Ryan Bubear eagerly samples the new Suzuki Swift Sport...
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There's just something about the new Suzuki Swift Sport.
Despite not boasting enormous power figures, an unreal zero to 100km/h time, or any form of forced induction, the Swift Sport is a decidedly fun five-door hatchback. And, like the vastly under-rated Swift on which it is based, it's surprisingly efficient too.
The standard 1.4-litre Swift possesses a certain plucky charm. It looks good, is amusing to drive, and you don't see one parked on every single street (yes, we're looking at you, Mini). Add to that a generous extra dollop of NA-flavoured power to the front wheels, a bagful of appropriately sporty styling cues, and even better handling, and you get the Swift Sport. Needless to say, we approve.
Under the bonnet lurks some old school naturally aspirated goodness, with a modern twist. The new Swift Sport's rev-happy 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine now makes 100kW and 160Nm, a smidgen more in the kilowatt department than the comparable (also non-turbocharged) Mini Cooper. Peak power arrives at a lofty 6900rpm and peak torque at 4400rpm, meaning the tachometer needle spends much of its time barrelling towards the 7000rpm redline. Which is fun, if you're in the mood.
Efficient and fun
Of course, the Swift Sport is more than happy to be driven without such wicked enthusiasm too, which makes it rather easy to live with when the inevitable gridlock arrives. Suzuki claims a combined fuel economy of 6.5 litres per 100km — a full one litre improvement over its predecessor. And despite spending some time in traffic, some time driving "normally", and even more time absolutely caning the willing little powerplant through the gears, we actually managed to beat this quoted figure, returning a final number of 6.4 litres per 100km. Colour us impressed.
There are three main reasons behind this laudable fuel economy: a few engine tweaks, a significantly lighter body, and — perhaps most importantly — the long-awaited addition of a sixth forward gear. The old Swift Sport was crying out for another cog, and the new one's slick six-speed manual is a joy to use, making highway cruising far quieter and, of course, saving a fair amount of petrol. We're always banging on about high ratio sixth gears, and the Swift Sport proves what a difference they can make. Kudos, Suzuki.
The engine pulls eagerly through the gears, and the sprint to 100km/h feels a fair bit quicker than the surprisingly leisurely 8.7 seconds it actually takes. Sure, GTI owners won't exactly be shaking in their fashionable boots, but this is more of a warm hatch than a hot hatch, after all. And in the "fun/bang for buck" department, it's pretty hard to fault.
Thankfully, the Swift Sport retains its engaging handling, and is also stable at high speeds. While it is composed around corners, the ride is actually fairly comfortable... yes, it's firm, but it feels no worse than a "normal" hatch during mundane, everyday driving. The steering is a little light, but still precise enough to get the most out of the great little chassis. Overall, it's a hoot to drive.
So, how does the Swift Sport stand out from the crowd in terms of exterior styling? The standard Swift already possesses a distinctly sporty look, and the folks at Suzuki simply added a few subtle hints at the Swift Sport's credentials. These tweaks include large front foglight housings with integrated fins, HID headlights, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Sideskirts and a decent suspension drop (10mm lower than the previous Sport) emphasise the car's low-slung look, while an oversized rear spoiler adds some drama round the back. The twin-exit exhausts with integrated grey diffuser are the highlight though, even if the Sport's power figures don't completely warrant their inclusion. They're cheeky, and we like that.
Keyless entry gets you into the Sport, and the start button to the left of the leather-clad multifunctional steering wheel is a nice touch (also standard on the Swift GLS, funnily enough). The front seats are similar to the standard Swift's, but benefit from added side-support and that all-important "Sport" logo. A splash of chrome trim and red stitching boosts the sporty tone, and the plastics used in the cabin aren't all that bad to look at. A fair amount of equipment comes standard, including automatic air-con, electric windows/side mirrors, six-speaker sound system (radio/CD/MP3 /USB), headlight washers, trip computer, and plenty of storage space and cup/bottle holders.
However, the Swift Sport has its faults too. Bizarrely, there's no Bluetooth on South African models, and boot space is a mere 210 litres (this, however, jumps to 533 with the rear seats folded down). And despite the small luggage compartment, there is no spare wheel, but an emergency flat tyre repair kit instead. Rear headroom is also a bit of an issue for tall passengers.
But it's easy to forgive the Sport these few foibles — most of which plague its competitors too — once the revs start climbing. And while they're climbing, you can be safe in the knowledge that the Sport has earned a five-star EuroNCAP rating. ESP, front and rear discs, ABS, EBD, and brake assist all come to the party, while six airbags are standard. In terms of peace of mind, a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a four-year or 60 000km service plan are part of the package.
So, there's no mighty engine roar, no dramatic turbo whooshing, and you're not thrust towards the horizon at an obscene speed. Instead, there's just enough usable oomph, the handling characteristics of a go-cart, and the fuel-sipping habits of a petrol-powered pushbike. Oh, and a manageable price-tag.
It's sort of like the "ordinary" Swift in high definition. Which, considering our opinion of the Swift, is high praise indeed...
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.