Hot hatchbacks are getting bigger, more powerful and more bloated with electronic aids, creature comforts and safety gear. To compensate, manufacturers have thrown ever more horsepower at their pocket rockets, and the romance has gone. Step forward the Suzuki Swift Sport, a spiritual successor to the old world hot hatch and the answer to a whole new niche in the process.
Europe is flat-lining and North America is gasping for air. The emerging markets are the likes of India, Brazil and China. All of them are congested to hell and city dwellers need a cheap, compact car that’s easy to park, relatively frugal and low on emissions. If they can have a little fun at the end of the day then the car is a winner.
Suzuki has simply smashed it with the Swift, selling more than 6,00,000 worldwide since 2005. And I hear it’s a major hit in India as well. The original Swift Sport, launched in the summer of 2006, made up more than 80,000 of these — unfortunately, it never made it to India. The recipe was simple: a lightweight, cheap, involving, front-wheel drive hatchback that would put a smile on the face whenever it left the drive. Now I think it’s time you petitioned Maruti Suzuki to get yourselves the new Swift Sport in India.
My drive starts in Barcelona, one of Spain’s biggest cities, with four million inhabitants. And while it almost inevitably performed to perfection in the city, which will be its natural environment 90 per cent of the time, it was a snaking ribbon of tarmac linking the Catalan capital with neighbouring Sitges that proved the most enticing part of my test drive.
Here the Swift Sport’s simple beauty, a 136 bhp 1.6-litre engine and 1,043 kg kerb weight, come to the fore. You can literally smear this car through bends, throwing it in on maximum attack with the ESP turned off and it will simply tuck in the rear and find a way through with the slightest hint of a slide. It’s brilliant in its own, lightweight way, and it’s about as quick as anything could be on the carefully selected ocean road carved into the side of the mountain.
The Suzuki has just 16.3 kgm of torque to play with, so I need to rev it to the peak power point at 6900 rpm. Here the engine thrashes and flails, which is easily heard thanks to a lack of sound insulation. Refined it is not, but it gives the Swift Sport more than enough high end shove to hit 130 kph plus when the road opens out into a sweeping right hander or furtive straight.
Considering this car was born from the simple Swift econobox, it’s a borderline miracle how much fun this car is. Reinforced steering, extra brackets in the frame, stiffened suspension with an internal spring on the shock absorber and up to 30 per cent higher spring rates on the rear and serious ContiSport Contact 3 tires on 17-inch wheels transform the car.
It is now a small and practical go-kart. It’s never seriously quick and even takes 8.7 seconds to 100 kph, an age in today’s terms, topping out at 195 kph, but that’s more than enough for most of the world’s roads.
And I can feel every nuance of the car from the wheels, one at each corner as it should be, through each and every bend. The fronts transmit just how much grip is there with a gentle shimmy and the back end, which was stiffened to ensure it followed the front more faithfully in the Sport model, slips gradually and predictably when it finally does let go.
Beyond 120 kph it’s a leap of faith as the car starts to lose its composure, but then how often do you take a winding country road that fast anyway? In short the Swift Sport provides all the thrills you could want on an average road and, better yet, it feels involving at every speed.
The engine remap provided a much more urgent throttle response than the baseline Swift. It’s a masterstroke, making the car feel busier than it really is and adding a sense of occasion to each and every drive. A larger counterweight stiffens up the gearshift, too, so it feels almost purposeful and grown-up when attacking the road.
With the ESP off, the rear feels lively, and can even be coaxed into gentle, easily controlled oversteer. The beefed up Brembo brakes never fade, another legacy of its kerb weight, and the car is so easily placed on the road thanks to its sub-4 metre length and 1.65 metre width that I really feel I can pull the absolute maximum from it after just a few minutes behind the wheel. It’s a different driving buzz compared to nibbling at the massive limits of a true sportscar, but it’s definitely there.
Suzuki has worked on refinement compared to the old model, fitting a sixth gear to contain the revs at highway speeds and also to serve as an overdrive gear, reducing fuel consumption. A variable intake and VVT also contribute to efficiency of 15.6 kpl on the combined cycle, much better on the highway. The seats might not be comfortable enough for seriously long journeys, though it’s not really what the car was built for.
Of course, the Swift Sport is a step down in refinement, comfort and premium feel from the likes of the Mini Cooper. The plastics inside fit well but look cheap and the sports seats and breathable fabric don’t feel as plush. Additional touches to mark this car apart include red stitching in the upholstery and chrome-lined dials to emphasise the sporting nature. Glamorous it is not, but then there’s an unpretentious honesty to the Swift Sport that fits its budget price tag.
And it has its own allure. It is a laugh riot on the road, is significantly cheaper, its straighter cut design gives it a USP of sorts and it certainly looks more aggressive than the rounded, retro-chic opposition.
The Swift Sport comes with squarer lines, a relatively high profile helped by that near Land Rover Evoque-style sloping rear window and muscular waistline. The front is borderline vicious — as vicious as a cute small car can be — with a mass of straight lines and a near-cheesegrater front grille.
There’s a hint of testosterone compared to the androgynous base Swift without going overboard. The Suzuki Swift Sport seems to capture that rough and ready spirit of the VW Golf Mk1 GTi better than anything in its class, too. The Fiat 500 Abarth comes close, but the clean, unashamedly basic Swift Sport is just the way these kinds of cars are supposed to be.
It’s a true successor to the old world hot hatch and the answer for today’s city livers who want a convenient car that can still be fun when the right road presents itself. Do you need any more convincing?