The new Suzuki Swift Sport is more of an evolution than a revolution. Suzuki has taken the same basic recipe for the previous Sport, made a few tweaks here and there and created what a marketer may call a ‘new and improved’ car. I’ve never really understood that phrase, but in the case of the Swift Sport, it seems to work.
As I discovered on the European launch last year, the new car is in many ways a massive improvement on the old model. Apologies for repeating myself, but the new Swift Sport is quicker, lighter, bigger and more powerful. It’s also more fuel efficient and produces less CO2 emissions.
Case closed then? The new Swift Sport is the one to have? Well no, not really. Despite spending a fantastic week with the new car, I still can’t shake the feeling that the old car is better. I know I’m probably a lone voice and it’s a highly subjective opinion, but I didn’t quite fall head over heels for the new car in the same way as I did with the old one. Allow me to explain.
Maybe it’s a classic symptom of a first love? Within seconds of getting behind the wheel of the old car I was smitten. All I wanted to do from that point onwards was drive. Destinations became irrelevant. Estimated times of arrival became a fuzzy haze. Taking the long way home became the norm and my fridge was full of pints of milk I didn’t really need.
With the new Swift Sport, there was no instant attraction. For a start, I don’t think the new car looks as good as the old one. Perhaps the red paintwork of my test car doesn’t help, but the old car somehow looks more balanced and more in proportion. Original is most certainly best.
Once inside, the Swift Sport is rather familiar. If anything, it would be easy to criticise the interior for being a little too conservative. Aside from the red stitching and detailing, it’s a rather sombre affair. But just like the old car, the lack of adventure soon becomes highly appealing. The simplicity is refreshing, the ergonomics are superb and you get the distinct impression that it will be highly durable. But if I may be hypercritical for a moment, it would be nice if the gear knob was leather to match the delightful steering wheel.
Of course, talking about the car’s looks and interior is a mere sideshow in comparison to the driving experience. On the B-roads of Britain is where the new Swift Sport is going to earn its stripes. So how does it do?
In a word, brilliantly. Almost everything I liked about the old car have been carried over to the new model. I’m still not convinced that the 6-speed gearbox is as nice to use as the old 5-speed, but it really doesn’t matter. Such is the way the Swift Sport delivers its fun on a B-road, the gearbox could be as good as a stick in a bucket for all I care.
My initial disappointment with the car was soon washed away by the realisation that the Swift Sport just loves to be thrashed. Like its predecessor, the Sport’s sweet spot can be found at higher revs, above 4,000 to be precise, with the 6-speed box meaning there’s one extra gear to shift through. The sweet exhaust note only serves to encourage enthusiastic driving and regular downshifts.
Barely 24 hours after the car was delivered I pressed it into action on the Dawn Refuelling run to Pentillie Castle. Initially I was concerned that putting it at the front of a group of cars that included the likes of a Porsche 993 bi-turbo, Nissan GT-R and Mégane R26 would be a mistake. I needn’t have worried. The Swift Sport was fantastic. My heart was beating faster, the adrenalin was pumping and the little Suzuki gave me the best drive I’d had in many months.
The consensus of opinion that morning was that the Swift Sport is a cracking car. Steve in the Mégane commented that he had to work hard to keep up with the Swift, with everyone raising an eyebrow or two. Its relatively lowly 136bhp may look small on paper, but out there, on typically British A and B-roads it certainly wasn’t out of place. And this is the point. In the real world, the Swift Sport can deliver thrills that a supercar simply cannot match. Make no mistake, the Swift Sport is no lukewarm hatch. It’s the real deal.
It’s such a communicative little thing. The steering is sharp, the turn-in is good and the levels of grip are high. The car is deliciously willing to impress, with the rear wheels obediently following the front pair, making cornering properly exciting. The ride is composed, with even the most potted of B-roads failing to upset the car’s balance and rhythm. Body roll is almost non-existent, with the whole car feeling much more stable than the old one. I put this down to its supportive front seats and its wider and longer dimensions. The pay off is that the new car feels ever so slightly less chuckable than the old car. Less playful and less retro in feel. It’s not by much, but it’s definitely noticeable.
And perhaps it’s this decreased playfulness that makes the difference. In almost every way, the new Swift Sport is an improvement on the old car. The sixth gear makes a massive difference, ensuring the car has greater all round appeal. On long distances, the Suzuki is much better, feeling more refined, more comfortable and more relaxed on motorways. It helps the economy too. Across an entire week of (cough) spirited driving, the average fuel economy never dropped below 40mpg. Other reports suggest that figures of mid to high 40s aren’t out of the question. That’s genuinely very impressive.
What’s more, unlike the old car, the new Swift Sport is less choosy when it comes to petrol. You can safely put a tank of 95 RON in the new car and it won’t kick up a fuss. So the new car will undoubtedly be cheaper to run.
It gets a lot of attention too. And I mean A LOT. During the week I had it, many people remarked on how special it looks and it received unanimous praise from all who came into contact with it. Even my local farmer, who hasn’t once commented on any of the cars parked outside my house, made a point of asking me about it, going on to say it would be perfect for the local lanes. I couldn’t agree more. His weather forecasts may be abysmal, but he clearly knows a good car when he sees one.
On a long trip to Legoland on the A303, the car also turned more heads than any other car I’ve reviewed. On the queue to leave Legoland in the evening, oncoming drivers were craning their necks to take a closer look at the Suzuki. Seriously, Pippa Middleton riding a Ducati NCR M16 would have received less attention. The Sport’s side profile is the most successful, with the 17″ alloys nicely filling the arches and the tinted rear window and cheeky roof spoiler completing the look. The back is equally impressive, with the twin exhausts and rear bumper subtly enhancing the looks over the standard model. In fact, its the front that’s the least effective, although the headlights and fog lights look neat.
And yet, despite all of this, I’d still choose the old car. Yes, the new car is bigger. Yes, the new car is lighter. Yes, it’s less harmful to polar bears. Yes, the new car will be cheaper to run. And yes, it will ultimately appeal to a wider audience than before. And this is good news.
But in growing up, the Swift Sport has lost that tiny bit of immaturity that made it special. It now has a conscience and an increased sense of responsibility.
It makes more sense in 2012 and if you’re looking to buy a new sub-£15k hot hatch, it has to top your list of options. It’s a brilliant little car and for me at least, a better choice than the MINI Cooper or Abarth 500.
What’s more, having now tested it in Britain, I’d choose it over the Renaultsport Twingo. It’s a better everyday proposition and easily transforms from behaving like a terrier on a B-road warrior to a refined motorway cruiser.
But my money is still on the all singing, all dancing and delightfully retro previous Swift Sport. I love its old school charm and cheeky nature.
And if it sounds illogical to recommend an old car over a new and improved model, welcome to PetrolBlog. Nothing is quite what it seems around here.
2012 Suzuki Swift Sport
Details of scoring can be seen here.