Suzuki Swift: A look back

  • Potted history of the affordable but sporty Suzuki Swift
  • Dates back to the 1980s but there have been interruptions
  • We pick our favourite from the current model line-up 

The history of the Suzuki Swift in the UK is a bit of a confusing mishmash of hatchbacks, saloons, and small SUVs, all with different names depending on where they were sold.

Currently you can buy a fourth-generation Swift, a three- or five-door hatchback, with a petrol engine and the option of four-wheel drive. There’s a Sport model which offers more focussed handling, but even the standard car is fun to drive.

Here we take a swift look through the Parkers archive to discover the origins of the charismatic Japanese car.


First generation

Suzuki Swift: Genesis

The Swift went into production in 1983, although it was known as Cultus in its home market of Japan. It was first called the SA310 in the UK before adopting the more recognisable name later that year.

In fact Japanese cars used the old Cultus nameplate until 2000 when they adopted the Swift badge seen earlier in Europe.

The first GTi appeared in 1986 and was powered by a 1.3-litre twin cam engine. This back to basics hot hatch set the tone for the later Swift Sport variants. 


Second generation

Second generation Suzuki Swift

The second generation of the Suzuki Swift was sold in various forms between 1989 and the early 2000s.

It majored on value for money rather than class-leading looks, and was also available from Subaru in the 1990s, carrying the Justy badge.

There was a GTi version again and also a three-box saloon shape which was powered by a 1.6-litre engine that was not available in hatchback form. This was known as the Cultus Esteem in Japan.

Suzuki Swift saloon

Production of the Cultus ended in the early 2000s and we didn’t see the Swift badge in Europe again until 2005.



Suzuki Ignis replaced the Swift for a time

The name Swift did live on in Japan however, but it was confusingly applied to a car that was sold over here as the Ignis.

Although it took the form of a tall SUV crossover-type car, hints of the modern Swift hatchback’s styling can be seen in the headlights and grille arrangement. 


Third generation

The Suzuki Swift returns to the UK

The Swift badge returned in 2005 attached to a hatchback. It attracted buyers with its short, agile chassis and wallet friendly price tag.

This inevitably lead to a hot version called (as you would imagine) the Suzuki Swift Sport. Although not the most powerful car among its peers with only 125bhp, it did offer superb handling and sharp, accurate steering.

The first Suzuki Swift Sport


Fourth generation

The current Suzuki Swift

A replacement hatchback (the current Swift) was launched in 2010 and offers two petrol engine options, and also four wheel drive.

The base spec 1.2-litre unit gives you 56mpg and 92bhp, it’s perky enough with a 0-60mph time of 11.9 seconds.

There’s a Dualjet version of this engine which has 88bhp but promises better economy with 65mpg and CO2 emissions low enough for free road tax in 2015.

You can have four-wheel drive but this adds between £1,000 and £1,500 to the cost of the car depending on trim, and a four-speed automatic box is available on the top trim only.

Taking care of the performance-hungry is a new Swift Sport which first hit the streets in 2012. It has more power than its predecessor with 136bhp and excellent handling like the old car.

Suzuki Swift Sport is back with a bang

Offering better day to day comfort and a lower price tag than its rivals, the honest and back to basics Swift Sport has a lot of fans. Throw in reliability and it’s easy to see why the small Japanese hatchback is popular with Nurburgring rental companies.

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