Suzuki's Swift Sport
Engine 1,586cc, four cylinders, 136bhp
Transmission Six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance 121mph, 0-62 in 8.7sec, 44.1mpg official average, CO2 147g/km
Hot hatchbacks. They are still with us, a fact for which car nuts can be thankful. We're still among the keenest buyers of Renaultsport Clios, Vauxhall Corsa VXRs, Mini Cooper S's and Volkswagen Polo GTIs, which have huge power outputs once considered beyond sanity for small cars. The 200bhp or so of the most extreme examples of the breed doesn't disgrace even fast versions of the next size-class up, such as the Golf GTI.
So what do you do if you favour something brisk, sporting and small but you – or your insurance company – considers such pace more of a good thing than is sensible? What happened to the idea of a rapid but socially domesticated hot hatchback of the sort that was once represented by, say, the 1.6-litre version of the much-enjoyed Peugeot 205 GTI?
Maybe you buy a warmed-over version of a smaller hatchback, nowadays likely to use a little engine with a turbocharger. Step forward the Fiat Abarth 500 and Renaultsport Twingo 133. The former is a fun car spoilt only by its stodgy steering; the latter seems crude and uninspired.
Or you consider a Suzuki Swift Sport, the last remaining representative of the normally aspirated, 1.6-litre, souped-up, "full-size" supermini that once formed the default template in this category. This is no half-hearted marketing makeover lurking in the shadow of a more glamorous version with bigger numbers in its specification sheet, because that more glamorous version doesn't exist.
The Swift breed was thoroughly refreshed a year ago, becoming all new despite styling derived from that of the previous (good-looking) generation, and like its predecessor it's a thoroughly good car that deserves more recognition.
The Sport version of the old Swift was an unusually entertaining drive of the old hot-hatch school, revvy and rorty in its engine, sharp and responsive in its steering and handling. So there should be no need to alter the formula for this new model – and I'm pleased to report that the essence remains intact. The engine is mildly improved to give 136bhp (up from 123), torque gains a similar increase and peaks at a slightly lower engine speed. Official fuel efficiency improves, too, with CO2 output down to 147g/km, largely through the addition of a sixth gear.
One of the great things about the previous Sport was the way it dived into a corner, and the way you could point it in further by coming off the accelerator. So I was worried to hear that Suzuki had made the new one more stable in a straight line at speed. That sounds good, but at what cost to responsiveness?
None, it seems. The new Sport feels a little more planted on the road, but with the slight loss of friskiness comes a gain in precision. You can still "steer on the throttle", while those steering inputs you make by the more usual method of turning the steering wheel are amazingly free of rubberiness and artificiality for an electrically assisted system. It rides over bumps without jarring, is quiet at speed for a car of its type, has a keen edge to its engine note and is nicely finished inside. Even better, the price when sales start in January should be under £14,500.
This is a terrific little car. But those car nuts might argue it could be even better with a turbocharger, to make the most of that fantastic handling and put the Suzuki at the top of the pile alluded to at the start. A turbo engine could lower the CO2 figure, too, and perhaps be offered in, say, 140bhp and 180bhp versions. Could it happen? "It's a good idea," says chief engineer Naoyuki Takeuchi. And I swear I saw a glint in his eye.
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