You'd be foolish not to check out the budget-friendly Suzuki Swift Sport
For driving enthusiasts with limited financial means, this hot hatch offers an engaging drive and a standard kit that undercuts rivals. We answer your pressing questions about it
The new Suzuki Swift Sport is here. I heard it wasn't coming to SA?
It wasn't supposed to, but then Suzuki had a change of heart and, well, here we are. Personally, I'm stoked about this because I've always been a fan of this little hatch as it delivers proper driving thrills to a demographic of enthusiasts who don't have the financial means to stretch for a Volkswagen Polo GTI, Mini Cooper or Corsa GSi - rivals this Suzuki undercuts by a significant margin.
It has them beat on weight too. Most cars seem to get more bloated with each generation, but the new Swift Sport is 90kg lighter than its predecessor. It weighs just 970kg. This is a big deal as it a) makes it better to drive and b) aids in more mundane things like fuel consumption.
Despite this significant lard reduction, Suzuki claims this range-topping Swift is, thanks to a new chassis and more spot-welds, also stiffer than ever before.
Cool. So does it still come with a sweet-revving naturally aspirated engine?
No, that 1.6-litre of old has been replaced by a 1.4-litre turbocharged mill that makes a smidgen more power but a whole load of extra torque (+70Nm). Purists will bemoan this move to forced induction but, unfortunately, there are aspects of automotive evolution that manufacturers can no longer ignore. And the Swift Sport is more livable for it.
In days gone by you'd need to stir that six-speed manual gearbox with vigour just to stay on the boil. Now, thanks to the added torque peaking lower down the rev range, this is no longer the case. So you'll be less busy behind the wheel, which is always welcome when stuck in the slow-moving treacle of everyday traffic. Heck, there's even a six-speed auto 'box available if you want one.
Unfortunately, as turbocharged engines go, this one doesn't sound particularly good despite exhaling through two exhaust tailpipes. After a day of spirited driving at Red Star Raceway I felt Suzuki could have given its sporty Swift a bit more sonic character. But it does provide ample shove.
FAST FACTS: Suzuki Swift Sport
• ENGINE: 1,373cc four-cylinder turbo
• POWER: 103kW at 5,500rpm
• TORQUE: 230Nm from 2,500 to 3,500rpm
• TRANSMISSION: six-speed manual
• 0-100KM/H: eight seconds (claimed)
• TOP SPEED: 205km/h (claimed)
• PRICE: From R315,900
I didn't have a chance to drive it on normal roads but around the racetrack the Swift Sport was impressively sprightly, rocketing out of corners and down the pit straight with a pace that not too long ago would have been the reserve of pricier hot hatches. So in terms of raw speed it is a significant step up from its predecessor, particularly at these giddy altitudes.
How about the handling? Does it enjoy being grabbed by the scruff of its neck?
Yes. Cut away the bodywork and you'll find a chassis tuned for the business of carving corners quickly, thanks to the presence of bespoke Monroe dampers, firmer springs and thicker anti-roll bars. Again, my drive was limited to the track and around it I was impressed at how willingly the Swift Sport turned in towards the apex of a corner, lap after lap.
While body roll is well contained, the electric power steering is consistently weighted and gives a good amount of both feel and feedback.
Driving ergonomics are top notch with a manual gearbox that's a joy to use and pedals well spaced for the business of fast heel-and-toe work. The seats also provide excellent lateral support. Add in generous steering wheel reach adjustment and you quickly feel comfortable and confident enough to throw it around.
I can't comment on ride quality (Red Star Raceway is no Oxford Road). I'd hazard a guess that this Suzuki should be a compliant steer on Mzansi's mean streets.
The old Swift Sport came with a lot of kit. Does this trend continue?
It does. And the standout feature on this model is a new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility as standard. Yep, compared to the old model it no longer feels like you're channeling late '90s Japan.
In addition to the touchscreen treatment, Suzuki has thrown in automatic climate control, cruise control, plus a smart leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel. There's also a bright colour LCD display nestling between the tachometer and speedometer that can be programmed to show you everything from turbo boost levels and engine oil temperature through to acceleration and braking g-forces.
Is it a good car for the money?
Yes. Starting just north of the R300k mark there's not much else on the market that's as engaging to drive. It's closest competitor, the Honda Jazz Sport, is R16,300 dearer and cannot hold a candle to the Swift Sport in any area except space. Next up is the R365,900 Opel Corsa GSi that offers similar performance but lacks the Suzuki's sparkle and feel-good factor. A VW Polo GTI will be quicker in a straight line but spec it to rival the Suzuki and you'll be handing over in excess of R400k.
So, the new Swift Sport is a performance bargain and one any budget-conscious driving enthusiast would be foolish not to check out.