Is it a GENUINE hot hatch? Suzuki Swift Sport 2018 Review

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“With a 1.4 BOOSTERJET engine producing 230Nm of torque, and a total kerbweight that is 80kg less than its predecessor, the lighter and quicker Swift Sport has evolved into a genuine hot hatch that makes exhilarating sports driving a reality.” Not my words – those are the words from Suzuki’s official press release for the new Swift Sport, but is it really a genuine hot hatch? I’ve spent a week with it to find out.

It certainly looks ‘hot hatchy’

Following customer feedback, Suzuki has made sure that the new Sport is easier to pick out from the standard car, and I have to say, it looks spot on. It’s got a nice squat to it, and its stance is purposeful, therefore I reckon you’d need an eye test if you ever mistook if for a cooking model. It’s 15mm lower and 40mm wider than the standard car, meaning it really looks the business. It may be small, but it’s certainly up for a fight – it’s basically an automotive equivalent of Scrappy Doo.

In case you’re still worried that your Swift Sport won’t stand out, you can opt to have it in the bold ‘Champion Yellow’ colour, which pays homage to the Suzuki Works Junior rally car from the noughties.  I can’t stand yellow, however, so I’d much rather opt for the Speedy Blue applied to the model on test here.

As with the previous Sport, metallic finishes are completely free of charge, which is a great selling point, and helps to back up the car’s higher asking price – I’ll get on to that in a bit. Like the previous model, there are options to personalise it as well, to help make it more unique to you.

Step in the interior and you’ll find a sporty design to match the outside with body-hugging front sport seats, aluminum pedals, a flat-bottomed steering wheel trimmed with perforated leather, plus miles of red stitching. It’s a nice place to be, although I would have liked a soft touch dashboard as for a car of this price, there are a few too many hard plastics for my liking. The previous car had the same issue, but it was easier to forgive as it was a cheaper car.

So far, so good – how does it drive?

As with most modern the cars, the new Swift Sport has downsized its engine. The previous car made use of a 1.6 litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, whereas the new model has a 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol engine lifted from the Vitara S. It produces 138bhp, which is only 4bhp more than its predecessor, but the increase is torque is where it gets interesting.

The new engine offers 230Nm of torque, which is 70Nm more than before. Like the old car, the third generation Sport feeds its power to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. Suzuki states the throw is 10% shorter than before, but it doesn’t feel quite as slick as the change I remember from the last car.

Suzuki Swift Sport 2018 Review

It’s still up to the job though, and if you work it fast enough, you’ll be hitting 62mph in 8.1 seconds. Hmm. That’s not really what I could call ‘hot hatch’ performance, but to be truthful, it feels faster in real life and I reckon you could probably get it closer to 7 seconds if you tried – if only I had a Vbox…

Top speed isn’t exactly trailblazing as this pocket rocket runs out of puff at 130mph but then again, you’re unlikely to ever hit the top speed anyway. So it still looks to be a ‘warm hatch’, on paper at least. However, drive this car in the real world and you’re presented with a car with as much eagerness as a puppy that’s being taken on its first walk.

Also bear in mind that the new Sport is 80kg lighter (975kg) than its predecessor, but it’s more rigid thanks to Suzuki’s HEARTECT platform. This is good news as what made the last Swift Sport so much fun was its low kerbweight, so it’s good to see that the new model hasn’t put on the pounds, even if it has a body that looks like it’s trying to break free of its own metal with its muscular bulges.

Suzuki Swift Sport 2018 Review
Don’t get too excited about that ‘mode’ button

Unlike some other cars in its class, there are no driving modes, or no Sport mode, despite that being a ‘mode’ button on the dash. Don’t get to excited when you press it, as it will only change the setting the for the climate control, but in all honesty, the lack of driving modes fits in with the Swift Sport’s honest and simple package. You’ll soon be having too much fun to even worry about driving modes, especially when you are entertaining yourself with the car’s various digital gauges.

Watching these dance can be quite good fun, just remember to keep one eye on the road…

Insanely chuckable

This level of engineering here needs to applauded, because here we have a car that weighs only a few more kilos than a Mazda MX-5, but is able to offer seating for five, a usable boot and five door practicality. It’s lack of weight also means the Swift Sport is insanely chuckable in the corners, making it a real hoot on windy B-roads. I won’t lie, a Fiesta ST feels more polished and composed, but it will cost you more money, plus the one I tested had the optional LSD, which will always give it the advantage.

Suzuki Swift Sport 2018 Review

The Swift Sport still retains its go-kart handling that the last car was able to offer you and if you don’t reach your destination grinning ear-to-ear, you’re simply not doing it right. There is a smidge of body lean to contend with, but you’ll only get a hint of it when you’re really pushing and there’s a high amount of grip on offer.

Suzuki Swift Sport 2018 Review

The steering offers a nice, firm weight and it also offers a decent amount of communication. The body feels super nimble as well, plus the brakes deserve a special mention as they are fantastic. Pedal feel is strong, and the brakes themselves have a great amount of bite to them. The Swift Sport is a fantastic entry point for someone looking to experience a sporty hatch, although that’s not to say that seasoned pros can’t draw fun from this lightweight pocket rocket.

Hot hatch performance, standard hatch fuel economy

It’s pretty frugal as well – on a combined run it will offer 50.4mpg, although that will soon plummet once you start driving it as if you’ve stolen it. However when I’ve been driving it conservatively, I’ve been getting low to mid 40s which is pretty respectable. CO2 comes in at a respectable 125g/km, meaning that for the first year of VED you’ll be expected to pay £165 for the first year. However, drive the car hard, and you’re likely to see mpg fall down to low 30s, maybe even low 20s.

