| 2022 Suzuki Swift Sport review |
Ever more stringent emissions laws means even the most efficient cars must adapt to survive. But the Swift Sport has always been about simple, honest thrills. Does the fun factor still remain with the adoption of hybrid technology?
By Craig Toone | Photography by Andrew Ambrose
he warm hatch is a vitally important sub category of cars. They’ve been around almost as long as hatches with more firepower under the bonnet, professing to have equal sporting intent, but forever living in the shadow of the big guns. Owning one is an important stepping stone for the young car enthusiast who wants to experience engaging motoring without the crippling insurance premium, or a refreshing reset for the experienced driver who’s grown tired of the horsepower war. If a warm hatch fails to inspire, it could be the end of the road in that particular four-wheeled obsession.
Champions of the breed have come and gone, but since the mid 2000s the one constant has always been Suzuki’s sublime Swift Sport. Yet 2022’s Sport is a rather different animal from the one that first stole our hearts. Stringent emissions laws has meant the sweet and eager 1.6L four has been downsized and turbocharged, supplemented by a 48v hybrid system.
On top of that, EU meddling means the car now comes equipped with all manner of safety systems - blind spot assist, lane change assist and automatic collision avoidance, while the media system occasionally barks hazard warnings at you. It sounds like a recipe for weight gain and the complete antithesis of honest, carefree driving pleasure. Can the Sports cheeky character survive the increasing influence of the bureaucrats? Spending a week with one should either confirm or allay these fears.
Straight away the exterior of the Sport strikes the right tone. The five spoke, 17” alloys look sharp and the subtle body kit, wrapped in matte carbon, adds a touch of aggression alongside the rear spoiler and twin exhausts. It’s a well proportioned car that just sits a fraction too high, despite a suspension overhaul that drops the ride height 15mm compared to the cooking Swift.
I also rather like the interior of the Sport. For sure, it's not going to light the fire of those fixated by soft touch plastics, but the standard bucket seats hug you in all the right places, the steering wheel looks and feels great whilst dark red highlights and a ‘piano wood’ effect centre console add a stylish element. I’m also pleased to see the touchscreen (including Apple CarPlay) is located within the dashboard rather than mounted upon it. Alongside the distraction, this current on trend eyesore is something we feel will age badly - graphics always do.
Perhaps that's why I’m also getting too excited about seeing proper, analogue dials. Two main pods (one rev counter, one speedometer) are well executed on a satin grey background with maroon highlights, and inserted within each one is a smaller secondary dial to cover fuel and water temperature. Between the two sits a small digital display giving the impression of a sporting chronograph watch.
The only oddity is the rather optimistic peak readings - the rev counter counts to 8,000rpm and the speedometer reaches 160mph, yet it all feels part of the charm. This is an interior that makes a rival Mini feel rather try-hard. It also has to be said that the overall build quality is superb and all the big car toys are present, such as radar cruise control, climate control, automatic headlights, rear parking camera and parking sensors.
There are drawbacks however, and the first major flaw rears its head in the driving position, which is far too high - my eyeline is only a couple of inches below the sloping roofline (despite having ample headroom) and my ankles are pitched at an acute angle to operate the pedals. It brings to mind sitting in a Golf buggy. Another is the decision to insert some of the ‘piano wood’ into the bottom half of the steering wheel. It certainly looks flash, but it also looks rather prone to scratches from a fancy set of nails or a wedding ring.
The good news is restored by the powertrain, for the mild hybrid system only acts like the blank tile in a game of Scrabble, filling in the gap below 2,000rpm before the turbocharger comes on song. Think of it as electronic anti-lag, our sort of green technology. Otherwise the duties of the 48v system are to act as a starter motor, take care of electricity generation, and offer a coasting mode during motorway driving, all powered by scavenging energy via regenerative braking. Once you become accustomed to the feeling of strong engine braking when coasting, the integration of the technology is seamless. All in, the technology saves a potential 129kg of CO2 in a year compared to the previous Sport.
Being a warm hatch, you’d think this is the sort of vehicle where you’ll pay little attention to the performance figures, but such is the sheer roll-on pull of the thing I simply refuse to believe the quoted 0-60mph time of 9.1s is anything but sandbagging by Suzuki. The Sport has an indecent turn of pace in give and take driving, acquiring another 20-30mph faster than the cookie monster empties a jar of his favourite triple choc chips. I would love to see the in-gear figures, for I would certainly be more confident executing an overtake in the punchy Swift than I would in my much faster on paper Renault Clio 200. The performance certainly falls off sharply above 80mph, but I am not in the least bit surprised to note What Car? has recorded a Sport taking seven seconds dead to reach 60mph. Keep chasing the horizon and the Swift will eventually touch 130mph.
The key to this surprising turn of pace is a featherweight kerb weight of 1,025kg, motivated by a turbocharged, mild hybrid 1.4 litre, four-cylinder engine. That's a lot of effort to make a humble 129bhp (delivered at 5,500rpm), meaning the “booster jet” engine is developing a mere 92bhp/litre, all in the name of emissions. But the flipside is an abundance of torque - a strong 173lb/ft maximum generated at just 2,000rpm. In fact, the little Swift puts a lot of heroic hot hatches in the shade in terms of torque-to-weight ratio, and actually matches today's default choice, the Fiesta ST with 169lb.ft/tonne. Not bad for a ‘warm’ hatch.
