AT FIRST glance you'd be forgiven for thinking that the new Swift Sport was little more than a facelifted version of the old one, but there's a lot more going on than meets the eye in this junior hot hatch.
Since it went on sale in 2006 it's picked up something of a cult following, and everyone who drove it – journalists and the public alike – absolutely loved it. Admittedly the new one looks quite similar, but it's an all-new package with more power, lower emissions and a slightly different set of dimensions. Here's where we find out whether it's any better than before.
It's 10mm longer and the front wheels are 10mm further apart. The rear wheels are 5mm further apart and 50mm has gone into the wheelbase. Thankfully, it hasn't spoiled the delightful natural agility that befits a small, lightweight car with a well-sorted chassis. Suzuki has worked hard to keep the fat at bay, and the result is just 15 extra kilos for the new sporty Swift to carry around, and bearing in mind that it's packing an extra 13bhp and 9lb.ft of torque, that's a worthwhile trade-off.
At the same time, fuel consumption is down. The old car claimed 39.8mpg while the new boy reaches 44.1mpg, partially thanks to a new six-speed gearbox with a very long top ratio for cruising. That sort of fuel economy is similar to diesel hatchbacks of not too many years ago, although the 1.6-litre petrol engine's character doesn't naturally encourage steady driving.
Instead, what it does is turn you into a raving lunatic, focused on achieving as much momentum as possible and then hanging onto every last scrap of it like a limpet. The test car was pretty new and the engine felt a bit tight, but nonetheless it's a thoroughly willing engine, challenging you to leave changing gears until the last possible moment before hitting the rev limiter at about 7,000rpm.
It's a lot of fun and it sounds like you must be hitting Mach 2 at the top end of second gear, but in reality it's not all that quick, so while you're having an absolute ball at the wheel, wondering how it's possible that you've not yet been picked up as the next Seb Vettel, there's not much chance of getting into trouble with the authorities on twisty 60mph country roads.
It's a fantastically flickable, grippy little car as long as you're treating it properly. It's a shame for more experienced drivers, but quite a bit of understeer appears when getting onto the throttle mid-corner. Whereas most hot hatches react by pulling the car into the turn and tightening the line, the Swift Sport doesn't, pushing wide instead.
Stay off the throttle until most of the steering lock has been wound off, though, and it's clear right away just how much corner speed the Sport can carry. Light weight creates a virtuous circle in a car, helping to make the handling lithe and playful and making the brakes astonishingly effective. This is a car that could stop on a sixpence with room to spare.
Even at speed the ride is remarkably well composed, coping with general undulations and camber changes with gusto. The only thing is that the suspension, attached to those arch-filling alloys, is fairly short-travel and bottoms out uncomfortably over sudden severe bumps. Potholes will be best avoided.
It has to be said that while the interior looks smart, and marks a step up from the old car's ambience, the plastics are still a bit bendy if you really poke them. But you're not likely to notice unless you’re deliberately checking for it.
If there was one particular problem with the old car's running costs it was that it was relatively expensive to tax versus the competition. An 18g/km drop sees the new Sport's road tax bill drop from £165 to £130 for 12 months, which is a much sweeter deal when it comes around to paying it.
The cars that are coming to Britain won't have any options other than colour, but Suzuki UK has picked a cracking spec for the right-hand-drive cars to be made in. Count on keyless entry, climate control, six speakers, a reach- and height-adjustable leather-trimmed steering wheel, more airbags than should in theory be able to fit into such a small car, and all the high-revving small car charm you can shake a stick at.
The old Swift Sport was a very likeable car, and the 2012 one is definitely even better. In times like these it makes a supremely confident case for itself and fans of the old one will be more than happy. It's got everything a fun small car needs, and as a bonus it's relatively cheap to own and run.
FACTS AT A GLANCE:
Model: Suzuki Swift Sport, £13,500 on the road.
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol producing 134bhp and 118lb.ft of torque.
Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox only.
Performance: Top speed 121mph, 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds.
Fuel economy: 44.1mpg.
CO2 rating: 147g/km.
- Power3 (average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy3 (average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: