Last of the no-turbos: goodbye to Suzuki’s Swift Sport
TG goes for one last thrash in the final naturally aspirated hot hatch
The Suzuki Swift Sport goes out of production later this year. What do you mean ‘so what’? Yes, there will be a new one. Less boxy-looking hopefully. But we can be sure it’ll have a turbocharger, and that makes the current Swift Sport a bit special. With Renaultsport and Honda both succumbing to boost pressure and wastegates, this little Suzuki will go down as history’s last naturally aspirated hot hatch. This provided a good excuse to go for one last goodbye blast in Suzuki’s little slice of hot hatch history.Advertisement - Page continues below
It’s not a fast car, the Swift Sport. Its 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine develops 134bhp. Torque is so meagre you wonder why they bothered calculating it: just 118lb ft is generated for the front wheels to handle. But it’s where the power is made that’s crucially old-school. The torque is made (briefly) at 4400rpm.
That figure looks preposterous when the modern turbo crew deliver twice the torque for half the effort. Don’t believe me? Case in point: the Fiesta ST. Also a 1.6-litre, but chucking out 236lb ft at 2500rpm. That’s the benchmark modern hot hatch, and a Swift Sport wouldn’t see which way it went. It forces the Swift to stretch ‘hot hatch’ as a term to breaking point. Mind you, the SSS costs £14,000, and you get Bluetooth, keyless go, nav and a DAB radio as standard. You choose the colour and number of doors, and that’s the end of the speccing process. So it double-ticks the ‘bargain’ box.
But back to the Swift’s power delivery, because it’s about to get exciting. Maximum power is finally cranked out at a buzzing 6900rpm, just before the rev limiter interrupts play at 7000rpm. The engine wants to be up here too, straining at the leash above 4500rpm and surging for that final 1000rpm, eager to headbutt the limiter and grab the next gear.
The sense of the performance ramping up, building to a crescendo where the tensed driver has to intervene and execute a lightning fast gearchange to maintain engine speed, is at the core of what makes an SSS more exciting to drive fast than plenty of surging turbo-driven hatches. They may as well be diesels in comparison.Advertisement - Page continues below
And as anyone who’d driven a hire car will testify, there’s a lot to be said for never, ever braking. Maybe a confidence lift every now and again, but 134bhp is never going to lose traction, and throttle response is so crisp that every feathered dab of the short-travel throttle has an instant effect on the power arriving at the tyres. Again, the driver is being forced to work hard, but because the limits you’re managing are all so low, it’s like learning to kick-box wearing a bubblewrap suit. Thrilling, but you get to keep all your limbs.
What really helps the Swift Sport is its nigh-on perfect ride and handling balance. I suspect the brilliant control comes from the fact it’s really light (just 1045kg – 138kg less than the Fiesta) and has been set up purely for road suppleness rather than any track marketing nonsense. It’s not got very expensive dampers, the Swift Sport, but when you really attack a road in it, it feels like it’s got hydraulic rally bump-stops. You just can’t fluster it. Which ties right back into the give-it-hell dogged character of that engine. Just keep it pinned, and the car will deal with onrushing bumps and camber. And it’ll stop properly too.
The SSS’s controls – nothing special in isolation – work beautifully together, all honed and in sync as one. It’s one of the greatest modern-day examples of a down-to-earth car being more than the sum of its humdrum parts, and wringing out that zingy engine is right at the heart of it.
We’re not afraid of progress. The new Civic Type R is still wildly exciting and far more usable than its predecessor. Turbocharging has made it a better car in almost every respect, save for noise. And Suzuki ought to be able to pull the same trick. Keep the eagerness, the sense of a reward living in the engine’s upper reaches, waiting to be sought out, and then raise the suspension, steering and gearchange’s game to match. It could be a dark horse, a little cracker. Meanwhile, this Swift Sport deserves a happy retirement in the pocket rocket hall of fame.