Suzuki Swift Sport: The Affordable Performance Benchmark
The purists will not be happy with the move to turbo power, but Swift Sport the third is now quicker while being no thirstier. We drive a Champion Yellow charger
It was the first new vehicle launch of the year for us, but that doesn’t prevent the new third-generation Swift Sport from going straight into contention for best performance car of 2018. With added spec and power, we thought the auto version might finally break into the $30k category. Not a chance, Suzuki adding just $1000 to the outgoing variant, so $28,500 for the manual and $29,990 for the auto. They do say third time’s a charm, and it certainly is for the latest third-gen Swift Sport. A slight price rise isn’t unexpected, for the new model borrows its turbocharged and intercooled engine from Vitara Turbo, and adds safety kit, active cruise helping it to a five-star ANCAP crash rating. The new engine though is the talking point, and while power is up just 3kW, there’s 44 per cent more torque and drive low down, thanks to turbocharging.
You’d probably expect to pay more for the modern styling too. There’s some ‘carbon fibre’ bits on the body kit, and that never comes cheap. Except here, where it’s not the real McCoy, but it sure looks like it.
More of everything?
Swift Sport will be a real fillip for the company, especially given how all new it is compared with the second-generation which was essentially a freshened version of the original. Some might not especially applaud the fact that the new Swift Sport is turbocharged for the first time, but having driven it we reckon it’s a step forward rather than sideways. For there’s more performance - we quantified that on the day - while the quoted fuel economy improves slightly, down to 6.1L/100km (141g/km) for both variants. We managed to ease it into the high fours during a run from Queenstown to Cromwell while using active cruise control. And during a torrid time over the Crown Range, during which the Swift Sport did its best impressions of a Pro Kart, the computer suggested a worst figure of 8.5L/100km. Later on, we massaged an auto into the nines, but not double figures.
We guess it’s no great surprise the fastest of the Swift range drinks no more than its forebear. There’s a couple of three reasons for that. First up, in the move from an atmo 1.6 to turbocharged direct injection 1.4L mill, power output doesn’t much change, up from 100 to 103kW. However, peak power arrives now at 5500rpm instead of 6900rpm, and lower revs correlates with reduced fuel use. On the other hand, torque production rises substantially, out to 230Nm produced from 2500-3500rpm. Its predecessor managed 160Nm at 4400rpm, and was rated to run 0-100 in 9.5sec. Suzuki reckons both of the new variants are good for around 8.0sec. We took a GPS-based Q-Starz device with us to the launch and on a flat chipseal surface the manual achieved 7.5sec 0-100km/h, later matched by the auto, with both performing 80-120 overtakes in the mid to late fours. It took over six seconds for the previous generation, so a substantial gain there too. Yes, it’s a turbo, but lag is virtually non-existent.
But we digress, for fuel consumption also benefits from a slight improvement in aerodynamics - unfortunately Suzuki couldn’t supply us with Cd figures - while added gains are to be expected from a weight pruning exercise. The latest Swift Sport utilises the new ‘Heartect’ architecture, which is both stiffer and lighter than the previous platform and, like the other Swift models in the range already launched, expect a kerb weight of under 1000kg, less than an MX-5. Suzuki reckons the manual Swift Sport is 90kg lighter while the auto version pares away 80kg. Small wonder then they’re both easy on gas, though both variants now require 95ULP.
Fancy and flush
So to the new vehicle itself, it ups the ante in other ways. The design builds on that of the latest modernised Swift, with new lightweight 17-inch wheel designs resembling the cloverleaf Alfa offerings - Suzuki calls them diamond cut alloys - an enlarged honeycomb grille, a chin spoiler for the front bumper, LED headlights, a rear diffuser and meaty twin exhausts. The body itself is lowered 15mm compared with its predecessor and it’s wider by 40mm but is no longer, still under 4m, though the wheelbase is stretched by 20mm, and there’s more luggage space as a result (up from 210 to 265L). Helping in that regard is the loss of a space saver, replaced by a can of sealant. There’s more leg room in the rear now, enough for adults if the front seat passengers comply.
