Version 3 of the car for fans of mildly hot hatchbacks and triplicate alliteration
The Swift arrives. For reasons I can’t entirely explain Suzuki is one of those car companies that is especially likeable. I think it’s because they seem like they’re honestly trying their best and also because, in Britain at least, they’re a bit niche and that makes them an underdog, even though they’re actually a massive Japanese corporation of such largesse they once built an entirely new factory in which to make one model, the Kizashi, which was a mistake because no one wanted it. The Swift has long been one of the most likeable cars from this likeable company and when you up the likeableness by turning it into a mildly heated hatchback it’s historically become very nice indeed. I know this because I had a first gen Swift Sport and enjoyed it a great deal. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very loveable and the only things I objected to were the slightly dated interior and the need to feed it premium petrol, both of which they fixed with the second generation model which was, as a result, just about bob on. Now there’s episode three, built on an all-new, lightweight platform and fitted for the first time with an turbocharger. Yet on first acquaintance there is much that’s familiar about it. The high, upright driving position, the crisp-as-crisps throttle response, the funny feeling that things are rubbing together that you get when changing from first-to-second on the otherwise sweet and smooth gearchange. It feels like it’s from the same gene pool as Swift Sports one and two, and that’s a good start.
I have to do a big motorway trip. Potentially a tedious thing to do in a small, zizzy hatchback but the Swift copes well. Stick it in sixth and it cruises fine, tracking straight and true up the M1. Bit noisy, but you can crank the stereo a bit and it’s no bother. There’s lots of fashionable tech in here like lane keeping assist and frankly if you need that much help staying in your lane you are too tired, old or stupid to be driving and should stop. But the radar cruise is useful, especially since 80 percent of the M6 from Birmingham to Manchester is currently a 50mph average speed camera zone. The main thing to note about the Swift is that, although they’ve plastered on a load of tech, the fundamentals are very old skool and do-it-yourself. Manual gearbox, lever for a handbrake, it’s all still there.
I have to get three other people in the Swift today and, amazingly, they all fit without becoming squashed or herniated. It’s a roomy little car and, since this model is five door only now, one that’s easily get-in-and-outable. The boot’s not massive, but it’s big enough for normal everyday stuff. If you’re habitually moving around vintage armoires buy a Volvo 245 DL.
A chance to give the Swift a bit of a thrashing and the news here is good. There’s a lively feeling to it at normal speeds that doesn’t evaporate when you want to get on it. The star of this is the engine which has more low-down and middle-of-the-range grunt than Swift Sports of the past yet, amazingly for a turbo motor, still wants to rev and keeps pulling as it does so. Also, the throttle response is really good, such that it’s a piece of helmswright piss to give a little blip of revs with the side of your foot as you change down under braking. Also, the gearchange is slick and the handling is generally very amusing, having lots of front end grip that then dissolves into a little sensation of a four-wheel drift as the tyres’ purchase bleeds away, after which it seems to get a bit raggedy. Oh, and I haven’t told you about the ride. The ride is really good. Firm but never bumpy and nasty, it feels like some very thoughtful tuning has gone on here, and probably some quite expensive shock absorbers. You want a car that makes you smile, this car will make you smile. And do 45mpg at the same time. The fact that it weighs just 975 kilos probably helps there.
Another motorway run. In an old nat-asp Swift Sport you’d perhaps have to change down a gear to surge confidently past someone who’d just got the message and moved to the left. In this you can just squeeze it and it goes. Thanks turbo.
They’ve slapped a load of tech on this car, including an infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay. Which doesn’t always connect. But when it does, it works well and spares you the normal graphics on the big touch screen which are a bit cheap and nasty, like the skin applied to Android software by a mobile phone maker you’ve never heard of. It’s a shame because the rest of the interior is pretty good. Not oh-my-God-is-this-an-Audi-A8? sort of good, but serviceable and sensible. And I like the way only the rev counter gets a jazzy red band around it. It suggests this car has been signed off by people who care, as does the presence of a little digital oil temp gauge in the display between the dials. Only people who give a shit about driving worry about oil temperature.
The Swift is going and I’m sad about this because I like it very much. Knowing and loving the old Swift Sports as I did, this feels like more of the same in the best possible way. But now with more low-down oomph, more gadgets and a bit more refinement. I’m sure if you drove all three generations back to back you’d find this higher bar of grown up-ness is at the expense of a tiny bit of rawness and edge, but in isolation this never feels like anything less than a fun, fizzy, happy little car. Unfortunately, there is one change over previous Sport models and that’s the price. In the past, one of the things that made these cars extra appealing was how much, or rather how little, they cost. But, thanks to the current Pound-Yen exchange rate, Suzuki can’t keep giving these things away, especially since Swifts are now made in Japan because high Vitara demand has driven them from their old home in Suzuki’s Hungarian factory. That’s why this new model is a quid shy of 18 grand. In the general scheme of things not a deranged amount of cash, not when the most basic Golf is £18,340 and Nissan Qashqais start at £19,300. But close enough to 20 grand to make it seem like a chunky amount of money for a little car. If it was £15,000 it would seem like a steal for all the practicality and equipment and sheer fun you get but it’s funny how part of a car’s appeal can be so linked to that final, value for money part of the equation. And while the new Sport doesn’t seem like a rip-off, nor does it feel like it’s got VFM on its side. Which is a shame, because all the other Swift Sport values are present and correct. And they are, as ever, really very likeable.
The car talked about here is a Suzuki Swift Sport. It has a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 138 horsepower. It has a claimed 0-62 time of 8.1 seconds and a top speed of 130mph. It costs £17,999.