Old school hot hatch meets the new guard: which is best?

The Suzuki Swift Sport is being replaced soon. It will be the end of an era when it goes: it’s the last big-engined normally aspirated hot small car on sale. Everyone goes turbocharging these days – models such as the Ford Fiesta 1.0-litre Ecoboost. Despite having one cylinder and 600cc less, it more powerful than the Suzuki, and significantly more fuel efficient. But which is more fun?

By now, we’re very familiar with the Swift Sport’s talents. It’s been on sale for years and we’ve also run one as a long-term test car. That hasn’t dulled the pleasure of its talented, accessible handling, its buzzy and oh-so revvable engine. Fun, not fripperies, is the focus here, and the fact it weighs little more than a tonne really adds to its feeling of sharpness.

The power delivery is the antithesis of a torquey turbo: peak power doesn’t arrive until 6,900rpm. Curiously though, it doesn’t feel quite as enthusiastic as we thought it might, due to a gloopy effect that means the revs aren’t quite as instantaneous to climb and fall as you’d like. Eco-minded gear ratios don’t help, either. The edge is still there, it’s just dulled a little.

Despite being an ageing car, the Sport still has a decent set of luxuries, such as air con, DAB and Bluetooth. ESP is standard too – and all for £14,399, almost £3000 less than the Fiesta. That’s before you add on options, as well: our test Fiesta Ecoboost costs a whopping £19,395…

It doesn’t take long to start justifying this. First and foremost, because of its remarkable engine. It has just 999ccs, making its 140hp output seem absurd, particularly as its delivered without feeling like it’s about to blow up. Not only is it faster than the larger-engined Swift in almost all situations, it’s also more refined.

Maybe it’s a bit too refined. The engine is a peach, but it would be nice to hear a bit more from it at times. There’s no high-rev power boost either: Ford has tailored the power delivery to be smooth, not peaky. You sense it would be a beautiful partner to a big, grown up people carrier, but perhaps not the most thrilling of things for a hot hatch wannabe. 

Fear not. The rest of it is as magic as ever, even after all these years. Steering is brilliant, the ride is better-balanced than the firm ST full-fat hot hatch, and the handling is impeccable. Thing is, brilliant as it is, the outright fun isn’t quite served up by the barrel load as it is in the Suzuki. Given the sort of thrill-seeking buyer on a budget these cars are aimed at, that’s important.

Ultimately then, our money’s still on the Swift. It remains fantastic, happily offering up thrills a minute and always begging you for more. Not that the Fiesta isn’t impressive, even with its replacement looming soon. In a sense, it’s too close to call. But this is a twin test based above all on being fun to drive. In that regard, the Suzuki deservedly noses ahead. 

SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT

Engine: 1,586cc 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 136@6,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 118@4,400rpm
​0-62mph: 8.7sec
Top speed: 121mph
Weight: 1,045kg
MPG: 44.1mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 147g/km
Price: £14,399 (until a couple of months ago; no longer on sale)

FORD FIESTA 1.0 ECOBOOST 140

Engine: 999cc 3-cyl turbo 
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 140@N/A rpm
Torque (lb ft): 155@N/A rpm
​0-62mph: 9.0sec
Top speed: 125mph
Weight: 1,145kg
MPG: 62.8 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 104g/km
Price: £17,495 (as tested £19,395 comprising £250 for Frozen White paint, £100 for spare wheel, £225 for rear privacy glass, £175 for heated front seats, £450 for Convenience Pack (keyless entry and start, electric heated door mirrors), £300 for City Pack (on ST-Line that's rear parking sensors) and £400 for Ford Navigation System with DAB and Ford SYNC) 

Rob Adams is a writer for PistonHeads.

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