Suzuki Swift Sport (2012) long-term test review

By the CAR road test team

Long Term Tests

04 July 2013 10:20

Month 7 running a Suzuki Swift Sport: waving goodbye to the little Suzuki

Life with the Swift Sport began with my rallying call for a Slow Car Movement. In this age of over-indulgence, I commented on the need for a back-to-basics reappraisal of what we want from a small car. Flabby kerbweights, excessive power and OTT specs are so last decade, I reckoned. And the smallest Suzuki might just hold the answer.

Half a year and 7000 miles later, we’ve found out. And I’m pleased to report that the Swift does indeed deliver everything you need in life. Not want, perhaps. But there’s everything here to keep a motoring enthusiast – and Joe Bloggs – happy. It’s one of those rare things in life: a sweet spot in the range.

This ‘needs vs wants’ dichotomy defines our motoring lives. Did you wake up this morning and decide you wanted traffic-sign recognition cameras? No? What about a wide touchscreen sat-nav doubling up as a television? Thought not, especially as your smartphone probably does all this anyway. The Swift Sport eschews over-specification and is all the better for it.
That simple, under-designed cabin is comfy enough and hardly stripped bare. It’s got all the basics covered, and then some: electric windows and folding mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry, MP3 player compatibility and climate control. The things in life that make a difference every single day, in other words. I didn’t once find myself missing leather trim or Mrs Nav barking directions at me.

It’s not a big car but the packaging is smart enough for a car measuring 3850mm long. You can squeeze people in the rear for short journeys, but you’ll have to compromise front legroom if you want adults back there, and there’s no five-door Sport option yet. The 211-litre boot’s significantly roomier than a Mini’s. But you don’t buy a Swift Sport for its payload, you buy it for its warm-hatch creds, and here it excelled. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fast car. If anything, it’s flattered by the quoted 8.7sec 0-62mph time. On the road it feels breathless – you notice every extra bag onboard.

Progress becomes an exercise in maintaining momentum – a trick the Swift excels at because you’ve only got 1045kg to lug around, the zesty 1.6 loves to rev when it comes on cam, and the handling is composed and flat. It’s fun through the twisties, although the likes of the Renaultsport Clio can rest easy in terms of ultimate feedback. For a fun junior hatch the Suzuki is well judged. A full blown hot hatch it is not.

I’ve mentioned that a light-pressure turbocharged version could address all that, but I fear then you’d lose the budget price – recently swollen to £13,749 – and a vortex of extra equipment and bodykittery may plunder its Slow Car Movement credentials. I think the Swift’s relative lack of performance is intrinsic to its appeal, just like an MX-5’s.

A lowly group 19 insurance rating is 11 rungs lower than a Polo GTI’s and we’ve not had to spend a penny on maintenance in the past months. Granted, the Swift has short service intervals and if the car were here longer it’d be booked in imminently for its 9000-mile visit. We’ve averaged a disappointing 36mpg, a reflection on its get-up-and-thrash-it nature.

Dislikes? Not much really. Some here complain about the lack of puff and others bemoan uncomfy seats. Me? I’m off to set up the Slow Car Movement – and the Swift Sport will be its first mascot.


 

Month 6 running a Suzuki Swift Sport: Swift Sport vs Mini

The very fact that we’re daring to compare a humble Swift with BMW’s premium supermini speaks volumes for the scale of Suzuki’s achievement. We’ve long been fans of this Japanese tot, having voted it our Car Of The Year back in 2005, and the latest edition suggests its stock is still held high.

I ran CAR’s Mini Cooper S back in 2007 and have driven most derivatives since. So should you consider the Swift ahead of the ubiquitous Anglo-German? You’ll certainly save a bundle by going Japanese. Our car is the top-spec Swift, yet its list price – recently risen – of £13,749 would only bag a basic Mini One.

