Manual or auto? James Wong tries out the self-shifting Swift Sport to answer the age-old question.
The Suzuki Swift Sport hasn't changed much in concept since the first iteration launched over a decade ago. Fun, fast and light.
Now with turbo power and a host of new-age technologies, the featherweight hot hatch aims to take on the big-hitters of the light hot-hatch segment, including the likes of the Renault Clio RS and Volkswagen Polo GTI – the latter getting a generational update mid-year.
On test we have the six-speed automatic variant, which starts at $27,490 before on-road costs. The Champion Yellow metallic exterior paint on our tester is a $500 option, bringing the as-tested ticket to $27,990 plus ORCs.
While nearly $28,000 is hardly a bargain for a vehicle so small, the Swift Sport does come with a pretty decent amount of standard equipment.
Highlights include a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights with automatic high beam, 17-inch alloy wheels, climate-control air-conditioning, keyless entry and push-button start.
There's also autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and six airbags for the safety-conscious – all contributing to a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Rounding out the spec sheet are the sports bodykit, dual exhaust outlets, privacy glass, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, along with a USB input. The auto also gets steering-mounted paddle-shifters.
In terms of looks, there's no mistaking the Swift Sport for one of its more sedate siblings. There's a sporty bodykit with carbon-fibre-like accents, a unique honeycomb front grille, the prominent aforementioned dual-exhaust outlets and a larger roof-mounted rear spoiler.
The changes contribute to a more muscular and aggressive design without looking overdone. Those shiny machined 17-inch alloy wheels are a nice touch, too – though they look mighty similar to the 'Xtreme' rims from a Skoda Octavia RS.
Inside, the sporty theme continues with bright-red trim inserts, cloth-trimmed front sports seats with 'Sport' embroidering and red accents, along with a sportier perforated leather steering wheel with contrasting red stitching.
What hasn't changed, though, are the hard scratchy plastics that adorn most parts of the cabin. Despite everything feeling well screwed together, the Swift simply cannot match the interior ambience of segment rivals.
There's also no centre armrest, and only the driver gets an automatic window – and it only works when going down, mind you. Drivers miss out on a digital speedometer, too.
However, the seats are supremely comfortable, offering plenty of support and body-hugging bolstering that's 'just right'. The steering wheel feels good in the hand too, featuring all the necessary controls for audio and cruise control.
Dominating the dashboard is the 7.0-inch media system that has become standard fare across Suzuki's range. The quadrant-style menus of the core software are reminiscent of Ford's Sync 2 operating system of a few years ago, and they work just fine.
It's not the prettiest-looking system, but it has just about every function you need – bar DAB+ digital radio. We also noticed it can occasionally get laggy when using Apple CarPlay, and the smartphone mirroring system refuses start-up if the device is connected before the engine is turned on.
The rear-view camera with static guidelines is also slightly compromised. While the display is a good resolution and the guidelines a nice touch, the position the camera itself has been placed in gives it a letterbox effect as it's mounted just above the rear numberplate.
A six-speaker sound system pumps the beats when desired, and it does a decent job. Don't turn the volume up too high, though, because the rear-view mirror will start vibrating.
Rear-seat passengers are well catered for considering the compact dimensions, with good head and leg room, even behind a taller driver. There are no rear air vents or power outlets, but it's not a must for vehicles in this segment.
Behind the second row is a 265-litre boot, which expands to 918L with the rear backrests folded. It's enough for singles or empty-nesters who need to carry the shopping or light luggage, though it wouldn't be my first choice for the Ikea run. Under the boot floor is a tyre repair kit – there's no spare.
Practicality and gadgets aren't what the Swift Sport is about, though. It's the driving where it shines.
Under the bonnet is a 1.4-litre 'Boosterjet' turbocharged four borrowed from the Vitara crossover, generating 103kW at 5500rpm and 230Nm at 2500–3000rpm.
Despite its relatively modest outputs, the Swift Sport's 990kg kerb weight in automatic guise means it's a featherweight by today's standards.
Suzuki doesn't officially claim a 0–100km/h time, but the Swift Sport doesn't feel far off rivals that claim sub-7.0-second sprints. The 1.4-litre turbo makes light work of the sub-one-tonne Swift – if you'll excuse the pun – thanks to the abundance of low-down torque. It's also relatively lag-free.
It loves a rev, and keeps pushing right up to the redline. Once you get past that initial shove of torque down low, power delivery is nicely linear – you can build quite a lot of speed without even realising it.
The exhaust note lacks the theatre of some of its European rivals – don't expect to hear any cracks or pops here – but it still sounds sporty and doesn't get thrashy under load.
In the bends is where the Swift Sport really shines, thanks to its light weight and communicative electric power steering rack. The steering feel is a little on the lighter side, but is beautifully direct and there's a ton of grip from the 195/50R17 Continental tyres.
Despite the rather basic suspension set-up – struts up front and a rear torsion beam – the Swift is a great balance between handling and ride comfort, soaking up the lumps and bumps of the daily commute without much body roll in the corners.
The Suzuki feels superbly light on its feet at all times, and is a hoot on a back road.
Another positive is the six-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly and intuitively in normal mode, and is quite snappy when using the paddles in manual mode.
While it lacks the engagement of the manual we recently tested, it's the auto that's a better all-rounder in traffic and on the freeway – at 100km/h the manual spins at around 2700rpm in sixth gear, while the auto sits at a more relaxed 2100rpm.
Refinement is a minor negative regardless of the transmission, though. There's quite a bit of tyre roar on rougher surfaces, and wind noise levels aren't a class benchmark either.
It's bloody efficient, though. Over a mix of urban and highway driving favouring the former, the Swift returned an indicated 7.2L/100km. Sure, it's a little up on the company's 6.1L/100km claim, and not quite as good as the sub-7.0L/100km we achieved in the manual, but it's pretty good considering the lack of idle stop/start technology.
From its little 37L fuel tank, the Swift Sport has a realistic driving range of just over 500km. It's worth noting the 1.4-litre turbo has a taste for at least 95RON unleaded as well.
In terms of ownership, the little hot hatch is covered by Suzuki's three-year/100,000km warranty, with up to five years/100,000km of capped-price servicing.
The warranty can be extended to five years/140,000km, though, if the vehicle has all of its standard scheduled services undertaken at an authorised Suzuki dealer for the first 40 months after delivery.
Maintenance is required every six months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. The first five visits cost $175, $175, $175, $359 and $175 respectively – a total of $1059 for the first 30 months/50,000km.
The Swift Sport will impress those who loved the old ones. It's compact, fast, light, and a ball of fun. Add to that the extra oomph of turbo power and the new technology available, and it's a pretty well-rounded package.
Sure, the manual is more fun, but for most people the automatic is the more comfortable and liveable choice in day-to-day driving.
However, with the automatic costing you $30,000 once you factor in on-road costs, it's the value side of things where the Swift starts to fall. It lacks the interior ambience of its rivals, along with the practicality of similarly priced vehicles from the class above.
But regardless, take one for a test drive – you won't be able to wipe the smile off your face.