2018 Suzuki Swift Sport review – can the bantamweight hot hatch rival the new Fiesta ST?
The Swift Sport is a faster and more mature machine than before, but growing up means some of the fun has been lost
The Suzuki Swift Sport has always been held in high regard by evo. Ever since the original burst onto the scene in 2006, the pint-sized hatch has become a byword for affordable driving fun. Now in its third generation, the latest car sticks firmly to its lightweight roots, but its low cost is something of a moot point – it's cheap while a special offer is running and a tad expensive at its full ticket price. Either way, the adoption of the 138bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged engine from the Vitara S promises a significant boost in performance. Pitched somewhere between tearaway tots such as the VW Up GTI and more serious machines like the Ford Fiesta ST, the Suzuki Swift Sport essentially sits in a class of one (unless you count warmed over offerings such as the larger SEAT Ibiza FR and ST-Line versions of the Fiesta).
As with previous Swift Sport models, the newcomer also gets a raft of chassis modifications, including a lower ride height and stiffer springs and dampers. Like the standard Swift, the Sport also benefits from a track that’s 40mm wider than the standard car’s. Also included in the mechanical makeover is a six-speed manual transmission, which is carried over from the old car with a few tweaks aimed at improving shift speed and quality.
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Externally, the Swift Sport has been treated to a little extra visual aggression. It’s not as menacing as some, but the revised front bumper and grille, side skirts and rear diffuser with dual exit exhausts add just enough sporting intent, while the 17-inch alloys help deliver a more muscular stance. If you want to attract even more attention, then the new Championship Yellow paint job should do the trick – although its inclusion on the palette is a little odd considering Suzuki’s last title success was the Junior World Rally Championship way back in 2010.
Equal effort has been expended on the interior, which benefits from the addition of a pair of heavily bolstered front seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, plus a generous helping of red trim accents – there are red inserts in the doors, dashboard and centre console, plus the same colour is used for stitching in the seat and wheels. Not even the dials (improved by the addition of boost gauges and an oil temperature indicator) escape the paintbrush. As with the standard car the cabin looks good and is well equipped and laid out, but some of the plastics used lower down look a little cheap and cheerful. It’s also disappointing to find the gearknob is plain plastic item – you’d expect leather at this level.
Still, the Swift is extremely well equipped, plus it’s more spacious than before. Factor in the improved refinement and you have a car that’s a much more mature proposition for daily driving duties. However, in the push upmarket the Swift has lost some of its raw charm and appeal. It’s faster, yes, and arguably grippier and more secure, but the fun factor has been diminished.
Where the old car revelled in being taken by the scruff of the neck, the new version is a more measured machine, favouring a less energetic and engaging approach. It’s technically more accomplished, but it raises fewer smiles per mile.
Like all Swift models, the Sport is based on the brand’s HEARTECT scalable platform (it also underpins the larger Baleno, which is better than its name and styling would lead you to believe), which is both light and strong. Using high strength steels, spot welds and a simpler construction, it plays a big part in the Swift Sport’s bantam-like kerbweight of 970kg, which is 80kg lighter than the old car.
The suspension set-up is a fairly familiar combination of struts at the front and torsion beam at the rear. However, the Sport benefits from a 15mm lower ride height, plus the adoption of Monroe gas dampers. At the front are heavier duty anti-roll bar mounts, while the wheel hub and bearings have been combined into a single unit, with a greater width between the bearings for a 15 percent increase in camber rigidity. At the rear there are bespoke trailing arms, but the rest of the set-up is carried over unchanged.
The rest of the technical highlights centre, as is now the fashion, on the car’s advanced driver assistance systems. That means you get lane departure warning, low speed collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control and high beam assist, among a whole suite of hi-tech safety systems. These badges of acceptability aren’t particularly exciting, but it’s impressive that they’re all available in such an affordable car and come with no real weight penalty.
Engine, transmission and 0-62mph
The Suzuki Swift is all-new from the wheels up, but the biggest talking point is found beneath the bonnet. Gone is the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre unit that powered the previous two versions, replaced by a new turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder. Well, it’s not totally new, because the Boosterjet branded lump made its debut in the angular Vitara S compact crossover.
