Car reviews - Suzuki - Swift - Sport
Design inside and out, cabin packaging, strong performance, excellent efficiency, slick manual shifter, compelling value
Room for improvement
Steering not ultra-connected, no digital speedo, some rack rattle over rough corners, loose trim issue
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15 May 2018
SUZUKI’S top-spec Swift has been in a class of its own since arriving a dozen years ago, sitting just below established baby hot-hatch leaders like the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Ford Fiesta ST, to provide plenty of budget-baby fun.
And that ethos still applies with the 2018 Swift Sport, the third-generation version boasting an all-new chassis to go with the box-fresh body, as well as one of our favourite small-turbo engines in living memory.
This should be good…
Price and equipment
Did you know the Suzuki Swift is the oldest supermini nameplate in Australia?
Launched in 1984, it has remained a B segment constant in this market (barring the five years from 2000 when the original Ignis temporarily usurped it). For the record, Ford’s Fiesta, which debuted internationally in 1976, only arrived Down Under in 2004.
There have been a few memorable sporty versions of the stylish Japanese runabout as well, including the GTis (’86 to ’99), and more recently the more understated ‘Sport’ that arrived a little after the Swift’s modern rebirth a dozen years ago now that featured Suzuki’s revvy M16A 1.6-litre twin-cam atmo heart for fast and affordable fun.
Surfacing in January, the third iteration sits above the terrific base GL 1.2-litre atmo and GLX 1.0-litre turbo variants launched mid last year, kicking off from $25,490 plus on-road costs for the manual. Another $2000 scores the torque-converter six-speed auto (with paddle shifters). No more CVT for the speediest Swift.
Like the rest of the range, the Sport is lower and wider than before, with a 20mm longer wheelbase and slightly fatter tracks to match.
Over its cheaper siblings, its longer nosecone is more aggressively styled, scores LED headlights, stretched honeycomb grille, bigger foglight housings, trick-aero under-spoilers, carbon-fibre-like garnishes for the lip spoiler, side skirts and rear diffuser, clover-esque 17-inch alloys wearing 195/45R17 Continental tyres, and dual exhaust pipes. Striking is the word.
The upgraded cabin brandishes reshaped front seats promising greater support, unique instrumentation including new boost and oil temp gauges in a revised multi-info screen, racier trim, a flat-bottomed wheel and alloy pedals.
These are on top of the GLX’s standard climate control, auto entry/start, multimedia touchscreen offering a camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity and Bluetooth telephony and four-wheel disc brakes.
Note that there is no spare wheel, just tyre-repair goo and a battery-operated pump. Part of the reason why the Sport weighs a flyweight 970kg.
Entry and egress is surprisingly good thanks to wide-opening doors and a tall roof line.
A thoughtful driving position provides confidence-boosting front and side vision despite the wide A-pillar base and large exterior mirrors, as well as easy reach to most switches and controls.
The Sport’s instrumentation – which is sorely lacking a digital speed readout – is unique in offering a red analogue tachometer face but grey speedo, with the former matching the somewhat chintzy glossy snakeskin-patterned spears on the doors, dash and console.
The latter is Suzuki’s attempt to elevate its performance leader above the hard plastics and purposeful austerity that helps keep normal Swift prices very reasonable. Beyond these, if you’re after rubbery surfaces or richly tactile materials then – touchpoints such as the lovely wheel and gear shifter aside – look elsewhere.
That said, every modern supermini fundamental is addressed, from the simple and effective ventilation and plentiful storage to the natural operation of pedals and gear lever.
Seat comfort is high (literally so, since all occupants are perched on their cushions), thanks to grippy and appropriately showy front buckets that do their job keeping bodies braced in bends.
Additionally, the rear is deceptively roomy, so two large adults would have little problem finding sufficient comfort on the sculptured outboard bench and backrests.
The Swift’s diminutive proportions suggest a far tighter package from the outside – owners of the older varieties will scarcely believe all that space!
Issues? Invariably, some road noise intrudes, but that’s par for the warm-hatch course; the lower side console trim by the driver’s left foot catches larger shoes on the way out and so comes away far too easily; despite the button suggesting otherwise, the driver’s side power window switch is auto-down only; there is no height adjustment for the front passenger; and the adaptive cruise doesn’t stop the car completely like in the most modern systems.
Speaking of driver-assist systems, the imminent collision warning is ultra-sensitive and thus ultra-infuriating, proving too prone to false alarms.
Finally, the rear seat area is a little too basic for our tastes, with no overhead reading lights or centre armrest, while the single door-sited cupholder seem big enough for hotel shampoo bottles only. At least there’s a single cupholder receptacle between the front seats but still reachable from the back.
Much more volumous than previous Swifts, the Sport’s luggage capacity is rated at 265 litres. No spare wheel is fitted, as owners must make do with a tyre repair kit.
