JOHANNESBURG - Must admit I was quite intrigued by the latest generation Suzuki Swift Sport when I first read about its switchover to turbo power, and even a little nervous on its behalf…

Sure, the previous generations of this ‘warm’ hatchback, with their high-revving normally aspirated 1.6-litre engines, weren’t particularly fast. But such was the overall entertainment factor that you didn’t need silly speeds to have tons of fun behind the wheel.

But with this latest generation of Swift Sport you can now have the speed, albeit without the revviness. The usual turbo trade-off, then. It might not be a lot more powerful than its predecessor, with the 1.4 turbo’s 103kW tally making it just three kilowatts stronger, but torque is up 44 percent to 230Nm, and it's available at just 2500rpm. You now have virtual altitude immunity too, and as a significant added bonus, the new Swift Sport weighs 90kg less than before, tipping the scales at just 970kg.

Both the manual and auto versions will now get to 100km/h in just eight seconds at the coast, according to Suzuki, which means the Swift Sport is now closer than ever to being an outright ‘hot hatch’.

I got to spend some quality time with the new Swift Sport at Redstar Raceway during its official media launch back in July, and more recently I spent a week with it in the regular daily grind in Joburg, and I’m pleased to report that this new species of Sport comfortably adapts to both environments.

I sampled both the six-speed manual and six-speed torque converter automatic versions at Redstar, and the car impressed with its agility as well as its engine response and overall performance. It could get up to some pretty high speeds even on a tight circuit like that, and although it does understeer at the limit in typical front-wheel-drive fashion, its overall chuckability and punchy, lag-free performance ensured that I hung my helmet with a big smile on my face after the session was over. 

But how fun is it in the everyday urban grind? The auto model that I got to know over a week recently ticked all the right boxes for me. 

But most importantly it still felt sporty. It’s those little things that remind you that you’re in something special no matter how dull the journey, from the body-hugging but comfortable bucket seats to the rorty exhaust note and the solid feel of the driving controls.

The Sport-specific suspension set-up is firm, but not enough to make the ride uncomfortable, and as a ‘daily’ this car is both entertaining as well as comfortable - particularly if you opt for the auto. There’s no CVT misery here like there is in many other Japanese cars these days - just a smooth-shifting six-speed autobox, which you can also micro-manage through steering-mounted paddles. 

Suzuki has also done a reasonable job on the interior decor, with a number of red trim strips and stitching as well as unique instrumentation and alloy pedals - although the plastics are still hard and scratchy. 

Standard features include automatic climate control, cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel and Suzuki’s 17.8cm touchscreen infotainment system, which I found to be user-friendly barring for lack of a conventional volume knob. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also part of the deal here. 

As for the Sport’s external features, you don’t have to worry about your car being mistaken for the 1.2-litre mass-market Swifts, as the Sport goes peacock in a number of ways. It does this with a unique front bumper with a much bolder honeycomb grille, ‘diamond cut’ 16-inch alloy wheels, carbon-look lower spoilers all around the car, as well as a roof spoiler and bolder back bumper with a larger diffuser, which houses a pair of mean-looking exhaust pipes.

VERDICT

There is a feelgood factor here that you just don’t get in many modern cars, and the new Swift Sport is also comfortable to live with on a daily basis, as well as more practical than its size suggests, thanks to Suzuki’s clever platform packaging.

It might seem on expensive side, at R315 900 for the manual and R335 900 for the auto, but it is still quite a bit cheaper than its closest rival, the Opel Corsa GSI, which sells for R365 900, as well as the more powerful Volkswagen Polo GTI, which now commands R398 400.

IOL Motoring