Suzuki Swift Sport review
by David Finlay (13 September 2006)
Suzuki caught the motoring press by surprise when it introduced the current-generation Swift. There was little about previous Swifts to suggest that this one would be outstanding, but in fact the new model turned out to be, in the words of a previous road test, "fun to drive, reasonably practical and without question an interesting alternative to mainstream hatchback design".
It has also become the basis of a very potent competition car. Works driver Guy Wilks has been thrashing along rally tracks all over the world to great effect in a Swift modified to Junior World Rally Championship regulations. As far as Wilks is concerned, this is a useful and attention-grabbing way of climbing up the motorsport career ladder. To Suzuki, it's all about promoting the brand by suggesting that the JWRC car is in some way similar to the ones you can buy yourself.
Well, there are some resemblances, of course. Wilks's car and the new Swift Sport look roughly the same, and they both have 1.6-litre engines, which no other car in the Swift range does. But the Sport is not the rampaging animal the marketing people might want you to believe. In terms of its price (not confirmed at the time of writing, but expected to be around £11,500), its insurance rating (Group 9) and its power output (123bhp) it qualifies as a warm hatch rather than anything more spectacular.
It's good fun to drive, though, and performs better than the power figure might suggest. That's partly because the close-ratio five-speed gearbox is mated to an unusually low 4.4:1 final drive, which means that the upper end of the rev range is always within easy reach if you're not there already.
The official 0-62mph time is a brisk 8.9 seconds, and as long as you're prepared to do a lot of gearchanging (not an unpleasant task thanks to the slick quality of the shift) you can keep the Sport ready for nifty acceleration pretty much all the time.
The low gearing, and the fact that there isn't a high-ratio sixth in the box, make motorway cruising a bit stressful. Even in top gear the Sport does less than 20mph per 1000rpm, so at the national speed limit you're already getting close to 4000rpm. If you're just going from A to B on ordinary roads, rather than out for some fun on the twisty stuff, it's not long before you find yourself wishing you'd taken the Bentley instead.
There's a similar issue with the ride quality. The rear suspension is mightily stiff, and the ride quickly becomes jarring as soon as you encounter anything other than a perfectly smooth road surface. This may be an attempt on Suzuki's part to suggest competition-tuned handling, but in fact it's more like the effect you would get if you took a race car set up for, say, Silverstone to a test session at Knockhill; you would quickly realise that some extra compliance had to be introduced, and would make adjustments accordingly.
In a front-wheel drive car, the reason for stiff rear suspension is to transfer grip to the other end of the car, but the Swift Sport isn't sharp enough up there to make use of it. There is a little too much body roll and it isn't quite sufficiently controlled, so you have to work the front end into corners rather than think it through them.
Suzuki has narrowly missed a trick here. With a more precise front and a less frenetic rear, the Swift Sport could have been an outstanding budget performance hatch rather than merely an amusing one. Full marks, though, for the excellent brakes, and for the grip provided by the 195/45x17 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, but a black spot for the fact that there is a puncture repair kit in place of a proper spare - that's not going to help much if you're stranded miles from home with a buckled wheel which won't hold the air in.
The Swift Sport isn't a great car, but it's a reasonably good one. Considering its price, its straighline performance and the styling tweaks which distinguish it from other Swifts, there is surely a market for it.