Of course, this means the performance of the Swift is front loaded, the engine giving its best before 5,000rpm. That doesn’t mean it drives like a turbid turbo diesel, it’ll still respond and spin keenly to 6,000, but there is little reward in terms of thrust so the most enjoyable technique is to short shift at 5,500rpm and surf the torque once again. The slick and tightly spaced 6sp gearbox also helps you keep things on the boil. One curiosity is the rev counter, which is red lined at 6,250rpm, but all the engine will give is 6,000.
Attack some corners and it soon becomes clear Suzuki has set this car up to be ultra friendly and accessible, with an overall handling balance of absolute neutrality. Those 17” alloys are wrapped in modest 195 section rubber, meaning ultimate grip levels aren’t sky high, and combined with the low mass this results in very progressive behaviour.
The steering also toes the composure line, having a reassuring amount of weight to it but little in the way of feedback - such is the achilles heel of an electric rack - while the gearbox and clutch have a light and slick action. Driven hard enough, the body will start to roll, but it is the tyres, not the chassis, that succumbs to pressure first. At the limit the car leans heavily on the sidewalls, which compress easily and the car ‘folds’ into unpleasant understeer. The trait is reined in quickly and cleanly, but you’ve learned not to venture to that zone again - this is an eight tenths car that you steer around a corner in one smooth swoop of the wheel, almost guiding it with your fingertips.
Driven thus, the Swift is immense fun threading through narrow country lanes or making the most of that clear roundabout, complete with a little protest from the tyres on exit as you ride that mid-range thrust. I would love to try a Sport on some more focused tyres - whilst the standard fit Continental Sport Contact 5 are performance orientated, they have been around for over five years now and the game has moved on.
Certainly a switch to something sharper such as a Michelin PS4 would eliminate this behaviour. Purposely try and induce some lift off oversteer and the most the Sport will do is tuck its nose back into line progressively rather than snap into an immediate correction. In this instance, the Sport loosely reminds me of the Fiat Panda 100HP taking part in the Hot Hatch War elsewhere in this issue, only one that's been through a medieval stretching rack.
One minor frustration is the initial bite of the brake pedal, which has at least an inch and a half of soft travel before the true bite begins. This is likely a deliberate move to smooth out the effect of the regenerative braking during regular driving, but the consequence is left foot braking becomes nigh on impossible to judge, and heel and toe takes some practice. In more expressive cars this might become a problem, but it is of little concern in the neutral Swift.
For some keen drivers, a bigger potential pitfall is Suzuki appears to have put all its eggs in the sub NSL speed limit basket, and the team is divided over this one. The rift is caused by a complete dominance of tyre roar originating from the rear of the car above 70mph, which is loud enough to suffocate any encouragement given by the engine. The zesty spirit that got you up to this speed in the first place suddenly evaporates. The good news is this means the swift isn’t a rowdy sod when zipping down the high street, which is refreshing in an era of artificial pops and bangz, but it’s a potential deal breaker for those who enjoy sustained performance on the open road.
That tyre noise also becomes a nuisance on a motorway cruise too, meaning you have to dial the volume up more than expected on the media system, whose speakers could do with a bit more clout. Tuning into my favourite podcast streamed via my phone, I had to set the volume to twenty out of thirty for it to become audible. Again it's a simple but intrusive fault that could be cured with a change of rubber, because otherwise the refinement is superb for a supermini, and while the ride quality is taut, it’s never jarring.
Across a week of mixed driving that included stop-start commuting, motorway runs and two specific journeys to our favourite North West roads for general road testing tomfoolery, the Swift simply refused to give anything worse than 45mpg. Remarkable. Again, bringing up my own Clio 200 as a reference point, from a £47 tank of fuel the Swift covered 325 miles. The last Renault top-up cost £87 and the trip computer offered me a range starting with a two.
Such results trigger the man maths calculator, over my 12,000 yearly average, the Swift would save me £1,428 - or £119 per month in fuel. Now subtract that from the monthly PCP of £235 and the actual cost (to me at least) for a brand new car complete with all the toys and a warranty is £116, and I’ve already spent more than that maintaining the Clio in this calendar year. Bring road tax in as a factor, and the outlay gets closer to £100/month. Compared to the dedication required to commute in my Clio, the Suzuki is like a magic carpet ride.
Previously the Sport has attracted criticism for its list price of £22,580, but currently Suzuki is offering a £2,000 contribution as a part of the above PCP example, making it great value once more. Overall, the Swift Sport isn’t a car for the get up at 5am and drive to the Yorkshire Dales brigade, and whilst that remains the primary focus of this magazine, we have to recognise fitness for purpose. This is a warm hatch, one that thrives in the real world with traffic, speed limits, spiralling costs of living and general misery, all while putting a smile on your face - a sparse commodity in this day and age.
It's not perfect with the flawed driving position and soggy tyres, but it receives our full endorsement for its pure joy factor and honest motoring. Rather than smothering the driving experience with a dull throttle and 1,001 safety gadgets, the new hybrid technology is keeping the fire alive. For a keen driver, a second hand Fiesta ST remains the more focused machine, but it’s certainly worth trying a Swift Sport before you sign on the dotted line.
| 2022 SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT |
1,373cc turbocharged inline four, mild hybrid, 16v, max 6,000rpm
129bhp @ 5,500rpm, 173lb.ft @ 2,000rpm
1,025kg, bhp/tonne 126, lb.ft/tonne 169
6sp manual, fwd, open differential
0.60 – 9.1s, max – 130mph
List price £22,570