Despite building cars since 1955 and being the world’s ninth largest car builder, Suzuki remains a name more associated with motorcycle manufacturing than automobile production. This has not in this least bit helped by a back catalogue of models which have either been embraced with unbridled enthusiasm or ignored with general apathy. With Suzuki, there was no middle ground.
Things started with a bang in Britain when 1979 saw the arrival of the SC100, or Whizzkid as it became colloquially known. A raspy little rear-engined coupe of which few survive today. The 4×4 SJ range proved popular until allegations of instability under conditions involving rapid changes in direction began to surface.
Then there was the Swift. The second generation model launched in autumn 1988 was received with enthusiastic acclaim, especially in zippy GTi guise but Suzuki failed to build upon its momentum and it gradually faded into mediocrity as an also ran, remaining in production well past its sell-by date.
Such an advance was the 2005 version that a change of name would have been appropriate but the aptly titled Swift Sport demonstrated that Suzuki hadn’t forgotten how to build fun small cars.
The latest generation of Swift debuted in 2010, being a careful evolution of the outgoing model’s tall, pert stance. Does the latest Sport version ignite the enthusiasm of the car-loving fraternity like its predecessor?
I’ve got everything crossed the latest Swift Sport builds upon the previous model’s reputation. Does it?
Huzzah! With the Swift Sport, Suzuki’s team of engineers and marketing gurus have demonstrated an industry rarity – not messing about with a successful formula. Yes, it’s now a little bigger in most directions but not hugely so. The Swift remains on the petite side of the B-segment at a time when more mainstream choices are encroaching into family car territory according to the tape measure.
The latest Swift styling is a little bolder and more distinctive yet retains the tall, space-liberating stance and the upward sweep as a crescendo to the higher than usual window sill height.
Up front, bold xenon headlamps peel rearwards almost totally bridging the gap between beefed up sporty front bumper and the base of the windscreen. The dark finish to the inside of the lens adds a menacing air to the stubby nose.
Multispoke alloys and sill extensions add the right degree of butchness to the side profile while the rear features tail lights that are unique to the Sport, set in a posterior that’s not unlike the previous shape Renault Megane. This is a good thing.
Overall it sets the perfect tone: sporty without shouting too loudly about its abilities.
Looks great, so what’s the inside story on the Suzuki Swift Sport?
Inside the tale’s a little more mixed. From a distance the ingredients are all there with a suitably dark interior peppered with red and silvery accents to remind its occupants of the Sport’s fun factor. And although the Swift is well constructed and sensibly equipped, the feel of the majority of plastics disappoints, being more Toys R Us than sophisticated pocket rocket.
There’s generous space inside the cabin for four passengers although the side bolstering on the front chairs is snug. If you’re of more generous proportions the tight cuddle they give you as you fling the Swift Sport around your favourite B roads might be a timely prompt to cut down on the cakes during elevenses.
Boot space is reasonable at 211l and can be extended by tipping the back seat forward but the loading lip is quite high meaning your cargo is lowered into a void rather than slid into the space.
For all I’m a sucker for impeccably damped switchgear and slush moulded plastics, somehow in the Swift Sport it matters little. Why so? Well, for two reasons. Firstly the Suzuki is an impressively competitive £13,499 to buy and secondly you’ll be having so much fun driving the thing that you rarely give the resilient dashboard materials a second thought.
So, the big question: how does it drive?
It’s a riotous bundle of fun. A passenger who came along for a sample described it as feeling like a modern day successor to their prized 205 GTI. Praise indeed.
What makes it feel so good? The fact that Suzuki has ensured that the Swift Sport is an excellent all-rounder, not particularly excelling in one specific area but doing everything well enough to ensure the overall package is a captivating one.
Fire up the snorting 1.6-litre engine by pressing the tempting starter button on the dash and the twin tail pipes emit a crackling buzz that plays a tune of melodious fun rather than a sharp, mechanical bark. Its 134bhp figure might sound like its barely going to get pulses racing but in the real world you’re able to utilise that power the majority of the time. The chassis could undoubtedly handle more power but whether the Suzuki brand name is enough of a draw to tempt away buyers lured in by RenaultSport and Volkswagen GTI badges is a moot point.
The gear knob might not feel especially pleasurable from a tactility viewpoint but the close ratio six-speed box snicks quickly and precisely between gears, each offering a brisk surge in acceleration accompanied by the sonorous rise in pitch of the engine note. A top speed of 121mph and a 0-60 sprint of 8.7 seconds demonstrate the Sport’s credentials but it doesn’t lose sight of it’s small hatch origins returning a claimed 44.1mpg on the combined cycle.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good to hold, being small in diameter and thick rimmed but more importantly it’s an effective conduit between the front wheels and the driver’s palms, communicating exactly what’s going on with regards to grip, wheel spin and unevenness of the road surface. That it achieves this without harsh levels of kickback is impressive and further demonstrates how well honed a package the Swift Sport is.
Suzuki has produced a capable chassis for the Swift, remaining stable and composed whether cruising on dual carriageways and flicking between bends on your favourite backroads. The precise steering with immediate turn in is complimented by rear wheels that happily follow suit with little drama yet which allows speeds in bends to tackled with gradually increasing velocity and pleasure.
Needless to say, such fine agility and roadholding is partly produced by stiffer springs and dampers but pleasantly it’s not harsh or jarring, just firm. A run across a poorly surfaced urban street won’t have you scrabbling in the footwell searching for missing fillings.
Only the Swift’s brakes let the side down but then just a little. They’re powerful enough, slowing the Swift down with progressive retardation, it’s just that the pedal lacks the feel of the other controls and the first portion of braking action is quite spongy. Like in any car you drive around such issues and the detraction factor from the Swift Sport’s many qualities is minimal.
Suzuki remains a small player in the supermini market but the reputation of the Swift and the praise of the Sport model in particular has ensured that it is gaining deservedly in popularity.
One thing to pay attention to is that although the purchase price is low, the Swift Sport isn’t the cheapest small car to run. This model runs on regular 95RON unleaded, unlike its premium 98RON drinking predecessor. But, 9000 mile service intervals and band F for road fund licence fees (or £135 per annum) might give you something extra to think about.
That aside the Swift Sport is an even more polished and alluring package the second time around providing plenty of smiles per mile. Fun handling, zesty engine and a low purchase price make it difficult to ignore the Swift Sport. And when you give it a go, your grin will show it was worth it.
Thumbs up: Rorty engine note, chuckable and rewarding handling, pleasurable steering, low purchase price.
Thumbs down: Cheaper interior plastics disappoint, running costs, brakes a little disappointing.
Suzuki Swift starts at £10,660 for the 1.2 SZ2 3-door up to £13,995 for the 1.2 SZ4 automatic 5-door.
Model Tested: Suzuki Swift 1.6 Sport
Top Speed: 121mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 44.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 147g/km
VED Band/Cost: F/£135pa
Engine size: 4/1586cc fuel injection petrol
Boot space: 211-512l
Kerb weight: 1045kg
Price: £13,499 (April 2012)
All photographs © Keith WR Jones 2012