Car reviews - Suzuki - Swift - Sport
Design, performance, handling, road holding, body control, cabin presentation, pert proportions, refinement, value, price, reliability
Room for improvement
No digital speedo, no spare tyre
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12 Jan 2018
SINCE the Suzuki Swift was reborn and remade over a dozen years ago, it’s been one of the supermini segment’s top driver’s choices, but strangely the flagship Sport has lacked the hot-hatch performance and chassis to take on the class establishment led by the Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Now the third-generation version has landed in Australia, just a few short months after its Frankfurt Motor Show debut, threatening to upend the European chain of baby hot-hatch command. Does the Japanese upstart succeed?
Certainly 2018 has gotten off to a flying start with one of the year’s most anticipated releases already on dealer forecourts and – if Suzuki is to be believed – on may hundreds of forward-order customer forms.
That’s the Swift Sport, the third-gen hot-hatch that ushers in a bevy of fresh activity in the performance flagship supermini sphere. Before long there will be the all-new Volkswagen Polo GTI and, just maybe, the Europe-only (for now) Ford Fiesta ST redesign.
Based on the impressive light hatchback released in mid 2017, the flagship version of Suzuki’s most iconic car is right on the money visually, exuding a menacing authority that manages to also look strikingly handsome in the flesh.
The Japanese stylists have really succeeding in giving this rousing little runabout presence without making it look like a GTI-pastiche.
The same goes inside, thanks to a conventional yet contemporary cabin treatment that is at-once simple yet sophisticated in presentation. Yes, the dash is quite plasticky in areas, but the racy instruments, pleasingly thin-rimmed flat-bottomed steering wheel, huggy seats and lashings of red-tinged black trim offset by metallic accents here and there create the desired ‘we-mean-business’ mood. There’s attitude aplenty inside.
That Suzuki managed to get all the basics right – like sound ergonomics, intuitive switchgear placement, easy controls and a commanding driving position – further boost the Sport’s appeal for the times when practicality and functionality are the priorities.
About the only misstep is the lack of digital speedo – surely a must in any warm-to-hot hatch. Otherwise, for comfort, space, quality and finish, the fastest Swift is right on-brand. Japanese smarts meets youthful exuberance. It certainly works inside and out.
Push the start button, and an engine we reckon is among the best sub-1.5-litre units in existence fires into life even with less than 400km on most of the examples we sampled, it is clear that this special Swift has a stag’s heart.
Throw the slick little lever into first and the Suzuki leaps off the line, turbo wailing quietly ahead as the Sport revs its lusty little heart out. The manual is a sheer joy, gelling beautifully with the driver and creating a real and willing connection with the oily bits below. Effective as the auto is (especially with the paddle shifters), why people would forgo the clutch in a car like this is a mystery.
Now, at this juncture, we’d love to tell you that this Swift makes brilliant use of its sewing-machine smooth turbo punch and clever lightweight yet strong chassis engineering, by possessing outstanding steering, handling and roadholding virtues. But, alas, we can’t – at least not definitively – because the only place we were allowed to drive the Sport was around a motorcycle racetrack at Broadford in Victoria.
While we were able to revel in the effortless speed and kart-like body control through the snaking, often negative-camber turns, the ultra-smooth surface and lack of topographical variation means that the experience felt a bit too staged.
Or maybe that’s just how the car is? Who knows? Hot hatches live and die on challenging, jagged and empty roads that undulate and crest and narrow and widen at every turn all we could sense is that the flagship Swift is deliciously eager to rev, unflappable when thrown into tight twisties, and ultra-sweet and composed. It’s like a warrior with all the right markings but no battle experience.
Ultimately, the 10 or so laps we thrashed the Sport through at Broadford only whet our appetites for some real-world driving. So, stand by for that.
What we can say with some surety is that – like the regular versions – the hottest Swift has a newfound maturity, muscle and rabid determination.
It might just be the consummate all-round value hot-hatch on the market. A Fiesta ST might be rawer and more intimate and the Clio RS rowdier and more dramatic, but the Suzuki could possess enough of both and then some to be all the hot-hatch a budget-conscious driving enthusiast could ever need. And that’s the point of the breed.
A couple of weeks into 2018 then and we’re still waiting with great expectation to really drive one of the year’s most anticipated new models. Watch this space…
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