Although it is one of OVERDRIVE's favourite cars, the Suzuki Swift is under-rated in Europe. Suzuki is a relatively small player there and the previous Swift, introduced in 2005, was its first mainstream car. It takes time for buyers and dealers to get up to speed. Which may explain Suzuki's reluctance to change the style and market position when it introduced the new Swift last year; it judged that the formula was right and it should be continued even with a new chassis platform.
It also realized that a car in the B-sector needs a performance version to get the attention of driving enthusiasts. The last Swift Sport fitted that bill, a three-door with a 1.6-litre engine developing 123PS and some sporty bodywork appendages. Now there is a new Sport with more power (136PS) but better fuel economy but with Renault Opel offering cars of this size with more than 200PS, it is classed as a 'warm' rather than hot hatch.
So the Swift Sport won't capture headlines for record lap times at the Nurburgring but it scores well in real-world driving. The most significant new componentl is the new six-speed gearbox. The old model had low gearing to achieve its lively performance and was annoyingly buzzy cruising at high speed on a motorway. The sixth gear allows a wider spread of ratios and a higher final drive, improving both refinement and fuel economy.
Rather than turbocharging or otherwise upgrading the new 1.2-litre K12B engine in regular Swift, Suzuki chose to continue with the 1.6-litre M16A from the previous Sport. It is a louder engine than the 1.2, which seems appropriate for the car's more lively character. The addition of a variable intake system as well as attention to the variable valve timing has produced the 13PS power increase while meeting Euro V exhaust emissions and achieving a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 15.63kmpl.
We have praised the ride and handling of the lesser Swift but found the electrically-assisted steering vague and inconsistent when hurrying through bends. Pleasingly, this has been corrected for the Sport. Software changes have given the steering more weight and feel off-centre, so the car can be placed in a corner with greater accuracy. It is a bit heavier to drive but we would recommend Suzuki to adopt this set-up for other Swifts.
The latest hot hatches are smooth-road cars, with stiff suspension honed on race circuits. Suzuki is proud of developing the new Swift on normal European roads with less than perfect surfaces; they included a particularly challenging route across the Yorkshire moors in the north of England.
To give the Sport sharper responses without losing decent ride quality, it increased spring rates front and rear, added rebound springs to the front struts, and adopted a new design of bushes mounting the rear torsion beam to improve lateral rigidity. 17-inch wheels wearing 195/45 tyres are standard for the Swift Sport as is ESP. Disc brakes are fitted all round, ventilated at the front and solid at the rear.
Compared with the regular car, the Sport grips better and rolls less. A fast drive across twisting mountain roads in Spain suggested that the ride-handling compromise is just about right for a quick but not devastatingly fast car; the Swift Sport accelerates from 0-100 kmph in 8.7 seconds and has a top speed of 195 kmph.
Outwardly, the things that turn a Swift into a Sport are much the same as before: a deeper black grille flanked by air intakes including fog lamps, side skirts, a roof spoiler, twin tailpipes, and a distinctive multi-spoke wheel design. The HID (high intensity discharge) headlamps have a metallic grey coating.
Inside, there are special sports seats â" comfortable and supportive â" covered with a new black and silver fabric and accented with red stitching which is also used on the leather-covered steering wheel and gear-lever gaiter. The Sport has the same facia layout as other new Swifts. It looks better than it feels because the plastics used are uniformly hard; most of the European competitors now have soft-touch materials on the upper surfaces.
As sold in Europe, the Swift Sport has all the features of the SZ4 top models with the 1.2 petrol and 1.3 diesel engine. That means keyless entry with an engine start button (a doubtful benefit in my view) but also seven airbags and ESP. With an expected UK price of Rs 11 lakh the Sport is Rs 1.20 lakh more than the three-door Swift SZ4.
The closest competitors at that price â" the Ford Fiesta Zetec S and Citroen DS3 â" are less powerful than the Suzuki and other obvious alternatives like the Mini Cooper are considerably more expensive.
The Swift Sport for European markets is made at the Suzuki factory at Esztergom in Hungary. It will also be produced (in five- as well as three-door form) in Japan for the domestic market. There are no plans for it at the other Swift plant, in India. That's a pity â" I think you would enjoy it.