A contemporary hot hatch must have a turbo engine, right? At least it certainly seems that way, and even the smallest go-fast hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Polo GTI, Ford Focus ST, and Peugeot 308 GTI all run forced induction engines.
With the introduction of the 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport, the Japanese hot hatch also picks up a boosted engine, retiring the rev-happy naturally-aspirated high-output engine of the previous generation for a more flexible and torquey motor.
Such a big change in philosophy also brings with it a change of character, though Suzuki refuses to compromise on its trademark low weight and grin-inducing handling.
Vehicle Style: Performance light hatch
Price: $25,490-$27,490 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 103kW/230Nm 1.4-litre turbo petrol | 6spd manual, 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.1 l/100km
Despite having more expensive vehicles available in its range, Suzuki considers the Swift Sport its flagship, owing to its amped up styling and performance.
Positioned at the top of the Swift lineup the new Sport kicks off from a pocket-friendly $25,490 (plus on roads costs) with a six-speed manual or an extra $2000 for the six-speed automatic.
For that you get a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, plus all of the Swift’s latest safety features including autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and radar cruise control.
You don’t get the biggest outputs in the segment, with a somewhat tame-sounding 103kW and 230Nm from the new engine, compared to some competitors like the Renault Clio RS knocking at the door of 150kW, and the Peugeot 208 GTI spilling over that mark and the Volkswagen Polo GTI providing a maximum of 320Nm.
You do however get the lightest hot hatch in the light car class, with a kerb weight for the Swift Sport manual of 970kg, lighter than its predecessor and better than competitors by around 200kg making the Swift Sport the Lotus of the pocket-rocket class
- Standard Equipment: Front sports seats, red and black trim highlights, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, single-zone climate control air-conditioning, cloth trim, adaptive cruise control and automatic on/off wipers and LED headlights with auto high-beam, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, satellite navigation, voice control and six speakers.
- Cargo Volume: 265 litres to rear seats
Before you even get set behind the wheel the Swift Sport’s scowling face hints that this isn’t your average grocery-getter. A unique front bumper with a deep mesh-filled black intake and a pair of flared-nostril fog light housings send the right message.
The rear serves up a pair of exhaust outlets (real ones, not just chrome finishers) set in a diffuser-style bumper with black side skirts bringing the whole look together in concert with dual-tone 17-inch alloy wheels.
Upgrades to the interior include deeply bolstered front seats with fixed headrest and a glove-like grip, without being too forceful around the midriff of larger occupants. The expected sporty touches are there too: aluminium pedals, D-shaped steering wheel, red tacho.
It looks pretty good, and Suzuki’s 7.0-inch touchscreen with built-in navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto helps step things up, although dash and door plastics still betray the Sport’s cheap and cheerful origins.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.4-litre BoosterJet direct-injection four-cylinder turbo petrol 103kW @ 5500rpm, 230Nm @ 2500-3500rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering
Suzuki has a fantastic habit of building everyday runabouts that are a hoot to drive, so for the Swift Sport things need to step up, and they do.
Not only is the car lighter than before, but somehow despite the addition of turbo hardware, Suzuki has even managed to shave 200 grams out of the engine. That doesn’t sound like much but any weight saving brings an advantage.
The engine itself is essentially the same as you’ll find under the bonnet of the Vitara and S-Cross SUVs, but the torque map has been tweaked for a more sporty feel.
The 103kW peak power now arrives at 5500rpm, spelling an end to the very fun 6900rpm redline of the previous naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre engine, but where the last-gen car made only 160Nm at 4400rpm the new one is much more tractable with 230Nm on call from as low as 2500rpm.
Keen drivers will always make their way to the six-speed manual, and Suzuki has shortened the shift throw by 10 percent and upgraded the clutch to deal with the extra torque. It’s an easy to use setup with a clearly defined gate although the shift action isn’t the most precise.
Buyers looking for an automatic haven’t been forgotten either, but this time Suzuki has ditched the CVT automatic of the previous Swift Sport in favour of a traditional six-speed auto, which feels more natural to drive, and although perhaps not ideally suited to track work, copes will in demanding situations.
The track of choice was Victoria’s State Motorcycle Sports Complex, in Broadford, an hour north of Melbourne - tight and challenging in sections, but not quite long enough for a v-max tilt, the sharp Swift Sport quickly felt right at home on the compact circuit.
While it may not be the fastest of the light hot hatch brigade (Suzuki doesn’t quite an official figure but suggest a 0-100 km/h run of 8.0 seconds), the Swift Sport more than makes up for its lack of speed with sharpness and accuracy.
A faithful front end follows obediently where you point it, and even with an open differential, the torque output isn’t so aggressive as to tug at the wheel. Body roll is well managed, with just enough to connect the driver to the vehicle’s abilities.
The firmly pinned-down rear end provides no surprises either, staying resolutely square to the tarmac unless you really flick hard into corners to elicit a small rear end twitch - call it baby oversteer if you will.
For the most part the Swift Sport is a smooth and quiet operator, but make the most of its meaty mid-range and there’s a hint of exhaust grumble from around 2500rpm to 4000rpm, but as a factory package the Sport toes a conservative line.
Short sessions at Broadford also meant there wasn’t too much chance to really work the brakes, but bigger front rotors designed to cope with the extra torque do a decent job of reeling in speed, with plenty of stability under even the hardest stops.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Suzuki Swift Sport hasn’t suddenly transformed into a red-light drag monster, nor is it an unrelenting performance punisher, instead this third-generation car draws clear influences from its predecessors.
It’s calm enough to tackle the urban sprawl, but packed full of engagement bringing a little warmth to even the daily commute, with a eager and excitable nature to take advantage of on weekends.
It also keeps pricing where cars in its class deserve to be, yes it may be missing a few kilowatts, but it’s also available from under $26k before on roads with with a strong list of modern safety features where Euro competitors are knocking at the door of $30k and beyond.
To really get in touch with the joy of driving (and the art of driving fast) you don’t need a powerful engine, you need a good car. With its combination of fun handling, willing engine, and and sharp pricing the Swift Sport could be just the ticket.
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