Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • One engine for regular Swift
  • One engine for Swift Sport
  • Both are hybrids, both love being pushed hard

The only engine available on the regular Swift (not counting the separate Sport model) is now the 1.2-litre mild hybrid, badged Dualjet SHVS. There’s just about enough go for driving in and around the city, but venture out onto motorways or hilly A-roads and the 90hp engine really begins to struggle.

Acceleration to 62mph takes 11.9 seconds but feels slower than that. And because there’s such a dearth of meaningful oomph, the engine and gearbox have to be worked exceptionally hard bringing fuel economy down significantly. 

This engine features Suzuki’s mild-hybrid SHVS system. This uses electrical power to assist the Swift when pulling away, gaining charge when the vehicle brakes. How mild is mild? You won't really notice the system, and it doesn't make any difference to the power or performance figures. But it helps reduce CO2 emissions.

Manual gearbox only

The six-speed automatic was only available on 1.0-litre Boosterjet models. If you want an automatic Swift - you'll have to go for a used model.

This automatic gearbox is impressively responsive, and delivers smooth well-timed changes at normal speed. However, take it onto a faster road and it begins to struggle.

Should you want to accelerate forward while traveling at speed, the gearbox requires a hurried-feeling change down – often two – to elicit any real movement, creating a frustrating experience as the transmission constantly flicks between gears. On the plus side, 0-62mph drops from 10.6 to 10 seconds flat, even if top speed drops 3mph from 121mph to 118mph. 

Suzuki Swift Sport delivers punchier performance

In a world where the Ford Fiesta ST has the market for small hot hatches sewn up, it pays to offer something different, and across its generations the Swift Sport has always done just that. Whether with the 1.6-litre non-turbocharged engine of the last car or the turbocharged unit in the middle that this hybrid model replaces, this Suzuki has always stood for lightness and simplicity - although both of those points have been eroded with each regeneration.

Like the Mazda MX-5 the Swift Sport offers less than attention grabbing figures - just 129hp powers this latest 1.4-litre model - but as with the Mazda this car weighs about a tonne, so that number isn't as comparable with its heavier rivals as you'd expect.

A 0-62mph time of 9.1 seconds is also not much to write home about, but what the Swift Sport lacks in a straight line in makes up for in its ability to hold speed while cornering, resulting in a car that requires you to work hard in order to maintain momentum. Every wrong line, missed shift or heavy brake means lost speed that takes time to regain, so you have to get it right, and that's what makes this such a rewarding thing to drive quickly.

Tempering that slightly are two facets of the now-hybridised powertrain. The Swift Sport uses a 48v system that recharges itself when you take your foot off the gas or press the brake. That has a corrupting effect on the way the car drives, because lifting your right foot is now followed by a stronger than usual sensation of engine braking as the hybrid system gathers power - the Swift Sport has always been a car that encouraged you to maintain speed, and this feature feels like it's pulling you backwards.

The brakes themselves are as punchy as ever but there's a spot at the top of the pedal's travel where not a lot happens and then a strong bite further down the stroke, a common feature in a hybrid. That can make it a little hard to modulate the braking power, and if you're so inclined, harder to get the feel of a heel-and-toe shift. This is quite a niche complaint, but one worth bearing in mind in a car like this.

Where the hybrid drivetrain start to shine however is in the immediacy of the engine's response, now boosted by the electric motor, and 235Nm of torque that Suzuki says is available from low RPM for a strong pull of acceleration without having to shift down a gear. It also results in a smoother power delivery, where the previous car felt quite boosty with a rush of turbo power arriving in a big spike.

There's still not much of a reward for revving the car to its redline and the noise it makes (said to have been reworked for this model) could also do with being a bit more evocative but really we're splitting hairs here.

In fact if it sounds like we're being overly harsh on the Swift Sport in general it's because for a long time this has been a deeply pleasing thing to drive and a real unsung hero of the class. But it earned that reputation by offering a simple and pure driving experience with its responsive and lively engine, short and slick gearshift and the right amount of power to enjoy it fully without having to risk points on your licence.

