If the automotive world had a contestant for the Biggest Loser reality television show, then the 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport would surely take honours.
Often the auto game is obsessed with power. Note the confetti being thrown at the twin-turbocharged Kia Stinger GT when it landed last year, or the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ that appear when Mercedes-AMG slices tenths of the 0-100km/h claim of its A45.
Suzuki has not been power hungry with the latest Swift Sport. View its 103kW power output and it could be mistaken for a Toyota Corolla. Note its 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, front-wheel drive configuration and it might be a base Volkswagen Golf.
What it has done, however, is stripped an enormous 90kg from the kerb mass of its top Swift, which in per centage terms for a 970kg light car is especially huge. After years of being pegged as merely a warm hatchback, it’s now claimed that this third-generation Sport has become a proper hot hatchback to rival the likes of the superb 1.6-litre turbo (but 1197kg) Ford Fiesta ST that has just finished production.
Vehicle Style: Hot hatchback
Price: $25,490 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 103kW/230Nm 1.4-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.1 l/100km | Tested: 8.6 l/100km
So the Swift Sport weights 227kg less than the Fiesta ST, which has just finished production but through its entire five years on sale has been regarded as a benchmark hot hatchback. Interestingly, Ford launched that model in 2013 priced at $25,990 plus on-road costs. Suzuki asks $25,490 (plus orc) for this new model.
The 103kW 1.4-litre turbo tested here is a whole 31kW adrift of the abovementioned rival, but the torque figure is closer – Swift’s 230Nm plays Fiesta’s 240Nm.
Either way, a six-speed manual or (unlike the Ford) $2000-optional six-speed automatic are available here, with the former claiming a 7.2-second 0-100km/h. That’s only a few tenths off the Blue Oval product.
Despite being $500 cheaper than when the Fiesta ST launched – and $2000 cheaper today – the Sport adds Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, lane-departure warning, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and adaptive cruise control, plus it offers five doors instead of three.
- Standard Equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, single-zone climate control air-conditioning, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, adaptive cruise control, automatic on/off headlights and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satellite navigation with voice control and live traffic, USB/AUX input, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
The Swift Sport does not feature premium interior finish. Actually, it also doesn’t feature plastics quality and trim textures that rival other mainstream light hatchbacks, such as the outgoing Volkswagen Polo GTI that has been on-sale since 2010.
Admittedly that hot hatch costs $2000 more than this Suzuki even in run-out form, but in terms of cabin appointments it absolutely feels worth the extra, and then some.
This cheeky, yellow five-door does feel well-built, as expected from a model produced in Japan, and ergonomically it’s spot-on. But the swathes of hard, grey plastics and thin door trims suggest that the Sport should be $2000 cheaper again.
Thankfully, the inclusion of adaptive cruise control, AEB and lane-departure warning (although the latter doesn’t really work well) assist in the value stakes, but there are still a couple of curious omissions – such as a plastic transmission lever (really, on a sports model?), plus the lack of any parking sensors or auto on/off wipers.
And despite the inclusion of rear doors, back passengers will have to endure a flat bench and view hard door trims. At least legroom is plentiful, and the boot behind is about average for the class.
With the downsides out of the way, however, this flagship Swift reveals the first hint of being driver oriented. Not only is the superbly thin steering wheel perfectly positioned, but the front seats are brilliantly snug and supportive, and mounted low.
There are subtle design touches such as vertical speedometer and tachometer needles, plus a colour trip computer screen complementing the high-resolution centre touchscreen. While its response rate can be slow, the voice control works brilliantly and Apple CarPlay connects flawlessly – although another USB port would be ideal.
With digital climate control and chrome door handles completing the picture, this Suzuki doesn’t feel so much like an austerity special inside. For the driver and passenger, and for the price, it’s certainly still above average.
ON THE ROAD
Engine: 103kW/230Nm 1.4 4cyl turbo petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual, FWD
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion bar rear
Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
So the question is this: is the Swift Sport as good as the sublime Fiesta ST? Unfortunately, it’s incredibly tough to answer. Fortunately, though, that’s because hairs don’t come much more thinly split when attempting to do so.
The Ford feels different, with a ‘big hatch’ feel and sophisticated dynamics that can challenge hot hatches that charge $10,000 more (including its Focus ST sibling).
The Suzuki doesn’t feel like it wants to challenge bigger players. What it instead wants to do, as the on-paper figures suggest, is wind back the clock to an era where hot hatches were super light, unbelievably nimble and brimming with energy.
What comes to mind, firstly, is the go-kart feel that Mini has slowly traded away with increasingly larger Coopers. The Swift Sport feels super-naturally light on its feet and instantly darty, standing on its nose and actively pivoting it backside.
The steering is sharp, grip is plentiful from the Continental ContiSport Contact 5 tyres, and the gravelly sounding 1.4-litre turbo revs so quickly, freed of any heft.
Every ratio in the six-speed manual is perfectly chosen, but even the six-speed auto is terrific, as it intuitively holds lower gears when it detects harder driving.
It ultimately feels quicker than its 7.2sec 0-100km/h claim because torque builds low in the rev band and swells in the mid-range, so basically any of the manual’s gears will deliver brisk response. It’s the antithesis to a lardy SUV gasping for air and revs.
The tighter the road, the better the Swift gets, too. Few cars can snap-change direction as well as this little tike, and fewer still have such a fantastic calibration of electronic stability control (ESC). Moreover it doesn’t even need a Sport ESC setting.
That lightness also means that the brakes didn’t show any fade when driving spiritedly down one long and twisty hill. And the ride quality on the fixed suspension is just about perfect for an entry hot hatch – firmly disciplined, always comfortable and never harsh, yet exactingly controlled over any bump or dip.
If there’s one complaint, it’s excessive road noise. That’s it. Suzuki has absolutely nailed the driving dynamics and fun-to-drive feel of this model.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars – the Suzuki Swift achieved 35.13 out of 37 points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.
Safety features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS, ESC, rearview camera, and lane-departure warning.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km (five years/140,000km with capped-price servicing).
Servicing: Below-average six-month or 10,000km intervals, and at an expensive capped-price charge of $199 for each of the first trio, $289 for the fourth, and then the same cost pattern until five years or 100,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A Fiesta ST isn’t necessarily more fun, but it does ooze big-hatch dynamic polish. A 208 GTi still seems overpriced and, now, underdone relative to the Swift Sport, while the larger next-generation Polo GTI will likely move to at least $30K – or more.
Ford Fiesta ST Peugeot 208 GTi Volkswagen Polo GTI
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There isn’t a vehicle that is more fun to drive than the Swift Sport for under $30K – it really is as simple as that. And there are about 970 reasons why that is.
This Suzuki feels incredibly light, astoundingly nimble, endlessly energetic and fabulously sharp and balanced. Never has the overused word ‘chuckable’ been more appropriate than here. Buy one, and it will make you smile and giggle.
Perhaps it could and should be cheaper, while ideally more finesse really would be applied to the cabin finish, but it’s still hardly an expensive car so is therefore hardly a huge gripe. On the flipside the Sport rides very well, it’s punchy yet economical, packed with active safety tech, and is decently roomy and practical.
Not only is this Swift now a proper hot hatchback, but by stripping away kilograms rather than adding kilowatts it has become a model of what a hot hatch should be.
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