Review: The Suzuki Swift Sport Is a Delightfully Odd Tiny Hot Hatch
Small, sporty hatchbacks are a rarity nowadays—but that’s not to say they don’t exist.
As a small, sporty hatchback, the Suzuki Swift Sport is an oddball anomaly. Gone are the days of cheap and cheerful, fun-to-drive cars, their slots in automakers' lineups having been taken over by SUVs. Demand for small cars has dwindled globally (perhaps because there are fewer of them), but this Suzukirefuses to let that get it down.
Available in Japan, Australia, and Europe, among other markets, the third-generation Swift Sport is one of the last extra-small and fun hatchbacks in production today. There's not much competition from the Japanese companies, as Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Mitsubishi, or even Daihatsu don't offer a small performance hatch. Nissan sits at the table with the Note NISMO S, and Volkswagen, too, with its Up! GTI. But that's pretty much it.
What It Is: The Swift Sport is smaller than a VW Golf but it's not so small to be considered a kei car by Japanese standards. That said, being roughly the same size as a Toyota Yaris, there isn't a ton of space inside. You'll get four adults in the Swift, although taller people might struggle with rear legroom, while the cargo area can accommodate four soft bags. At ¥1,870,000 (around $17,000) new—our test car cost ¥2,250,000 ($20,530) with options—the Swift Sport is an astoundingly affordable performance package, and the list of standard and available equipment includes a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist, and automatic high beams, which for a car in this price range is quite generous. (In some markets, the Swift Sport is sold as a well-equipped monospec model.)
Powertrain: Don't expect big numbers from this little car. The 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder packs 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, but that's enough to punt it from zero to 60 mph in something like eight seconds, according to Suzuki, although we're sure that's a bit conservative. Of course, it won't strain your neck muscles with accelerative might, but it achieves freeway speeds easily and rewards momentum driving. The Swift Sport is available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, although why anyone would go for the latter is beyond us. The manual isn't the most polished gearbox in the world, but it does the job well enough and rowing gears while you cane something this size feels entirely appropriate.
How It Drives: Weighing in at only 2,200 pounds or so, the Swift Sport feels light on its feet and is fun in a refreshingly simple way. There are few fancy gadgets or gizmos to take away from the driver's involvement with the car, there's no pretentious fake exhaust noise emitted by the audio system, and it's pure old-school fun. Throw the Swift Sport into a corner and you feel the front wheels dive in with an urgency you don't get in many heavier hot hatches, and its cornering attitude is playful and friendly—this car won't bite you whether you're attacking a twisty mountain road or . Should you work it beyond its limits, though, it'll let you know with a hint of easily recovered understeer. This is a car that works with you as a driver. The feelsome and communicative steering is surprisingly heavy given that most Japanese cars tend to have ultralight steering to ease urban driving; we were just fine with the weight but might have preferred a smaller-diameter steering wheel. That's what the aftermarket is for, we suppose.
Would It Work in the U.S.?: If we pretend Suzuki is still selling cars here, the Swift Sport would certainly appeal to a niche market looking for cheap fun. It would make a great first car for anyone with a remote interest in driving, or a nice runabout for city dwellers. It's a highly appealing package that's affordable to buy and run.
Verdict: While it's easy to dismiss cars that lack big, headline-grabbing numbers, stuff like the Swift Sport should be celebrated. They're a gateway to enthusiasm and passion, introducing drivers to a way of life that might eventually lead to, say, a VW GTI or BMW M3. Also, just look at it. How can you say no to something this cute?
|Suzuki Swift Sport Specifications|
|BASE PRICE||$17,000 (Japan)|
|ENGINE||1.4L DOHC 16-valve turbocharged I-4; 160 hp, 170 lb-ft|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback|
|L x W x H||153.1 x 68.3 x 58.9 in|
|WEIGHT||2,150 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||7.9 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph (mfr)|