While the hybrid version offers much of that, it's been compromised by the need to reduce its environmental footprint. That's very worthy and obviously an important responsibility for every manufacturer to consider, but we can't help thinking that just like us, Suzuki would rather this car use a much simpler drivertrain and weigh 100kg less.

Engines no longer on sale

Previously, the Swift was available with a 1.0-litre turbocharged engine, referred to as Boosterjet. These engines have 111hp and boast a 0-62mph time of 10.6 seconds with a maximum speed of 121mph. In gear pulling power is also reasonable thanks to a healthy 170Nm of torque (160Nm in the automatic).

We like the way it pulls at low engine speeds, meaning that you won’t need to use the long-throw five-speed gearbox too often to keep up with the flow. In fact, it accelerates happily from walking speed up to the legal limit – just in third gear. So, there’s no need to extend it beyond 4,000rpm.

It cruises happily on the motorway, its refinement limited by wind rather than engine noise, and in town, the light, well-weighted controls, combined with good visibility, mean it’s pleasant to drive in urban environments.

For improved economy and emissions, the 1.0-litre engine could also be specced with Suzuki’s mild-hybrid SHVS system.

Previously the Swift was available with all-wheel drive (on models badged AllGrip) which added weight and dulled the car's acceleration, but did bring welcome traction to all four wheels in slippery conditions.

Handling

  • Enthusiasts' choice
  • Accurate steering and tidy cornering on offer
  • Despite sportiness, it’s not uncomfortable on poor roads

Overall, the Swift meets Suzuki’s promise of a ‘sporty drive’. It’s good, and up among the best cars in its class. It’s not quite as good as the Ford Fiesta, but certainly not far off – lacking a little of its rival’s polished feel.

Despite being biased for handling, the ride quality is more than acceptable, with only the deepest potholes and road ruts causing problems on a spirited drive.

Damping is supple, rounding off the worst of the edges, while overall cornering is of the agile variety. The steering is noteworthy for its quick rack and lightness – although like nearly all the competitive set, you trade-off road feel for overall weight and accuracy.

Swift Sport builds on standard car's prowess

Predictably, the Swift Sport takes the standard car’s already impressive handling and improves it. Boasting bags of grip and powerful brakes, it’s surprisingly rapid down a twisty country road. Of particular note is the damping. It’s not too firm nor too soft, and deals with surface imperfections well for such a small, light car.

That's a bit unusual these days as hot versions of normal hatchbacks often come equipped with a bone-shaking ride and steering that requires baker's forearms to operate around town. In one respect that makes the Swift Sport feel lacking in speciality but in reality the car has all the tools it needs to entertain without too much modification.

It's true that there's not a lot of communication through the wheel but the steering itself is very nicely judged - fast enoug to point the nose of the car where you want it without feeling overly enthusiastic to the point of being annoying on the motorway.

You sense this car's lightness when turning into a corner - there's no need to wait for a load of heavy metal to settle itself down before winding on more lock, the car simply goes where you place it with neat agility and the odd noise of distress from the grippy tyres. As a result this makes it a proper weapon on a twisty b-road, particularly if the surface is broken and cracked, and you'll be surprised how well this car keeps up with substantially more powerful machinery that can't get its horses on the tarmac.

Lift the throttle mid corner and the Swift Sport will tighten its line with a subtle but noticeable rotation from the rear axle. We're not talkng Fiesta ST levels of sideways entertainment here but there's enough to make you feel like you're in control of the car's attitude in a bend, rather than the other way around.

While the hybrid engine has moved away slightly from the simplicity this car has always embodied, the way it corners remains an organic and natural experience, rather than the combination of various electronic aids and a mechanical differential working to hold your line around a corner. That's a rare thing these days and the main reason why the Swift Sport remains one of our favourite cars on sale.