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Suzuki's swifter Sport tested

2010-10-05 10:27

CHEAP POWER: Today’s crop of hot hatches yields a rich performance harvest.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Suzuki
Engine 1.6l
Power 92kW @ 6 800r/min
Torque 148Nm @ 4 800r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 8.9 sec
Top Speed 200km/h
Fuel Consumption 8.2l/100km
Weight 1 105kg
Boot Size 495l
Airbags Six
Tyres 195/45R17
Front Suspension McPherson struts
Rear Suspension Torsion beam
Service Plan 60 000km
Warranty 3year/100 000km
Price R199 900
Rivals Yaris TS, Renault Twingo RS

Lance Branquinho

The modern hot hatch faces an identity crisis of sorts.

Back when the Golf1 GTi and Renault 5 were about, a three or five-door family man’s performance motoring solution was (relatively) affordable and dynamically undiluted.

By contrast today’s kingpin hot hatches are terrifyingly expensive (compared to their lesser series siblings) and feature a raft of driving aids and anesthetised, electrically geared power-steering.

In no way do I mean to sound ungrateful. Today’s crop of hot hatches yields a rich performance harvest.

The Golf R, Subaru STI WRX, Focus and Megane RSs, Mazda3 MPS, BMW 135i (a bit of a coupe instead of a hatchback, isn’t it?) and Audi S3 are massively accomplished performance cars all. Are these cars really a viable alternative for the twentysomething enthusiast though?

Where are all the junior hot hatches?

If you're the kind of petrolhead burdened by the balance of responsibilities of planning for a family (restrained personal finances) and indulging your boy-racer desires, where are the old-school Golf1 GTi hot-hatch values to be found in the contemporary market?

Well, this is where the range of three-door junior hot hatches come into the equation, cars of the size, power and (relative) purity of the original Golf GTI – cars such as Toyota’s Yaris T1 and Renault’s Twingo RS.

Earlier this year Suzuki added a third alternative: a Sport version of its popular Swift.

Although the Swift Sport is hardly a new car (having been on sale in other global markets for nearly five years) it does offer a compelling alternative. The question is: how much of the seminal Golf1 GTi’s character does it capture?

Fundamentally the Sport is a dynamically finessed version of the Suzuki’s best selling car locally – its range of three- and five-door Swift hatchbacks.

Hot hatches major on visual design appeal (trinkets, essentially) and to this end the Swift Sport adds all the requisite boy-racer styling add-ons.

LITTLE CAR, BIG BORES: The Swift's exhausts tell a tale.

Available in three-door configuration only, Swift Sport gains a deeper front bumper housing an integrated airdam, framed by fog lights.

Along the flanks Swift Sport’s flared wheel arches (accommodating attractive multi-spoke 17-inch alloys) link with side sills to reinforce the boy-racer styling theme. Around the rear a mesh embedded bumper is underscored by two large-bore exhaust ends – unambiguously signalling this Swift’s, well, swift intensions…

The series production Swift is a rather attractive little car (in part due to its rectangular headlights and curved nose profile, juxtaposed by a blunt rear) and although the shape is middle-aged when subscribing to current model lifecycle logic, it carries off the Sport enhancements with aplomb.

The Swift Sport’s cabin enhancements are slightly less extensive than its exterior styling treatment.

CHEERFUL CABIN: Chunky stitching adds a classy feel.

Rather loud red material inserts on the door trim and semi-bucket seat squabs are a very oriental interior design directive, tolerable at best, yet completely understandable considering the market Swift Sport is aimed at.

The Swift’s classically simple ergonomics, diameter perfect steering wheel and slightly elevated driving position are all carried over from the series production models to the Sport.

There are some aluminium look finishes and chromed door handles, but it really is a bit much of muchness.

For all intents and purposes the only really noticeable feature concerning the Swift Sport’s interior which commanded my attention was the presence of an ESP disabling button, located between the seats, on the driver’s side of the parking brake girdle…

Overall the cabin is quite tight. Access and debussing is not a seamless or elegant affair for second row passengers, due to the three-door body style and relatively small doors with their limited opening aperture. Judged as a junior hot hatch, the Swift Sport’s accommodation is entirely reasonable though.

