass savings) make this version yet more nimble. Maybe not quite Fiesta ST levels of agility, but bloody good nevertheless.
The new electric power steering is very light but offers sufficient response from just off-centre and loads up at speeds well enough, but it's the chassis tuning that grabbed us, and the grip levels. Go into a sharp corner a little too hot, and the Swift just bites and turns in.
The suspension - struts up front with Monroe shocks, but a basic torsion beam at the rear - is tuned like a daily driver, with a nice spongy feeling over corrugations. But this doesn't translate to a wallow-y feeling through corners: the body stays fairly flat, and directional changes are rapid.
It's like a proper old-school hot hatch, nowhere near as stiff as a Clio. Because it doesn't have adjustable dampers like the Polo, it's a good call on Suzuki's part to make sure it's cushy enough for the urban grind.
A set of coil-overs sure would be fun, though...
Another big improvement is the braking. The vented discs at the front and solid discs at the rear don't have much mass to haul in, but after two solid hours of track time in 35-degree heat showed no clear sign of fading.
What do you think of the design? There's a bit of Renault about the new Swift, particularly in its curves and rear door handles. Suzuki has definitely played up the cuteness.
Sporty design accoutrements on this range-topper include an angrier nose, twin pipes in an edgy black diffuser, black-and-silver alloy wheels that look pinched from Skoda, and a spoiler.
Hot-hatch fans will well know that the Swift has a strong legacy in the Junior World Rally Championship. The hero Champion yellow paint harks to this, but you can also opt to have your car painted in pearl white, pearl black, metallic grey or metallic blue.
Inside the cabin is a new multi-information LCD display with a boost gauge and oil temp sensor, plus sportier red dials. There are also well-bolstered bucket seats with red stitching that hold you beautifully, and a great flat-bottom wheel.
The cabin looks great actually, with splashes of red, and a clean and simple layout. It's also put together in proper Japanese style, though some of the plastic feels cheap. There are plenty of storage areas too, including four bottle holders, though the 265-litre boot is pretty small.
Equipment levels are also outstanding for $25.5k, comprising an (admittedly cheap-feeling) touchscreen with proper satellite-navigation plus Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
There are also 17-inch wheels, proper LED headlights and DRLs, privacy glass, climate control and push-button start, as well as safety tech such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert and high beam assist. It also just nailed a five-star ANCAP crash rating.
Credit to Suzuki for this list of equipment, particularly the safety aids.
From an ownership perspective, Suzuki has a three-year warranty, while service intervals are every six months, with minor services capped at $175 and every fourth visit pegged at $379.
Given the brevity of our introductory drive, we'll put a pin in our thoughts and wait until we get these cars in our garage in mid-February. However, we walked away from our time in the new Swift Sport smiling. Hot hatches of these dimensions are supposed to be scrappy and willing, and it is.
We're vacillating on the value equation, though that's more on account of how sharp bigger rivals are. But what the MY18 Swift Sport delivers are old school charms with modern packaging and an unashamedly angry design. Winner.