Inside are red accents in the form of seat stitching and dash trim. There’s also red and black highlighting in the instruments to make it seem quicker. The sports seats are heavily bolstered, and there’s a D-shaped wheel and alloy pedals. In the centre console are a seven-inch touch screen, compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with voice-activated sat nav. There’s also comfort entry and push button start (in a highly visible location). Safety kit includes autonomous braking, collision and lane change alert, and switchable ESP.
Performance so forthcoming
From Queenstown we undertook road evaluations of the automatic and manual variants to Wanaka and back. Where the original was pretty manic and the next generation more refined, the latest is a fabulous mix of both performance and everyday usability. Thankfully the top Swift comes standard with adaptive cruise because it’s very easy to find yourself exceeding the open road limit without noticing. Peak torque may be developed from 2500-3500rpm where the car really performs beautifully while keeping fuel use in check but there’s also lots of torque produced at even lower revs, the small turbo well on the case before 2000rpm. And 100 corresponds to about 2200rpm in sixth, for manual and auto.
And on that, there has been a shift from a CVT to a regular six-speed automatic, supplemented by standard shift paddles. This is a lovely transmission, a quick enough shifter, and the paddle action is good too. The manual is also a good ’un. With a shorter throw it feels lightweight and positive in use, extra synchos in the lower gears meant that even during performance runs it didn’t baulk when flatshifting. Most will probably default to the auto, and you can’t blame them; for urban use there’s no contest. Rural dwellers will probably at least pause before opting for the auto. However, it’s the manual we’d choose for its added fun factor.
Central Otago has more than its fair share of chip seal and despite the fast rubber fitted, Continental ContiSportContact 5s, road-generated thrum was kept reasonably in check. On coarser sections expect SPL readings in cabin of around 74.5dB.
We really had a ball driving the Swift Sport over the Crown Range, despite the masses of slow moving tourist traffic. This section highlighted the brakes in particular. They’re beefed up for the latest generation, with bigger, thicker rotors. There was no sign of fade on the downhill side of the Crown Range, which is a brutal test of a brake performance. A best stop from 100km/h in the low 30s was no surprise either. These are amongst the best we’ve experienced on a sub $30k car.
Up for prizes?
Handling is secure, with improved roll control thanks to suspension tweaks. Ride isn’t overlooked either, with fettling to the Monroe shocks either end, and the stiffer chassis architecture means springs don’t need to be so resolute. Steering is electric but well weighted and somewhat interactive. We seemed to get a whole mess of wheelspin accelerating out of the hairpins thinking the TC was giving us decent leeway until realising we’d forgotten to reactivate it after performance testing. On a related fun front, there’s still a proper, well sited lever-activated handbrake next to the driver’s seat. Glad to see that hasn’t gone the way of many.
About the only negatives worth mentioning? There’s still no digital readout of speed, which this should really have in the trip computer. And there’s no lumbar adjust for the driver, though this wasn’t especially missed.
Otherwise the latest Swift Sport is more of the same, or more better, as some would say. In its sector there’s little to compare, the Fiesta ST being about the only one within cooee of the price of the Swift Sport. It’s a little quicker and harder edged but more expensive ($35k) and only available as a manual, ruling it out for many. Moreover, it’s due for replacement and it isn’t clear whether new Fiesta is even coming to New Zealand. Volkswagen’s new Polo GTI will be along in May, priced at $38,490 with 147kW and 320Nm.
So yes, the first launch of the year and another rave, reminding of last year’s Impreza introduction (is this our sub$30k COTY?) but SS has always rocked and it still does. Downsizing and turbocharging are now where it’s at for added economy and performance. Some will decry the move but we’re not complaining. We reckon the best Swift just got a whole lot better. We’re in no doubt already that this is a strong contender for the Performance class prize come November. And who knows, perhaps it will go on to greater glory? It’s genuinely that good.
Model Suzuki Swift Sport Price $29,990
Engine 1373cc, IL4, T/DI, 103kW/230Nm
Transmission 6-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Vitals 7.54sec 0-100km/h, 6.1L/100km, 141g/km, 990 (claimed)kg