Any negatives?

Let’s face it, no car is perfect, not matter how much you may love it. Like its predecessor, the new Swift Sport is a loveable car that’s got lots going for it, but it’s more grown up now. With that, the price has grown as well, but I’ll get on to that in a bit. Because of its more grown up approach and its inflated price tag, the Sport doesn’t feel quite as charming as it used to.

It’s also not as spacious as its rivals, although it is worth mentioning that the boot has grown by 54 litres to make it 265. You can of course extend this further by folding down the 60/40 rear seats, but even then, the space is less than 600 litres (579). Taller occupants may find space tight in the back as well, although I found I had a bit more room here compared to a Fiesta, so it could be worse.

Refinement isn’t outstanding – you’re likely to notice a fair amount of road noise entering the cabin, although wind noise isn’t too bad. Despite this, you’ll find yourself having to crank up the stereo once you hit faster roads, but at least the Sport is a decent cruiser on the motorway, plus the extra torque makes overtaking a piece of cake.

Speaking of noise, the engine/exhaust leave a lot to be desired, as the sound the pair make isn’t exactly sporty. Mash the throttle and you’re greeted by a noise that wouldn’t be out of place in a regular hatchback, and it’s nowhere near offering the ear-pleasing burbles of the Fiesta ST. Hell, I’d even settle for some kind of sound symposer to pump some fake noise in, just to enhance the driving experience.

On a more pedantic note, like other Suzuki models, the autonomous emergency braking is simply too panicky. It’ll go off when your approaching a parked car, or even if you’re approaching a bush on a fast, sweeping corner, meaning that you’re likely to turn it off in frustration, which defeats the purpose of having such a feature in the first place. God forbid if your smoke alarm was that temperamental.

Right, but what about the elephant in the room?

Ah yes, the price. This is an area where some of you have struggled to get past, and to be honest, I don’t blame you. One of the great charms about the old car was that it offer decent performance on a modest budget – it was priced from £13,749 – making it the ultimate underdog. However, the same cannot be said for the new model as it’s £17,999 which is scarily close to the Fiesta ST priced from £18,995.

Now at this point it’s worth noting that the Swift comes with a lot of standard kit, and the Fiesta ST would cost more than its base price once you spec it up to a similar level – an equivalent model to the Swift  would cost over £21,000 – plus you’re bound to want the Performance Pack, which adds £850 on. The Swift is very simple in its trim level as it has just one.

Within that, you’ll get goodies such as sporty styling, 17″ alloys, 8″ infotainment system, Bluetooth, DAB radio, navigation, smartphone connectivity, climate control, keyless entry and reversing camera. There’s also plenty of safety kit such as autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and hill hold assist. Despite this, it wasn’t quite enough to get five stars from Euro NCAP, but it was still awarded a solid four stars.

Despite its generous specification, I still think the price will put some people off, and that it could probably do with a grand or so knocked off. Following the car’s launch Suzuki knocked £1,500 as a special offer, and I feel sticking to a price of £16,500 would do this car wonders. Given the choice, I think I would sacrifice some of the safety kit in order to pay less. Don’t get me wrong, the safety kit is great, but I imagine these features would not be a priority for potential buyers.

Final Thoughts

So, let’s go back to my original question – is the Swift Sport really a genuine hot hatch? You know what, I think it is. Sure, on paper it looks to be down on power, but in real life it delivers a hot hatch sensation. Ok, the price may be a sticking point for some, but the Swift Sport is a better car than the one it replaces. It’s faster, more spacious, it looks better, plus it offers a good amount of equipment, strong fuel economy and safety kit. So, if you’re looking for a hot hatch that won’t cost the earth, be sure to give the Suzuki Swift Sport a look.

Car Obsession rating: (4 / 5)

Pros:

  • Fun to drive
  • Nimble and agile
  • Great handling
  • More spacious than last model
  • Good level of kit
  • Striking looks
  • Peppy performance
  • Frugal

Cons:

  • Not as much of a bargain as it used to be
  • Still has a small-ish boot
  • Road noise is a bit high compared to rivals
  • Interior could be more premium
  • Not quite as charming as its predecessor
  • Lacks the sound to go with the performance

Rivals

2018 Ford Fiesta ST ReviewFord Fiesta ST

Once again, the Ford Fiesta ST is the small hot hatch to beat, and previously, you wouldn’t really have compared the Sport to the ST due to price and performance. Only a grand separates them now, however, so it seems as if the Swift Sport is getting ballsy. Granted, the Fiesta ST will cost you more money once you spec it up to the level of the Sport, but I would personally be happy to pay that premium. Mind you, you’ve always got the choice of the ST-Line…

 

Volkswagen up! GTI First Drive

Volkswagen up! GTi

The up! GTi was a long time coming, and since its arrival, it’s won many plaudits. This is a car that the Swift Sport used to be; a small car that offered modest performance and a high amount of fun, but at a relatively low price. The up! GTi undercuts the Sport by quite some margin, although it’s a smaller car, it’s not as quick and it offers less kit. It’s also not quite as mean looking either, although it’s still a handsome and well-proportioned car.

 

Abarth 595 CompetizioneAbarth 595

Looking for a small hot hatch that provides a decent soundtrack as well as sweet handling? The 595 could just be the car for you. As well as offering a noise that wouldn’t look out of place in a larger car, the 595 offers gutsy performance, sweet handling and bags of character. It can get a bit pricey once you spec one up though, plus the ride could be too firm for some.

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