From £13,1009

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. Although, this may well be the last of an extinct breed, with the 2017 version of the Swift Sport set to use a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine producing 138bhp and already used in the Vitara S and the facelifted SX4 S-Cross.

Inside you get a comfortable and well-finished cabin, just about enough room for four adults and a moderately practical - considering the Swift's size - boot. Both three- and five-door models are offered as well.

The good news continues on the equipment front. There's only one trim level but its very well equipped, with a sporty bodykit, 17in alloy wheels, rear spoiler and all-round brake discs on the outside, and climate control, keyless entry and go, automatic lights, DAB radio and sat nav fitted inside as standard.

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 Suzuki 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 percent 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 Suzuki 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.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Top 5 Pocket rockets

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Suzuki range

Driven this week

  • Genesis G70
    First Drive
    22 September 2017
    Based on the Kia Stinger, Genesis' new G70 saloon shows plenty of promising signs that it could be a hit in Europe
  • Lamborghini Aventador S
    First Drive
    22 September 2017
    Still visceral and dramatic as ever, but does the vast number of mechanical changes and tweaks help make the Lamborghini Aventador S more engaging?
  • Renault Koleos
    Car review
    22 September 2017
    Renault’s new crossover sees the Koleos name return, attached to an SUV of a quite different stripe
  • Nissan X-Trail
    First Drive
    21 September 2017
    On our first chance to get the facelifted Nissan X-Trail on UK roads, the petrol proves a viable alternative, although for outright pulling power the 2.0 dCi is the better bet
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2d 210
    First Drive
    21 September 2017
    Most powerful diesel version of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is swift and more frugal than its closest rivals, but makes less sense than the range-topping petrol version