The Suzuki Swift has not normally been swift and has had several identities. The first Swift in the 1980s was wedgy, a hand-me-down project started in America by General Motors and marketed under various names: viz, the Pontiac Firefly, the Chevrolet Sprint, Geo Metro and the Holden Barina. In Japan it was known as the Cultus. Subaru’s Justy and others shared the heritage.
The shape we recognise as a Swift came in 2004, with a faster Sport version the following year. It got a four-star crash safety rating in Europe and was assembled in several countries. The update in 2010 was roomier, supplied for Europe from Suzuki’s Hungary factory on the banks of the Danube, 30 miles from Budapest. The most potent Sport version had 136 horse power and an 8.7 seconds time for 0-62mph.
The Swift had a major renewal in 2017, the Mk 3 if you like, with a new platform, new engines and a total body restyle. It was slightly roomier, but still tight for the class – 53 inches across the cabin between the doors is shy of cars like the Fiesta. It launched here last summer with a £10,999 version. Engines were an 89bhp 1.2 and a more expensive 110bhp three cylinder turbo – both petrol. By a happy coincidence, diesel was already losing its appeal because of health concerns and blatant tampering with the “official” economy ratings by, most notably, the Volkswagen Group.
Both engines were offered with a very mild electric hybrid boost – the 1.2 version with a 4WD system. My early impression of this Swift was that it was better but lacked the visual ID of the Mk 2 Swift. A year on and the “look” has more appeal. It’s classier but not as sporty. I don’t see them often enough to get accustomed to the face.
At the press launch we were promised a Sport version. It has arrived. Drivers at its debut in May enjoyed laps of Mondello Park International Race Circuit in County Kildare. They went wild with superlatives. These things happen on well-run, exciting product launches – and Suzuki GB does them exceedingly well with a much smaller team than, say, Kia or Peugeot, or most others.
Suzuki expects to sell 1,500 a year in the UK. It is a target likely to be reached. The latest Sport is a well-sorted hot hatchback. It is 70 kilos lighter. The new 1.4 petrol turbo has 10 more horse power, rated at 140hp, and a massive 44 per cent more torque, reaching 169.5 lb ft. It has a bolder face which juts out further than on the regular Swift. The back has a broader bottom, with single fat exhaust pipes at each corner fed from a rear silencer box, offset and requiring some convoluted pipe bending on the nearside. There’s lots of black synthetic cladding under the bumper which makes things seem both ship-shape and dynamic. More black gubbins runs along the sills between the wheel arches.
Seventeen inch, lightweight black alloys with polished details carry 195/45 Continental tyres. The suspension is uprated with reduced roll and wheel deflection, revised Monroe shock absorbers, all aimed to keep this Swift on track. The front brakes are larger and, like the rear brakes, have improved resistance to fade by overheating. A lighter steering rack gives a tighter cornering arc.
The engine has been thoroughly reworked, with tuning and calibration to improve response and emissions. A unified mounting of the turbocharger and exhaust manifold with the cylinder head reduces heat loss with improved gas flow, to minimise turbo lag. The six-speed gearbox has a shorter lever throw and slicker internals along with a tougher clutch to handle the impressive low-revs torque.
There’s various other tweaking to improve the experience. It’s all in the brochures. The Mondello Park crew were correct. The latest Swift Sport is a belter. The in-gear acceleration benefits from the delivery of torque, enough to make down-changes in the higher gears unnecessary. The ride is hard – that’s expected – but, like the regular Swift, it is not upset by sleeping policemen. This hump-riding refinement is not equalled by many cars at any price. Ergo: it’s a feisty hooligans’ car – but then the real policemen will take an interest. There is road roar from the tyres – that’s not rare. The brakes are sharp at first touch until you get tuned in to them.
Inside, there’s plenty of black, sports front seats, aluminium foot pedals, a conventional handbrake, some attractive red/black decor along the front door panels, fascia and gearshift platform.
Kit includes adaptive cruise control, a speed limiter, climate control, navigation on a seven-inch display, plenty of major and minor storage points.
Verdict: Taut, racy. More fun for the driver than for the passengers who may feel shaken.