There are many who will say that a car with a mere 134bhp does not qualify as a hot hatch, and that a 0-62mph time of 8.7 seconds is simply too slow to ever feel exciting. We can’t help thinking a quick go in a Suzuki Swift Sport would begin to change their minds.
For here is a car that takes everything that is brilliant about the hot hatch formula, and then wraps it up in a package that is both affordable and accessible. Think of it as a Japanese take on the Peugeot 205 XS or Ford Fiesta Zetec S and you’re on the right track – a track, indeed, that leads to an awful lot of fun.
In this guide we are concentrating on the generation of Swift Sport sold between 2011 and 2017, initially as a three-door, and then followed later by a five-door. The former cost what is still an unbelievably cheap £13,499 when new, and is now down to around half that price as a used buy with a reasonable 50,000 miles or so on the clock.
For that you get a naturally aspirated petrol engine of 1.6 litres, lowered suspension, quick steering and a sporty bodykit. That the engine produces its maximum power at 7,000rpm tells you a lot about the rev-happy character of this car, a trait it’s easy to make the most of thanks to the snappy and precise six-speed manual gearbox.
Equipment levels are good too. All Swift Sports come with climate control, power folding mirrors, keyless entry, Bluetooth and cruise control. Being so light (the kerb weight is just 1045kg) it’s also refreshingly frugal for a hot hatch, with more than 40mpg on the cards if you drive gently. Road tax meanwhile is £155 per year and it’s even relatively cheap to insure thanks to its group 19 rating.
Fizzing, enthusiastic and playful without ever being frightening, the Swift Sport is the perfect antidote for anybody who has grown tired of the seemingly endless power war in the hot hatch class. Better still, because it’s only got 134bhp you can enjoy every last ounce of performance without putting your licence at risk, savouring the razor-sharp throttle response as that little engine spins away up front.
As with any great hot hatch it’s not just about the engine, but the handling too, the first impression of which is the beautifully weighted, direct steering that has the car darting into corners with unbridled enthusiasm. Once there you’ll note that the chassis demonstrates not only tenacious grip but also a rare adjustability depending what you do with the throttle and brake pedals so that you can make the car move underneath you, all the while clamped in place by the excellent (if slightly high-mounted) sports seats.
Tightly controlled suspension helps here, but by the same token the Swift Sport never feels overly firm, thanks in part to sitting on relatively modest 17-inch wheels. Imagine a Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup with a third less power and a third less grip but a similar sense of harmony to its controls and you’ll have some idea of what the Swift Sport feels like to drive.
It gets better too, because while this Swift Sport’s predecessor was also hugely entertaining to drive, the lack of a sixth gear made it a buzz box on the motorway. No such problems with this follow-up model, which is a much happier long distance companion, if still no executive cruiser.
Before you even think about the usual checks for kerbed wheels (easy to do on the Swift Sport) and a full service history, it is vital to assess whether Suzuki’s pocket rocket is large enough for your needs. For while it might look Ford Fiesta-sized on the outside, the boot is small, to the point where you’ll struggle to fit a weekly shop. Space for a couple of passengers in the rear seats is slightly better, with access helped if you go for the five door.
In the event you come across a notchy or noisy gearbox a change of oil can help, plus be sure to test the handbrake holds the car on a hill, and look for premium brand tyres as a sign that a previous owner has spent some money on the car. As for any major mechanical concerns, this little Suzuki is so far proving to be very reliable, and so as long as you find a car that’s clearly been cared for – including evidence of servicing every 9000 miles – then you’d be unlucky to experience any major headaches.
What might bother you is the interior’s tendency to squeak, creak and rattle as the car gets older, for which you can blame plastics that feel as cheap as they look. Sometimes these noises can be fixed, whereas other times owners just learn to live with them as a quirk of the car.
If you want sat-nav and a DAB radio you’ll need to look for a car registered from 2014 onwards. Using the relevant filter on the CarGurus search panel will do the hard work for you.
For something a little different the rare SZ-R model (pictured) was a special edition for the UK only featuring two-tone Cosmic Black and Ablaze Red paintwork, red stitching for the interior and a numbered plaque on the sill as you open the door. With only 100 built it could take a while to find one, however.
All that’s left is to consider whether you can convince yourself and others that for all of its puppy-like enthusiasm the Swift Sport really does qualify as a hot hatch. Then again, you’ll be having so much fun behind the wheel that you probably just won’t care.
Suzuki Swift Sport
Power: 134bhp @ 7000rpm/118lb ft @ 4400rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
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