FIRST DRIVE: Suzuki Swift Sport

FIRST DRIVE: Suzuki Swift Sport

What is it?

The undisputed performance hero of Suzuki’s range and the model that – more than any other – the Swift’s reputation is built upon.

With its wonderfully chuckable nature and considerably enhanced abilities over the standard car, the Swift Sport has arguably offered more fun per dollar than anything else on the road.

And with Suzuki recently offering up an all-new, more capable and even lighter Swift, the performance version promised exciting things. And now it is here.

How much does it cost?

The new Swift Sport lands in New Zealand with a meagre $1,000 price increase over the previous model, with the manual starting the range at $28,500, while the automatic tops it at $29,990.

Given how much more equipment and performance the new Sport has, this is an absolute bargain…

What is its opposition?

There are only really two direct competitors currently in the New Zealand market for the Swift Sport – the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI.

However, the Fiesta costs $34,990, while the forthcoming new Polo GTI will cost a hefty $38,990. While both out-muscle the Swift Sport, the Swift’s considerably lighter weight means it has similar performance to both, with its deeply impressive torque-to-weight ration of 237Nm per tonne.

Price-wise, the Honda Jazz undercuts it ($25,200 for the manual) but offer nowhere near the Swift’s performance, being simply a trim level that offers no more power than a standard Jazz.

What powers it?

For the first time ever the Swift Sport gets a turbo engine in the guise of a revised version of the Vitara Turbo’s 1.4-litre BoosterJet four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 103kW of power and 230Nm of torque.

While this is only a mere 3kW more than the previous car’s larger engine produced, the turbo unit belts out a prodigious 70Nm more torque than the old car’s 160Nm.

Not only is there way more torque, it also happens way lower in the rev range as well, with the turbo engine peaking at just 2,500rpm, compared to the old car’s 4,400rpm.

But wait, that’s not all, as the new Swift Sport is an impressive 90kg lighter than the old car in manual form (80kg in automatic form), meaning it has the highest torque-to-weight ratio in it’s segment by quite some way.

Oh, and it has also ditched the continuously variable transmission in favour of a new six-speed automatic transmission, or the right and proper choice of a six-speed manual.

What has it got?

A remarkably impressive amount of standard kit for its price and segment.

Along with a different front end (that includes a larger grille and lower intakes), the Sport also scores carbon fibre-look highlights along the sills and the rear diffuser, an exclusive 17-inch alloy wheel design and a rear spoiler.

Inside, the Swift Sport comes with all the standard goodies that the RS gets, such as a touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED daytime running lights, keyless entry and start, LED projector headlights with automatic high beam assist, a six-speaker audio system, electric folding door mirrors and climate control.

In terms of safety and driver assist systems, the Swift Sport also easily tops its segment by coming standard with Suzuki’s new dual sensor brake support system that adds emergency autonomous braking, radar cruise control, lane departure warning and weaving alert.

And because Suzuki actually mean it when they slap a Sport badge on a car, the Swift Sport also gets a heavily revised suspension set up that includes Monroe shock absorbers and has seen improvements to the stabiliser bar and mountings over the old Sport.

What’s good about it?

The turbo engine is utterly fantastic – remarkably flexible and linear right across its rev range, it is equally happy to rev smoothly up to its limiter or lug around in higher gears, using its fat wedge of torque for impressive acceleration in every gear.

Both transmissions are thoroughly excellent as well, and the Sport’s legendary handling prowess is still completely intact, but now with an added layer of refinement thanks to the higher build and material quality of the new car and the slick powertrain.

The amount of standard equipment and safety tech is deeply impressive for the segment.

What’s not so good?

The steering is slightly distant and inconsistent, with a strongly artificial feel to its weighting. As such it never feels quite as sharp as you would like it to, particularly given how sharp the rest of the car is.

The rear end has a slightly wayward tendency under heavy braking, but then that is part of the charm of a lively and powerful FWD car anyway…

First impressions?

Suzuki has always been one of the rare manufacturers who still thinks that a car it puts a Sport badge on should be significantly sportier than the rest of the range, and it has kept up that tradition with the latest Swift Sport.

The revised suspension, aggressive looks and, most importantly, brilliant engine and transmissions elevate the Sport above the standard Swift range and make it a true hot hatch. And, yes, the acceleration actually does push you back in your seat.

The big torque that is so much fun out on a winding road also helps make the Sport immensely easy to live with around town and during normal, boring commuting, while the superb sports seats are similarly capable of such effortless double duty by being both brilliantly supportive and comfortable.

The steering’s slightly distant nature and vague off-centre feel is disappointing however, and while it can be improved by turning the lane keep assist system off, it never quite lives up to the delightful tactility of the chassis.

That said, it is still a very long way from bad and certainly not a deal-breaker, particularly not when the rest of the package is so damn strong and convincing.

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