In an era where 200bhp Minis are tame and Ford will happily channel 350bhp through the front wheels of a Focus, it’s tempting to question whether a 134bhp Suzuki Swift even qualifies as a hot hatch.
But it does. In the long view, the Swift Sport is far more a hot hatch than the Focus RS and the Megane RenaultSport and every other turbo nutjob. This car captures everything the Golf GTI MkI and Peugeot 205 GTI and the rest stood for: natural aspiration, buzzy handling and, most of all, lack of weight. Forget the headline bhp figure and chew over this: the Swift Sport weighs in at just 1,040kg.
The second-gen Swift Sport uses the same 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine as its predecessor, but with a new variable intake system, smoother intake ports and a new exhaust to boost power by 15bhp. The chassis has been toughened and, perhaps most crucially, the Swift Sport gains an extra gear. A sixth gear, to be precise: a second reverse would have been unnecessary. And that’s your lot: no electronic diff, no double-clutch ‘box – just an honest, light, front-drive hatch.
Maybe too honest. If you’ve grown acclimatised to turbocharged engines, the Swift’s initial acceleration seems pedestrian. The trick is to slip a couple of gears below where you’d expect. This little engine does its best work at the top of the rev range: the red line doesn’t arrive until 7,000rpm, with a VTEC-style power step-up above 5,000rpm.
Keep the Swift Sport pinned against the red line and then, then it makes sense. No, it’s hardly mad-quick, but the Swift is über agile – never tilting as you wrestle it about, staying flat, riding neatly. OK, tip into a corner with too much speed, and it defaults to safety-first understeer, but, most of the time, it’s as bubbly as anything the Eighties ever mustered, keeping things simple, goading you to carry more speed through corners and maintain revs. Some will hanker for more power, but do you really need it?
Though stiffer than the old car, this is a comfy enough thing when you’re taking things easy. The extra ratio helps. While first to fifth gears are packed together like sardines on a rush-hour sardine tube train, sixth is a cynical cruising gear, allowing the Swift to tick over below 3,000rpm on the motorway.
It’s appalling for overtaking. We love it. The return-of-overdrive revolution starts here and it sounds like an old-school bargain to us.