Reading the spec sheet for the Suzuki Swift Sport, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd been transported back to the 1980s. As hot hatches go, a 1.6-litre normally aspirated engine developing 123 bhp and a 0-60 time of just under nine seconds is hardly headline writing stuff. Back in the day, the Swift Sport would have been tempting buyers away from the likes of Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot and Volkswagen.
You'd also be forgiven for questioning the wisdom of road testing a car that has been available in the UK for over four years and is very much in the twilight of its career. But to hell with common sense. All I care about is that the Swift Sport was launched to rave reviews in 2006 and is held in high esteem by those in the know.
But time moves on and the Swift Sport no longer makes the shortlist of those looking for a reasonably priced little rocket. On the evidence of my week with the car, there are a lot of people missing out.
Let me start by saying that I don't think I've ever made so many excuses to drive a car as I did with the Swift Sport. I was constantly looking for opportunities to go for a quick drive. Oh dear, we're out of logs and the Swift is parked in front of the log store. No worries, I'll just move it.
Ten minutes later I'd arrive back following a quick blast up the lanes. I'd have probably got away with it had I actually returned with some logs! Then there's the copious amount of milk I drank during the week. Oh dear, we're out of milk. No worries, I'll just pop to Waitrose. Seriously, my calcium levels must be off the scale.
The point I'm making here is that the Swift Sport is the perfect reminder of why we enjoy a bloody good drive. To stand a chance in a game of hot hatch Top Trumps, you really need a supercharger or turbocharger or possibly even both.
You'll also need 200 horses and enough toys to shame your local branch of Toys R Us. If you're playing hot hatch Top Trumps and you have the Swift Sport in your pack, then good luck. That is of course unless there's a category for fun. In which case, you hold all the aces.
I was recently waxing lyrical about the Volkswagen DSG gearbox and how it adds a new layer of enjoyment to a drive. But drive the Swift Sport and you'll remember why you're not quite ready to give up a standard 'box. The car's five-speed gearbox is attached to a short, stubby gear stick, which despite not delivering the sweetest change I've experienced, still manages to delight with every spirited up and downshift.
Combine this with wonderfully supportive racing seats and a glorious leather-trimmed steering wheel and you've got the makings of a very good little hot hatch. But how does it perform where it matters, out on the road?
Well, for this Dawn Raid I decided to take the car to the Lizard point in Cornwall, which just happens to be the country's most southerly point. I figured that for a car that's named after a bird that flies south for the winter, I should at least get as far south as possible without getting extremely wet. Tenuous? Perhaps. Wet? Oh yes.
Such was the weather for this Dawn Raid that I seriously contemplated fitting a snorkel and flippers. In near monsoon conditions, I made my way through the Cornish lanes and on to my destination at the Lizard. Wet leaves, huge puddles, heavy rain and even sleet tested the Swift to the limit, but not once did it lose traction or grip. In fact, over the whole week I had it, the little car never failed me. I began to wonder if I was driving a Scalextric car with added magnatraction.
The Swift coped with the conditions in a manner which would shame many larger cars. This is of course helped by the modest power being fed through the front wheels, but even so. This car deserves great credit. It never actually feels that small with a general feeling of space inside the cabin.
Crucially, you don't get the feeling that you've been shortchanged when it comes to the interior quality either. The plastics on the dashboard and the doors are a little scratchy, but certainly not offensive. More impressive is the quality of the switches and dials which are reassuringly good. In fact, the climate control dial turns and clicks in a way reminiscent of a bank safe. A minor point perhaps, but if they put this much effort into a dial, it bodes well for the rest of the car.
Junior kicks start
But back to the road, as this is where the Swift Sport really excels. Show the car your favourite stretch of B-road and it will repay you with an involving and highly entertaining drive. You could argue that the Swift suffers from a lack of feedback through the steering, but such is the nature of the car's cornering ability that you soon learn how the car behaves. It turns in beautifully with the front end digging in and allowing the back end to follow enthusiastically behind.
You have to remember that the Swift Sport's uprated chassis was developed in the Junior World Rally Championship and is further enhanced by uprated springs and dampers. The ventilated front disc brakes give confidence as you head into a corner. A fact that can be testified by at least two rabbits on the Dawn Raid. At least they might do if they could talk. Rest assured though, they owe their lives to the strength of the Swift's brakes.
Performance wise, the Swift is best described as brisk rather than fast. The engine's peak torque comes at 4,800 rpm so you soon learn that to get the best out of the Swift, it needs to be revved hard. It responds with a wonderfully raspy exhaust note that encourages you to keep the revs up to maintain momentum. Don't be fooled, the Swift loves to be driven hard. Just don't expect to be achieving anywhere near the claimed 39.8 mpg if you do. Take my advice though - don't even try to drive it sedately. As soon as you've discovered just how good the Swift is to drive on the limit, you'll want more and like a drug, you'll find it hard not to play.
The Swift Sport looks good too, with an almost perfect stance helped by a classic 'wheel at each corner' design. The stylish 17" alloys fill the arches to perfection with the flared arches and black A and B pillars completing a side profile that certainly passes the shop window reflection test. I'd actually go as far as to say that from many angles, the Swift Sport is one of the best looking hot hatches on the market.
At the back, the roof spoiler is complemented by a redesigned bumper housing twin exhausts. And around the front, the bespoke bumper includes a large air dam and front fog lights. Perfect for the special rally stage look. Oh and the Swift Sport most definitely looks best in white. Fact.
At this point in the review, you might be wondering what the negatives are. Surely it can't all be chocolate and roses in the land of the Swift? Well actually yes, it is. The good thing about reviewing a car that's been out for four years is that you get a chance to see what goes wrong further down the line.
To help out I got in touch with the helpful and enthusiastic bunch at the Swift Owners Club. Expecting a string of complaints I was instead faced with a feeling that the owners were having to hunt high and low for real niggles. And by niggles, I mean things like squeaking seats, a windscreen that chips easily and thin paint. The Swift also comes with an annoying driver's seat that doesn't return to the same position once you've moved it forward to allow access to the rear seats. An annoyance but one that is shared with many other Japanese cars.
So to conclude, the Suzuki Swift is a delight to drive, a joy to own and likely to give years of trouble free motoring. At £12,700 it also represents tremendous value for money. But you don't have to pay that much. Early Sports can be picked up for as little as £5,000 and don't forget, these cars are barely out of warranty. In a sector where retro is apparently cool, Suzuki has unwittingly created a brilliant little car that captures the magic of the halcyon days associated with eighties hot hatches. With values of good MKII Golfs and 205 GTis similar to that of an early Swift Sport, buyers now have a credible alternative to a 25-year-old classic.
Would I buy one? Like hell, I would. In fact, it currently tops the list of cars I want to buy in 2011. The 80s are back and I love it.
Suzuki Swift Sport
Engine: 1.6 VVT
Power: 123 bhp
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Basic price: £12,740
Price as tested: £12,740