Featuring a new intercooler and turbo wastegate it’s good for 138bhp at 5500rpm and 162lb ft at 2500rpm (the old car could only muster 110lb ft at much headier engine speeds). Factor in the very useful 80kg weight reduction and it’s no surprise that the Suzuki can rattle off the 0-62mph sprint in a lively 8.1sec. Drive is to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, which is essentially the same unit as the old car’s – athough there have been some minor tweaks to improve both precision and shift quality.
As you’d expect from a lightweight car with a torquey motor, the Swift Sport accelerates with a glorious lack of inertia. There’s almost no lag and the car responds, ahem, swiftly to the throttle, gathering speed with an impressive effortlessness. It feels fast too, pulling strongly and uncomplainingly from as little as 1500rpm. Yet while the four-pot is smooth enough, it doesn’t really sound all that sporty. At start-up and low revs the Boosterjet is muted and anodyne, while revving it harder elicits nothing more than a muted growl. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s not that inspiring either. Owners of the old car will also miss its top end vivacity, it felt a bit flaccid low down but came alive as the rev-counter’s needle homed in on the 7000rpm rev line. There’s more performance everywhere in the new model, but like many forced induction motors there’s no real incentive to wring its neck, especially as the rev-limiter kicks in abruptly at just over 6000rpm. Still, the upshot is that the Suzuki is more hushed at a cruise, making it a far more grown-up and useful proposition as a daily driver than its predecessor.
What’s it like to drive?
As with the engine, the Suzuki’s chassis has been developed to deliver a more cultured feel. Make no mistake, with so little weight to keep in check and such compact dimensions, the Swift Sport still feels agile and wieldy, especially down some of the tighter and twistier roads of our Spanish test route, but some of the old car’s sparkle is missing.
For starters, the Swift feels surprisingly soft, the suspension soaking up the few bumps we could find with admirable suppleness. There’s some firmness in the vertical movements, but it’s never uncomfortable or an irritation and it helps add to the Sport’s more grown-up feel – this is a car that you could happily hack long distances in. Body movements are well checked, though, with only really big bumps upsetting the car’s composure – and even then there’s only the tiniest hint of float.
The electrically assisted steering is decently weighted and positive enough around the straight-ahead, and while the variable ratio system lacks feel, it’s precise and makes placing the Swift child’s play.
Turn in bite is good too, with the Suzuki clinging on gamely when driving briskly. However, push harder and the nose begins to wash wide a little as the outside front wheel bears the brunt of the cornering forces – unlike a Ford Fiesta or even the previous Swift Sport, the new car’s chassis doesn’t feel like the front and rear axles are sharing the loads equally. Lifting the throttle tucks the nose in, but that’s about as throttle adjustable as the car gets, meaning there are very few options to trim your line through a corner. As a result, it’s not as involving or fun as its predecessor. Yes it’s quick from point-to-point, but it’s more effective than entertaining.
On the plus side, the revised gearbox has a snappier and more precise shift action, while the brakes make up for a lack of monster stopping power with a pedal action that’s well-weighted and progressive, which helps to make light work of heel and toe downchanges.
Price and rivals
The previous Suzuki Swift Sport always had value on its side, but with a price of £18,499 the latest model faces some stiff competition. In real world performance terms, it doesn’t feel massively quicker than the barely any less spacious VW up GTI, which in five-door form weighs in at a smidgen over £14,000. Initially Suzuki dropped the Swift Sport’s price to combat the relative pushback the Swift’s high price had generated, and at £16,495 it offered good value. At nearly £2k more, not so much. It’s also been offered more recently with a £1000 discount, but at the time of writing this offer ended in April 2019.
Why the disparate pricing? After heavy criticism from journalists of the car being too expensive was hit harder with the new Fiesta ST’s aggressive sub-£19k starting price, placing it barely £1000 higher despite its more substantial package and 197bhp power output.
Suzuki itself cited faster and more powerful models such as the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport and Renaultsport Clio as possible rivals, but neither of these more expensive models are still available. They were, however, far more entertaining driving machines than the Swift Sport.
In fact, in terms of price and performance the Swift Sport is actually far closer to models such as the SEAT Ibiza FR 1.5 TSI and Ford Fiesta 1.0 140 ST-Line. The former is a few pounds cheaper to buy and more spacious, but no more engaging to drive. The Fiesta, however, is about £500 more expensive and slightly slower in a straight line, but boasts a chassis that delivers far more on the fun scale.