Consider its small hatchback genes and boy-racer dressed-up exterior, and there is always the possibility that Swift Sport could very much be the junior hot hatchback equivalent of your daughter’s reverse-baseball cap wearing boyfriend – a surfeit of attitude wrapped around a core of rather lacking ability

HIDDEN POWER: The 1.6 engine produces a very keen 92kW at 6800rpm.

Fortunately Suzuki’s engineers are not complete novices with regards to producing keen driver’s cars.

The company’s world rally championship campaign (which ended abruptly last year) gave Suzuki’s engineers plentiful opportunity to hone their understanding of on-the-limit vehicle dynamics.

Add to this body of knowledge the company’s motorcycle racing outfit (with its considerable tweaking experience) and you find yourself fully expecting the Sport to revel in being extended beyond the dynamic fold of its lesser Swift siblings.

Powering the Sport is Suzuki’s M16A engine, and yes, it is quite ironic that its engineering code is similar to America’s similarly named infantry assault rifle.

Courtesy of variable-valve timing the 1.6l engine produces a very keen 92kW at 6 800r/min (despite its long-stroke architecture) supported by 148Nm at 4 800r/min.

With only 1105kg worth inertia to overcome, the Sport is quite swift (excuse the pun).

It presses on from 0-100km/h in 8.9 seconds and reaches 200km/h at the long end of its five-speed transmission’s gearing.

Quite remarkable

What the figures don’t sufficiently explain is the sheer driving appeal of Suzuki’s little hot hatch. Revised spring rates are balanced by new Monroe dampers and combine with Sport’s recalibrated power steering system to engage directional changes with wonderful crispness.

It is quite remarkable how Suzuki’s engineers have managed to retain such a lively level of linearly geared feedback via the electronically assisted steering system, whereas most other hot hatchback offerings, despite their inherent dynamic balance, render an oddly anethsised experience from the helm.

I hate to use the word ‘chuckable’ (it implies a reckless driving style underscored by ill-judged inputs and weight-transfer management to my mind), but the Swift Sport really edges one on to explore its limits. Although its torsion beam rear axle is not the most advanced suspension set-up (though it is par for the junior hot hatch class), the Sport's low mass means that only ride-quality (instead of agility and tracking stability) is affected by the rear wheels not being independently suspended.

Beyond the 1.6l engine’s typically unburstable Suzuki athleticism, the five-speed manual transmission is probably the car’s most endearing mechanical feature. Wheels24 ran a long-term Suzuki Swift last year and never before in a family hatchback had I found myself rev-matching with such petulant recurrence – simply due to the tactile nature of the manual shift transmission.

Sport’s keener performance really brings the Swift transmission’s perfectly executed short-throw nature to the fore. The perfectly dampened feel and rifle-bolt action when navigating the H-gate from left-to-right (on upshifts) or right-to-left (downshifting) will strike a chord with those drivers who find great satisfaction in the dynamic harmony only a tri-pedal car can provide.


Decently equipped with automatic climate control, a six-speaker satellite control modulated sound system and keyless entry the Swift Sport makes for a disarmingly junior hot hatch package. Although it lacks the ultimate on-the-limit dynamic finesse of Renault’s redoubtable Twingo RS, the Swift Sport’s unburstable engine (and five-speed transmission’s slick operation) make it very engaging little driver’s car.

The only issues debiting Swift Sport’s appeal are ergonomic.

Taller drivers will find the seat adjustment does not recede low enough, consequently enhancing the perceived feeling of bodyroll.

Gauged as a package Swift Sport, despite being nearly five-years old in terms of design, encapsulates those classic Golf1 GTi values in a contemporary package.

The added appeal of Suzuki's proven build quality and burgeoning dealer network further enhance the Swift Sport's case.

For buyers on their ascent to full-sized hot hatch ownership a few years down the line, Swift Sport is a great introduction to the world of (small) family-friendly performance motoring.

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