The Suzuki Swift Sport is a pleasingly old-fashioned sort of hot hatchback. It has been made quicker, stronger, more powerful and more efficient; improvements necessary just to keep up in such a competitive segment as Europe’s for superminis.
But get into the detail of this little bundle of joy and you can’t help making slightly dewey-eyed comparisons with a few of the affordable front-drivers that so many of us lusted after twenty-something years ago.
For instance, when was the last time you read about a performance car updated not with automatic engine start-stop or an E-DIFF, but a high-lift camshaft, suspension braces and synchromesh on both first and second gears? And when did any major car manufacturer dare to release a full-sized, front-driven, top-of-the-range performance supermini with less than 140bhp? My money would be on Suzuki, circa 2005, with the last Swift Sport.
The new car seeks to improve on the zesty recipe of the last by degrees. A variable length intake plenum, as well as the aforementioned changes to the inlet timing and lift, have boosted peak power on the car’s 1.6-litre normally aspirated engine to 134bhp from 121, and torque up to 118lb ft – not massive hikes by any measure.
More important is the update from five forward speeds to six in the car’s manual gearbox. Those changes may only knock a couple of tenths off the car’s benchmark 0-62mph sprint performance, but they make it feel that bit quicker through the gears, and on give-and-take real world roads.
The most telling update on the Swift Sport’s suspension has been made on the torsion beam rear axle. With spring rates firmed up in greater proportion to the front, it’s also been fitted with firmer bushings which better control the camber and toe angles of the rear wheels during hard cornering and, says Suzuki, make the car respond 20 per cent quicker to the steering wheel. Despite the higher rates, the Swift rides quietly and with plenty of absorption.
Kerbweight for the car is 1045kg, putting power to weight at 128bhp per tonne – which is almost exactly what the original Peugeot 205 GTi 1.6 had, funnily enough. And the little Suzuki really isn’t so dissimilar to that wonderful old Peugeot dynamically. Those higher spring rates and firmer bushings at the rear have traded a little of the playfulness of the old car’s handling for precision; a more rigid front subframe and steering bracket have helped there too. So while the last Swift Sport would pivot beneath its driver at the slightest invitation, darting at corners and dancing through them with pointy abandon on a lifted throttle, the new one has a more rounded dynamic character. It turns in with a little less zeal, sure, but has more progressive steering response than the last car, and a very pleasing sense of accuracy and feel through the steering wheel rim.
There’s balance to the car’s chassis still – more easily accessed than in most compact front-drivers, it’s enough to paint a wide smile on your face on the right road. But there’s measure and maturity now too. The car’s quieter on the motorway, has more grip and body control when you really ask for it, but not so much of either as to rob the Swift of any rolling comfort or suppleness, or of the accessible thrills that so many modern front-drivers fail to deliver.
One or two might wish for a bit more poke. In quieter moments Suzuki’s engineers admit that they considered a turbocharger in the early stages, but decided that a car with a surfeit of chassis composure over sheer grunt – of handling capacity over performance – would be more fun.
And on the evidence of the cracking little driver’s car they’ve created, it’s hard to disagree. A Clio Cup it ain’t – but you’d certainly pick this new Suzuki over a Renaultsport Twingo or an Abarth 500. As a really affordable pocket rocket for everyday road use, it’s very well judged indeed.