Engine and transmission
A manual handbrake. Flat bottomed wheel. Manual gearbox. Clutch. Turbo. This is going to be fun.
Since sampling this engine in the Suzuki Vitara Turbo we’ve declared it the best sub-1.5-litre petrol engine in production today, even when mated to a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, and couldn’t wait to try it in the Swift, especially in manual gearbox guise.
And, you know what, we’re not disappointed.
Ousting the 100kW/160Nm 1.6L M16A, the K14C 1.4-litre direct-injection four-pot turbo Boosterjet with intercooler delivers a healthy 103kW of power at 5500rpm and 230Nm of torque between 2500 and 3000rpm.
Not amazing figures when a Polo GTI is nudging 150kW (and around 1355kg) nowadays, but it also doesn’t take Einstein to realise that the lightweight Sport’s power-to-weight ratio of 106kW per tonne pays some pretty impressive dividends.
Grab that lovely little gear lever, slide it into first and drop the clutch, and the Swift leaps off the line, the tacho needle swinging towards the 6250rpm red line in no time at all (the engine cut-out actually halts play at 6100rpm no matter what gear you’re in).
Aided by a wad of low-down torque, as well as one of the best manual changes going, throttle response is satisfyingly direct – certainly much more so than the circa eight-second 0-100km/h claim suggests. The Suzuki is almost cat-like in its ability to scoot point-to-point.
Whether hot-hatch fans will appreciate the oily smoothness of the powertrain is another matter, for the Sport reels in the scenery without breaking a sweat. Stab the throttle, and there’s no fizz or splutter or farting coming from the exhaust, just instant, seamless acceleration.
Perhaps this is all too civilised for girl/boy racers? Be warned though, unaccustomed drivers might be caught out by such sewing-machine slickness.
That a 6.1L/100km average is achievable is further testimony to the weight-saving tech that the latest Swift features.
Ride and handling
Adopting Suzuki’s Heartech light-car platform as per in the related Baleno (meaning struts up front, torsion beam out back), but much modified for its role beneath the company’s global bestseller, the Sport’s body is stiffer as well as stronger than in regular Swifts, gaining Monroe shockers, redesigned wheel hubs and bearings, a unique rear trailing arm, thicker anti-roll bars, and larger disc brakes.
Coupled with an 80kg mass drop over the preceding version, and the result is invigorating.
Though not as sharp or tactile as the Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio RS, the Swift’s electric rack and pinion steering still delivers concise and connected cornering fun.
Find your favourite corner, and the handling feels alert and alive, while also remaining flat and unflustered, even over a variety of demanding conditions.
As in the best of the breed, the front end will pull the rest of the car through with no drama or fuss.
Bumps do occasionally cause the rack to rattle, but otherwise the Suzuki’s athleticism and agility prove outstanding, backed up by a sophisticated stability-control tune and terrifically effective brakes that help gel everything together as one.
Though there is a fair degree of road noise coming through over coarser surfaces, the ride quality on our test car’s ContiSportContact 5 195/45 rubber was more than acceptable, adding a newfound layer of civility to the Sport’s dynamic repertoire.
Safety and servicing
The Swift Sport` scores a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, aided by its autonomous emergency braking and other safety features fitted as standard equipment.
These include six airbags, a very trigger-happy forward detection alarm, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, high-beam assist, ‘Weaving Alert’ (informing a drowsy driver that the car may wander off) and five Isofix child-seat anchorage points.
It is also subject to advertised capped-price servicing, which brings an extended warranty from three-years/100,000km to five years if owners stick with Suzuki dealers.
Striking, strident and agile, the foxy Swift Sport broadens its predecessors’ abilities with newfound turbo-driven oomph, refinement, safety and control, taking the fight to more expensive rivals like the Polo GTI for considerably less cash.
A bit more steering sharpness and feel – especially at lower speeds – would turn the swiftest Swift into a baby hot-hatch ninja, but at under $26K, the Sport manual remains a cracking option for the keen driver anyway.
Definitely try the Suzuki Swift Sport before you buy anything with an ST or GTI badge.
Ford Fiesta ST from $27,490
If you can still find one of the outgoing Fiesta STs then buy it, for nothing that’s new under $30K will steer and handle quite as incredibly as this German three-door manual firecracker. Never mind the embarrassingly dated cabin. This is a true classic.
Peugeot 208 GTi from $29,990
Perhaps the best baby hot-hatch all-rounder, the also manual-only 208 GTi is almost as exciting as the Fiesta ST around a corner, but then blows all others away with a supple ride, beautiful interior and timeless styling. One of today’s underrated gems.
Mini Cooper from $28,000
Our third manual hot hatch contender impresses with its solidity and sophistication, while still offering tidy handling and a punchy three-pot turbo engine. But options are expensive and the steering feels heavy and muted. Not very old-school Cooper at all then.
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