Suzuki’s Swift Sport should be the perfect hot hatchback, compact enough to nip down the narrowest of hedge-lined B-roads, and trades outright power (beneficial only in a straight line) for low weight (beneficial everywhere).
Yet the current model hasn’t quite hit the spot for us, and not just because the zingy old naturally aspirated engine has been replaced by turbo power. It’s more nuanced than that, the triple-S muddying its featherweight mass with stodgy steering and losing its cool when the surface beneath gets frisky. Throw in pricing that’s within a few beers of the monthly payment on a Fiesta ST, and the Swift is difficult to make a case for.
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There is though, you’d think, potential. A blank canvas onto which the world’s tuning firms will gladly daub their colours. And CTC Performance, based in Somerset, is among the first to seriously tackle the Swift. The firm’s expertise is already proving a hit, so much so that proprietor Chris Cooke says that many of his tuning parts are heading back out to the Swift’s homelands.
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
The Swift Sport has strong performance even in standard form. Allied to low weight, its 138bhp, turbocharged 1.4-litre engine has little weight to pull along, and CTC reckons it turns nearer 150bhp on the dyno. The power unit isn’t perfect though, strangled by a restrictive exhaust system and tiny turbocharger.
CTC therefore fits a new intake kit, turbo-back exhaust system with 200-cell catalytic converter, turbocharger and intercooler, throws in a set of NGK Iridium plugs, and then remaps the ECU to take advantage of the better hardware. No internals are touched – yet. But that little lot gives you more power than that Fiesta ST, with 223bhp and 266lb ft of torque.
A 0-62mph sprint of under 6.5sec is a fair assumption – in the region of that Fiesta – and likewise, a top speed north of 140mph, which isn’t bad going for a car of this size.
The demo car goes a step further than the engine modifications, with some obvious visual changes – decals, carbonfibre lip spoiler and bonnet protector, and a set of Rota Titan alloys wrapped in Michelin Cup 2s – and some less obvious tweaks under the skin, including an uprated clutch, limited-slip differential, BC coilovers, uprated pads and brake lines, an intercooler hose kit and an amusingly vocal blow-off valve.
What’s it like to drive?
The Swift has always felt… well, swift, but CTC’s work gives it real punch. The uprated clutch is a bit abrupt from rest but full-bore acceleration feels great through the standard six-speed. The exhaust work adds welcome aural character, but more importantly the better breathing lets the 1.4 spin to the limiter in a flash. There’s a sense it could easily make more power with another 500rpm or more unleashed from the ECU, and when I run this by Cooke, he notes it’s already on the list.
It’s not quite perfect, with a significant drone from the back box under light load at low rpm, while the blow-off valve will be a bit Fast and Furious for some, but Cooke promises both will be refined. What needs no further work is the Swift’s remarkable economy: on its cruise from Somerset to Bedfordshire, the trip computer has registered a near diesel-like 45mpg.
The suspension, tyre and brake upgrades instantly give the Swift more attitude on the road. They’ve improved the springy steering feel, and body control is definitely better, though with three of us in the car the tyres do rub the arches on occasion – a fix is presumably just a tweak of a spring collar away. The CTC car has the same agility as the regular Swift, but so much more composure, and the LSD and Cup 2s are more than a match for the newfound surge out of tight corners.
The Swift joins our final track evening of the 2019 season at Bedford Autodrome too, where it proves a real riot. Little can keep up around the corners – low weight and sticky tyres turn it into a front-drive, four-seat Caterham – while the brakes are more than up to fast lapping and the engine tweaks reduce the need for constant mirror-checking.
I hand the keys to evo deputy editor Adam Towler, and he returns similarly impressed. Could, he says, be a fine contender in our next Track Car of the Year test. It’s certainly turned a few heads at Bedford, and with early Mk4 Swift Sports now in the £13k range, a used example with a few of CTC’s improvements could be a real giant-killer.
Price and rivals
CTC’s engine work comes in at £3740, and by the time you’ve added the styling parts, the chassis work, wheels and tyres and other sundries you’re sinking the best part of eight grand into a car that currently sells for £17,249. That’s undoubtedly a lot of money, but – and this is the important bit – no longer unusual for a hot hatch this size and with this level of performance. Both the old Yaris GRMN and new Fiesta Performance Edition breach £26k.
You can, obviously, also leave some of those goodies off the list. We’d instantly save £300 or so without the visual bits. Even more if you ditch the Cup 2s and Rota wheels, but their addition is as transformative for the Swift as the power is.