At a time when the world is in total chaos, you can’t really blame Suzuki for deploying the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra on its little Swift Sport.
New Zealand’s most popular hot hatch has been given its first update since launching as an all-new car in early 2018. Most of this concerns tech and cosmetics — it gains a bunch of safety features, a digital speedometer page in its digitised binnacle and some new colours (this pretty Flame Orange included).
The humble Swift gets blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, heated mirrors and rear cross-traffic alert as part of the update. These additions are on top of an already pretty generous suite of safety tech, which includes autonomous emergency braking, driver fatigue warning, high-beam assist, and the still-coveted inclusion of adaptive cruise control.
The rest of the cabin is more or less untouched, which means you still get a lot of flashy red highlights, a simple but generously equipped infotainment system, a pair of slightly tight front seats and a rather roomy rear. You get the feeling, though, that rear legroom comes at the expense of boot space — which still languishes at 265 litres.
In places it feels a bit cheap. But it’s a cheap car.
Under the bonnet is the same BoosterJet (I love saying that) turbocharged 1.4-litre four yanked out of the Swift’s big Vitara brother. It makes a humble 103kW/230Nm, which becomes not-so-humble when you consider the Swift’s other core attribute.
Now, there’s no doubt that a generous percentage of the people reading this will be waiting for me to give concrete, rock solid evidence that the little Swift deserves its hot hatch classification. Well, here you go. Peel away the skin and you get Suzuki’s Heartect platform — one of the lightest and stiffest pieces of vehicular scaffold in class.
Thanks to its presence, the Swift tips the scales at less than a tonne.
Apart from putting the plucky Swift in the same company as Gordon Murray’s incredible new T.50 hypercar, that also gives it a surprise edge over its logical rivals, the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Although the Swift isn’t as quick as either (100km/h comes up in 7.2 seconds), it does drive quite differently — particularly when you’re having a bit of fun. The Suzy might be down on power compared to the Ford and Veedub, but it’s also over 200kg lighter.
It’s hard to say without sampling each car back to back, but in isolation the Swift feels like it might have the sweetest chassis. Its keen rotation and instantaneous front end is complemented by the odd hint of lift-off oversteer. The grip from the Continental rubber is excellent, although it’s not like they’re being challenged too much given the mild power and wafer-like weight.
Yes, the engine. Back in 2018 I said it wasn’t as satisfying or fun as the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre that came before it. Given naturally aspirated engines have almost been completely eradicated, I’ve been forced to mellow.
It might not stir the emotions quite like a naturally aspirated engine or three-pot, but it’s impressively versatile. You’ll be surprised at the cars you’ll be able to scare on a twisty road.
You’d expect me at this point to say that the automatic transmission is a waste of time and the manual is the way to go. But, hold your horses. I do generally prefer a manual, and in the Swift Sport’s case optioning the six-speed means you’ll be able to get one of these little guys for less than thirty grand. However, the automatic in this press car was eye opening.
It’s not a CVT, which is what the second-gen Swift Sport had to deal with. It’s a six-speed torque converter automatic. This means less rev-hanging silliness and more predictable behaviour in all forms of driving. It’s not as quick to react as a dual-clutch, but it comes surprisingly close. Downshifts through the little plastic paddles can lag behind a little, but all in all the way it performs is very impressive.
The myriad of changes have nudged the Swift Sport’s price a smidge north. The base manual now costs $29,990 while the automatic costs $30,990. Our tester, with its optional $490 black roof, winds up costing $31,480.
Even so, the Swift Sport stands strong as the cheapest bona-fide hot hatch on the market. It’s the most fun you can have for 30 grand by far.
SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT AUTOMATIC
PRICE: $30,990 ($31,480 as tested)
ENGINE: Turbo 1.4-litre four-cylinder, 103kW/230Nm