Suzuki has a fine reputation for building decent bikes, but when it comes to cars, the value-oriented Japanese marque has been churning out rubbish for far too long.
This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's January 2007 issue.
Unfortunately, a great engine does not make a great car, as the last Swift GTi (1989-’99) emphatically proved. The Swift Sport, on the other hand, owes nothing to that much-modified, near cult-worshipped little dunger, and is, despite the lame name, 10 times the car the GTi ever was.
The new-generation Swift, launched in February 2005, isn’t quite the driver’s car, even though its funky styling and keen engine hint that it is. But with the new Sport, Suzuki has gone in hard to make the reality match the badge.
Modifications to improve the Swift’s dynamics go beyond the usual spring and damper tweaks. Not only does the Sport score Monroe shocks with 60 per cent more compression and rebound damping force, it receives additional left- and right-hand floor members and a rear floor cross-member to improve body stiffness, as well as re-tuned electric steering and 16-inch alloys with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 195/50R16 V-rated rubber.
Despite a one-metre increase in its turning circle (now 10.4m) and only a small reduction in turns from lock to lock (from 3.1 to 2.9), the Swift Sport’s electric steering is keener when turning from straight ahead and noticeably faster-geared once you’re into a corner.
That could also have something to do with an overall reduction in understeer, but there’s no question the Sport is definitely a sharper tool.
Thing is, faster gearing and more steering weight aren’t a substitute for genuine feel and, despite Suzuki’s obvious improvements here, the Swift Sport still tends to muffle much of what it could be communicating.
Where the real entertainment lies is in the way the Sport handles. It’s no Renaultsport Clio, but the Swift Sport turns in eagerly and carries plenty of speed through a corner, all while absorbing bumps that would’ve speared the old GTi into another dimension.
Explore the Sport’s outer envelope and it’ll succumb to understeer, but generally its balance is fairly neutral and there’s certainly plenty of squeal-free grip from its Dunlop rubber. The Sport is also reasonably responsive to a lifted throttle or brake dab when loaded up in a corner, though always in a non-threatening fashion.
Lift-off oversteer on bitumen is very mild even under provocation – though on dirt is another story – making the Sport brilliant as a beginner’s hot-hatch. And if things do turn ugly, there are six airbags.
You wouldn’t exactly call its straight-line performance hot, but 0-100km/h in a claimed 8.9 seconds and 200 flat out isn’t too shameful, especially when the Sport is so encouraging.
It’s very short-geared – fifth equates to just over 30km/h/1000rpm, meaning 4000rpm on the tacho at an indicated 120km/h – in order to make up for the slim pickings of torque (148Nm at a high 4800rpm). But second, third and fourth gears are tightly stacked to maximise everything the Swift has to offer.
Shift from first to second at the 6800rpm redline and revs drop to 4500 (which is smack bang on the VVT’s step-up point), but second-to-third and third-to-fourth shifts see revs fall to 5250rpm. From there to the 7000 cut-out, the Swift Sport screams its freckle off, and you’ll probably go deaf if keep up it in this range for too long. Its high-compression (11.1:1) M16A four loves to rev, and lets you know all about it.
Aiding the Swift’s quest for sportiness is its slick, leather-topped five-speed gearshift, its well-placed metal pedals (great for heel-and-toeing), and its horn-looking seats (which could use lumbar adjustment). But carried over from the regular Swift is a rather non-sporting driving position that’s fairly high and requires bent knees to get the tilt-only steering wheel in the right place.
Rear-seat room is entirely acceptable for two adults and vision from back there is good, too, but the Suzuki’s boot is tiny.
Still, the Swift Sport was never meant to be a Honda Jazz. It’s its own thing – a cool, feisty, tight-handling, good-value hatch that’s easy to live with, yet can turn feral if you want.
For GTi fans, the simple fact the Sport doesn’t require a kidney belt should be reward enough. That it’s actually good is something else altogether.
No school like old school at classic MOTOR
Swift Evolution of Suzuki's Hot Hatch
Cultus Turbo (1984)
Badged ‘Cultus’ in Japan, the first hot Swift ran a 59kW fuel-injected, turbocharged 993cc triple – enough to shift its flimsy 670kg body to 160km/h. Not a handler, though, with puny 12-inch rims and a leaf-sprung back axle.
Swift GTi (1986)
Arrived in Oz with a facelift, rear coil springs and Suzuki’s legendary 74kW G13B twin-cam, 16-valve four. Missed out on the digital dash of the top Jap version, but blitzed the 400m mark in 16.3 seconds and could hit 183km/h.
Swift GTi Mk2 (1989)
Same great engine and a spunky all-new body cemented GTi’s street cred, but it lasted 10 years and outlived its use-by date by a mile. Its brutal ride and leaden steering remained firmly rooted in the 80s.
Ignis Sport (2003)
GTi’s belated replacement failed to hit the mark due to its shopping-trolley styling, cheap cabin, and old-school dynamics. Another case of a great engine (same M16A as the Swift Sport) crying out
for a decent car.
Fast Facts - 2007 Suzuki Swift Sport
ENGINE: 1586cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16v
POWER: 92kW @ 6800rpm
TORQUE: 148Nm @ 4800rpm
0-100km/h: 8.9sec (claimed)
TOP SPEED: 200km/h (claimed)
PRICE: $23,990 (5-speed manual)
LIKE: Cool styling; grippy handling; revvy engine; unisex appeal
DISLIKE: Steering lacks feel; bit too much understeer; a bit dear
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars