Swift Sport is a ‘hot hatch’ that should never be judged by its ‘cover’

06-Dec-2018

Spot a badge and indulge may seem like an inevitable course of action but Iain Robertson has reflected on the Sport version of Suzuki’s charming little Swift and has reached a somewhat different conclusion to that of many new car testers.

Mixing metaphors is a dangerous literary game. Mixing car types, while not dangerous, could be injurious. There was a time, in Suzuki’s past, when the GTi badge was flown with immense pride…well, as much as pride as Suzuki can muster. To the vast majority of critics, commentators and scribes that have driven the current Suzuki Swift Sport, it should be wearing a ‘GTi’ badge. Yet, those three letters also instil a sense of hooliganistic derring-do, whether stated blatantly, or merely inferred by vain hope. Falling into a category of ‘seriously purposeful hatchbacks’, the most recent Sport version of the popular Swift demands delving into its greater depths, beyond mere junior league hot-hatch territory, where it delivers very well.

As soon as your derriere slips into Swift Sport’s comfy front buckets…as soon as the ‘Start’ button is depressed…as soon as first is selected in the snickety-snick six-speed manual ’box…as soon as the suspension reacts firmly on smooth tarmac, the driver is captivated, the horns emerge and the inner devil comes out to play. Every time. Every start-up. I would suggest that the impact is worse, when the car is finished in that radioactive yellow.

Call me sinner, or call me saint, give me a car with sporting aspirations and I not only want but need to exploit its potential. The beauty of the Swift Sport is that it complies in every respect. Despite its prior to dealer discounting £18k list price, which may be either bargain, or premium, dependent on the size of your wallet and company’s financial preconceptions, what it delivers verges on priceless.

Frequently abusing the English language, with Suzuki, I find that I even over-use the descript ‘giant-killing’. However, whether it be Jack and his beans, or Suzuki and its grunt, there is hardly a more apposite adjective. From the comfort of its supportive driver’s perch, surrounded by tasteful hints of gradated red trim, stitching and dash-panel, this wee car blitzes a 0-60mph dash in a willingly repeatable sub-8.0s and, given its head on a Teutonic motorway, it will touch the hem of the 140mph classic GTi breed no bother, with a bit to spare and without deferent bowing.

Yet, with this test story, I wanted to avoid the inner boy-racer. I needed to play ‘business-user’, because that market segment is the only one capable of tapping into its resources, with any surety. It is a narrow market. For ages from mid-40s to mid-60s. These ‘not-dead-yet’ customers are home ground for Suzuki, a brand which is never going to harbour mass-market appeal…unless, like Jimny, it performs the automotive equivalent of ‘going viral’. It is also the segment that knows GTi better than any, through having lived it, and is happy to accept the Sport tag, especially if it does not attract the avaricious interest of the insurers, the way a GTi badge would.

Avoiding the bamboozlement of metric measurements, the boot is deep and accommodating, capable of mustering space for up to eight loaded, reusable supermarket bags for the once-a-month ‘big’ shop, while briefcases and paperwork are easy meat. With the soft-edged key-fob in pocket, touching a rubber teat unlocks the boot (or provides access to the interior) painlessly, which is great when hands are full. If extra luggage room is required, both back seats just flop onto the rear squabs to almost treble the space, with the added benefit of side door access, because this tiny Sport also features a five-door body, which is useful, when you have been commissioned to carry colleagues, or clients, and, yes, there is room.

Whether footling around the local lanes, or tackling main road mayhem, the reassuringly firm ride quality and responsive feedback from all controls provide everything that a proper driver needs to engage with the car. Very few of us every manages to breach the main road legal limits these days, mostly because of irritatingly high traffic density but the Sport can make any drive an event and events are intentionally fun. Yet, working with the conditions, doing the A and B-road thing, I managed to attain an outstanding 54.3mpg, without demonstrating super-frugal driving tactics, which will be satisfying to the company accountant.

It helps, of course, that the 1.4-litre, 140bhp, turbo-petrol engine is not just one of the most efficient car engines in the world but is also in that upper echelon of ultimate engines. It gives hints of sportiness without overt bad manners. There are no extraneous noises. No BMW Mini phoney pops and bangs. Just solid, dependable urge, at any point in the rev-range. Miss-gear it and it will tolerate a sub-1,000rpm pull-away, without complaint. Leggy intermediate ratios make for effortless overtakes.

However, the Swift Sport’s force majeure lies in its copious cabin space, convenient practicality and easy accessibility, factors belied by its compact exterior dimensions. There is good headroom for tall drivers and madame’s ‘fascinator’, when attending a weekend garden party, or family event, and it can accommodate comfortably all six feet six inches of me, complete with size 14 deck shoes.

Consider its ease of parking, lower costs of ferry travel, a Group 35 insurance rating (for me: £240, fully-comp, business-use) and 125g/km CO2 rating, which equates to an annual road tax bill of £140 (£165 in year one), and you begin to appreciate that business motoring can still be immense fun and not cost an arm and a leg. To be frank, I like Suzuki’s approach. The company is not a ‘budget brand’ but it does provide exceptional value for money. Its products are supremely well-engineered and they even retain sensible residual values. If size and status are not the precursors for new company car acquisition, Suzuki seems to fit the bill and Swift Sport elevates the equation.

Light but sturdy, fast but frugal, the Suzuki Swift Sport is hardly an ‘everyman’ car but it is far more worthy of contemplation than many potential new company car drivers might believe.