Arrayed between the new Suzuki Swift Sport’s red-edged circular dashboard dials is a message centre dedicated to providing you with graphically rendered displays, in colour, of your Suzuki’s activities when on the go.
It will reveal fuel consumption, average speed over five minute increments and, in total, your lateral acceleration, the turbocharger’s boosting efforts and the forces of acceleration and braking. Instant information like this used to be the preserve of Nissan Skylines and the hotter Subarus, but now you can have it in this small hot hatch.
There’s also a display measuring the passage of time – that’ll be the clock - and a pair of circular bar graphs revealing the quantities of power and torque you might recklessly be deploying at any particular instant. Given that both are uncalibrated, they’re largely pointless, especially as you don’t need any instruments to gauge the strength of effort you’re summoning from its 1.4 turbo motor.
As you may have guessed by now, this is our first taste of what the new Swift Sport will be like when it arrives on our shores in spring 2018. Most notably, this new Swift Sport has a downsized engine compared with the spritely outgoing version, with that car's naturally aspirated 1.6-litre unit replaced with the turbocharged 1.4 Boosterjet engine used in the Vitara S. The differences on paper may only be a 4bhp power increase, but it's on the torque front where the Swift Sport benefits from a peak torque of 162lb ft over the previous gen's puny 110lb ft.
Suzuki has yet to publish performance or fuel consumption figures for the European specification Swift Sport, partly because the car is fractionally wider. The Swift is based on a relatively new platform shared with the Baleno and, as well as its lower weight, the body is also stiffer than previously, partly as a result of extra welds that are claimed to improve the consistency and response of the steering. There are improvements to the rest of the chassis, too.
It’s not hard to distinguish the Sport version from the rest of the range. Attractive two-tone 17in alloys fill the wheel housings, there’s a slightly more protuberant nose, what Suzuki calls under-spoilers all round, a roof spoiler and a pair of wide-spaced exhaust tips. The black sections of the bumpers are finished in faux carbonfibre, to lightly convincing effect, and the car has been lowered by 15mm and the body widened by 40mm. The interior leaves you in little doubt that you’re sitting aboard a speedier Swift. Red hot decor is there to raise the pulse – these glossy, strobe-like inserts spanning the dashboard, armrests and the centre console – and the black bucket seats are edged with red stitching.
What has Suzuki changed for the 2018 Swift Sport?
These days, a power output of 138bhp isn’t huge even for a supermini, but they are lightly burdened horses, the Sport weighing just 970kg, some 80kg less than for the previous, less well-equipped model. The result of which is that, even on a modest throttle opening in the lower trio of gears, the Swift Sport surges forward with the kind of joyful, uncomplicated zeal that reminds you of pre-injection hot hatches if you’re old enough or, more recently, previous iterations of the cheerfully brisk Swift Sport.
That this is a car of pleasingly rude verve is quite a surprise when you unearth some aspects of its specification. This latest version is equipped with autonomous emergency barking, lane correction, a drowsiness monitor (you’ll be very sleepy if you dose off aboard this entertainer), radar cruise control and advanced forward pedestrian detection. These electronic corrective interventionists have the power to drain the pleasure from a spirited drive – the lane-keeping assistance doing just that on a rare stretch of twisty, empty road in the Tokyo dock area, with an unexpected lightening of steering effort and mild directional chivvying slightly spoiling the moment.
At speeds below 40mph, your slack attempts to steer are chided with a vibrating wheel rim; above that speed and up to 100mph, the Swift Sport’s steering will automatically nudge you back into line. Good news, then, that this feature can be turned off, because it would otherwise undermine the Suzuki’s pleasingly uncomplicated character. It would also mean that the reasonably extensive efforts directed at sharpening its athleticism would go wasted.
Putting the Suzuki Swift Sport's power down
The Swift Sport steering is fairly direct and consistently weighted, matched to a confidence-boosting driving position and cornering that’s pretty flat at low to middling speeds. It’s wieldy, dartingly fast and has manners that encourage you to ask more of it. For the most part, it won’t be found wanting, either. Roll does build in tight turns tackled hard, but grip is good enough to ward off run-wide understeer at bold speeds in the dry, and suddenly shutting the throttle mid-bend completely fails to unsettle it. There is, however, a disappointing side to this unruffled dynamic character.
The Swift Sport is just the kind of compact, rat-fast package that ought to dance to your right foot’s tune, but short of slamming it into direction adjusting obstacles, or letting the lane-keeping assist keep assisting you into lane, the only means of changing the Swift’s direction is via the steering wheel. How very conventional. Given that Suzuki is still tweaking the car for a European launch several months away, it would be great to think that there might be time for some light reflex-sharpening tweakery.
Most keen drivers would happily trade the Suzuki’s lane-keeping twitches for a bit more on the edge adjustability, although this protective electronic tic is probably too deeply embedded to delete. You can at least turn the lane-keeping off, as you can the traction control, but the Swift Sport simply isn’t up for tightening its line on a trailing throttle.
Despite the paring of 80kg, there’s a 52lb ft torque boost, with the Vitara’s direct injection 1.4 turbo Boosterjet allowing you to fully access peak twist from 2500rpm through to 3500rpm. There are six ratios with which to achieve that access, with the gearlever slotting home with a slightly rubbery resistance that’s slightly at odds with the crisp immediacy of the rest of its controls. Reverse is also surprisingly awkward to get to. Apart from this mild balletic shortfall, the Swift Sport seems to be a well-rounded package for an enthusiast after something compactly practical and affordable, with the added boon of having the peak twist available from 2500rpm.
There’s refinement besides the verve, with the engine quietening at a cruise and the ride absorbent enough not to be incessantly reminding you that you’re having fun of a sporting kind. The seats are supportively enveloping too. Soft furnishings are limited to seats, carpets and headlining, but the hard-feel dashboard is lifted by those flashes of colour and the cheeriness of the Swift’s instruments and infotainment display. You also get a stylish leather-bound steering wheel and alloy pedals.
Equipment is surprisingly comprehensive, what with a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink, climate control and the camera and radar systems required to provide the assorted driver assistance. Radar provision also means that adaptive cruise control is standard, while you also get a reversing camera.
Does the Suzuki Swift Sport live up to its name?
The result is a small, 'dashabout' car that’s also well-equipped for long distance and ought to be easy to live with, too. In terms of equipment and sophistication, the Swift Sport has matured substantially. The good news is that it has actually lost weight despite all these additions. If it could be made to play with throttle, it would make an excellent, old-school hot hatch with 21st century electronics.