Twin-cam engine, 15-inch alloys, Recaros, body kit, spotties and a sub-$20k price. The bang for buck bottom-rung buyer has a new toy to consider, and it’s all strangely familiar.
This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s January 2004 issue
Welcome to 10 years ago – spiritually, at least. Suzuki’s Ignis Sport wants to regain the passion, enthusiasm and image-boosting appeal of what became its cult car of the early 1990s, the rorty Swift GTi. It was small, nimble, cheap, had all the herbs and spices in just the right areas and a buzzing 1.3-litre engine that revved like the proverbial bastard.
Time travel forward 10 years and the memory of the GTi that stopped production in 1997 is all but gone, lost on a market now more attuned to WRX, 200SX and Type-R. Sure, all fine and good, but their 40 grand ask leaves a serious gap in the fast car market for the young speed junkie on a budget. Got less than 20 grand to spend and wanna go fast? Then take an extended gaze at the $19,990 Ignis Sport.
It’s the same philosophy as the Swift GTi: boldify the body, stuff in some brawn and, most important, keep it cheap. Suzuki manages the last part by exporting the Ignis all over the world, from Europe to New Zealand.
It toughens up the body with extended wheel arches, a deeper front spoiler and rear wing, paying homage to the cars competing in the Junior World Rally Championship. For an Ignis, it’s cool. The 15-inch white alloys contrast the red body for that Tommi Makinen EVO competition look, though keeping them dust-free is a full-time job.
And for mere 185/55 tyres, the mechanical grip from the Yokohama Advans is pretty special; with just 935kg to carry, the handling from the shortish 2360mm wheelbase, fat-tracked chassis offers quick, sharp direction changes like a cat on carpet, rolls less than you’d expect from a high-boxy hatch, and all this despite the beam rear end.
Four-wheel discs (vented front) have great pedal feel and stopping power with standard ABS, and though the ride is moderately firm and jittery over dimpled ground – this is a cheap, light car, after all – it’s perfectly acceptable if you’re in the proper mindset that this isn’t a BMW. And it has the kind of neutral chassis balance the understeery Swift could only dream about.
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No ignited inside tyres, either! Unlike the Swift’s open diff, which left single black lines like a paint brush, the Ignis Sport puts its power through both front treads equally effectively, proving that decent chassis, suspension and tyre tuning can overcome a lack of LSD.
Not that there’s oodles of mumbo to keep the tyres blazing, anyway; with 143Nm happening at 4100rpm, its peak power of 83kW at 6400rpm is just enough to keep its head above water and ahead of the competition.
Lacking any kind of aural pleasure, with just a linear, flat drone that’s really devoid of a powerband from idle to the 6500rpm redline, the M15A 1490cc twin-cammer sports variable valve timing and a high, PULP-only 11.0:1 compression ratio.
Despite having 15 percent more capacity than the 1.3-litre Swift, it makes 12 percent more power – more a sign of how good the Swift GTi’s non-VVT engine really was. Shame the Ignis engine doesn’t look anywhere near as neat, the narrow cam cover and chunky, ugly air filter box not a visual patch of the Swift’s blue cam dressing.
The five-speed manual is light and clunky like a borrowed stapler, but its short gearing makes the most of its modest power; 50, 99 and 132km/h at 6650rpm in the first three gears do their best to keep the speed flowing. Fifth, though well overdriven, combines with a 3.9 diff and results in a high 3500rpm at 110km/h, prompting repeated reaches for a non-existent sixth. Sans cruise control, best to steer clear of motorways.
Off the line, the 1.5-litre engine is best spun up to six grand to take full advantage of the available grip. Spinning both tyres keeps the engine on the boil and it trips over triple speed figures in 9.6sec, on the way to a 16.75sec quarter mile at 133km/h. Not spoon-bendingly fast, granted, but as quick as the 100kg lighter Swift GTi and a chunk quicker than the Sirion, Echo and even the 2003 Bang For Your Bucks class champ, the Barina SRi.
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Though the money’s not extravagant, it’s been well spent in the areas important to a young buyer. Like inside, where there’s a pair of Recaros built specifically for the Suzuki with great 1980s-flashback mesh headrests – and though they’re mounted high like a Corolla Sportivo (but not as bad), there’s still about 100mm of redundant headroom.
Suzuki Sport pedals and a well sized and placed leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearknob are pleasing touch points; there’s a set of basic white-faced (blue at night) speedo and tacho and fuel gauges, fake (but passable) carbon fibre trimming, a fiddly Clarion CD/MP3 player that offers great sound (though not huge bass), air-con, remote locking and a very basic trip computer.
In the budget market, it’s these frills that thrill. There’s no dead pedal, or any form of adjustability in the steering, but neither matters much.
Steering is probably its biggest flaw. An electric-assisted system, it loads up at wrong and inconsistent times, such as in U-turns or when needing quick changes, with the odd tug of torque steer. On the whole, though, they’re minor issues.
And that’s the big issue: there’s nothing really wrong with the Ignis Sport. Okay, there are minor quirks, like the rattly front seat, but it’s an easy fix and for its price you can forgive some imperfections like its aversion to rough roads.
While the progress over the Swift GTi isn’t huge, it’s definitely there. The Ignis Sport is a ballsy little budget banger which proves that there are some cheap hidden gems out there if you’re patient and look hard enough.
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2004 Suzuki Ignis Sport
BODY: 3-door hatch
ENGINE: 1.5-litre inline-four, DOHC 16-valve VVT
POWER: 83kW @ 6400rpm
TORQUE: 143Nm @ 4100rpm
BORE/STROKE: 78.0mm x 78.0mm
TRANSMISSION: five-speed manual
SUSPENSION: MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f), three-link rigid beam, coil springs (r)
TRACK: 1420mm (f), 1405mm (r)
BRAKES: ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); solid discs, single-piston calipers (r); ABS
WHEELS: 15 x 5.0-inch (f & r), alloy
TYRES: Yokohama Advan A-043; 185/55 R15 (f & r)
FUEL: 41 litres, PULP
0-400m: 16.77sec @ 133.1km/h
Swift in time
How time has progressed. Or has it? Ten years ago, 1994’s Suzuki Swift GTi was in the middle of its 10-year lifespan and retailed for $20,290 with power windows and mirrors, sporty seats, tape player, a mild body kit, neat 14-inch hubcaps hiding steel wheels and four-wheel non-ABS discs.
There were foglights (that actually instigated a law against using them), four-wheel MacPherson struts and the piece that held it all together: the rorty little G13B 1.3-litre twin-cam 16-valve four, good for 74kW/113Nm and a high 7800rpm. According to our July 1994 files, it managed 0-100km/h in 9.5sec and tripped the quarter mile in an eerily similar 16.74sec at 132km/h.
Dominant in production car racing (including four 12 Hour class victories), the Swift GTi was always going to be a hard act to follow. The Ignis Sport is as quick, cleaner, more economical, safer and better equipped. And, considering it’s cheaper, a worthy successor.