On paper, the Mini and Suzuki have different strengths. The Swift’s 134bhp 1.6-litre four-pot plays a punier 122bhp in the £1200 more expensive Cooper. Yet BMW’s EfficientDynamics package strangles emissions down to 127g/km (Swift 147g/km) and economy soars to 52.3mpg (44.1mpg).

The Swift fights back with a more generous spec: it bags keyless entry and ignition, climate control, upgraded headlamps and folding mirrors, all of which cost extra in the Mini (£1230, according to the online configurator).

To drive? They’re different animals. The Mini is all grippy front end and chunky steering. The Swift is zestier and benefits at the scales to the tune of 105kg, making it fleeter of foot: 8.7sec 0-62mph leaves the Mini nearly half a second adrift.

For anyone daring to stand out from the crowd, get more goodies for their dosh and benefit from Japanese reliability, we’d urge them to consider the Swift. If you think the ‘new’ Mini is passé, try it.

By Tim Pollard


 

Month 5 running a Suzuki Swift Sport: should Suzuki build an even hotter Swift?

Five months in and the Swift remains my favourite pocket rocket on the CAR fleet. Okay, so it's the /only/ baby GTI we have - but I'm glad the keys are mine.
The photograph above sums up life in the Swift: it's just a jump-in-and-rag-it kinda car, a pure and simple warm hatch from the old school. The snaking B-road pictured is its natural hunting ground, where an eager engine, snappy gearchange and lack of girth play to its strengths.

It's a barrel of fun on roads like these, the flyweight 1045kg kerbweight keeping progress up and allowing fast changes of direction. It's nowhere near as quick as a Renaultsport Clio or a Mini Cooper S, but then its £13,499 price tag is several rungs below - and there's ample pleasure to be had from wringing the Swift's eager naturally aspirated 1.6.

And here's the rub: how much performance do you need in 2013? With crowded, camera-watched main roads, soaring fuel prices and changing social mores, I'm not sure hooligan hatches are sustainable. The more modest Swift Sport is fine 80% of the time, only struggling to deliver enough punch if you carry passengers or frequent motorways, where it can feel quite breathless and thrashy.

So why not launch a more powerful version? Something to keep the flame of Suzuki's Cappuccino alive? I reckon bolting on a light-pressure turbo could transform this car but, sadly, there are no such plans.

I bumped into Dale Wyatt, Suzuki's sales and marketing director, at this autumn's Paris motor show and he confirmed that a hotter Swift simply wasn't going to happen. Turns out the Sport makes up around 10-15% of all Swift sales in the UK - around 1500 this year - but there is no space for a faster one.

Instead, Suzuki is likely to offer more personalisation, to keep up with the likes of Mini, Fiat and (soon) Vauxhall, and a five-door Sport is highly likely, reports Dale. Plus there's an intriguing-sounding Swift 1.2 4wd likely to make it over from Japan, selling for roughly the same price as the Sport. A shame they won't marry the all-wheel drivetrain with that go-faster turbo I hanker for...
In other matters, the Swift is proving great day-to-day transport. I find the driving position spot-on and the Swift's upright glasshouse means it's a doddle to see out of. Web producer Sarah-Jayne has complained about the seats in her online updates, but I've found little to gripe about in the pew department.

There is one big black mark inside the cabin, though. If you like listening to your iPod on the move, the Swift will accommodate an MP3 player, but the digital dot-matrix screen is so tiny and backward that it's a bit of a nightmare to navigate your way around playlists and song choices.

As you can probably tell, if we're nitpicking over the size of an album title in the stereo read-out, it's a good sign. There's really not much to grumble about with our Swift Sport.

By Tim Pollard

Month 5 running a Suzuki Swift Spor: how fuel efficient is CAR's Suzuki Swift Sport?

The Swift is piling on the miles – we're now past 6000 on the odo, which means we're not far off the first service. Suzuki sticks with unfashionably short, 9000-mile intervals: good for looking after the engine, bad for the wallet. We'll let you know how we get on when time comes to book it in for its first batch of maintenance.

In other wallet-related news, the Swift Sport isn't proving as economical as might've hoped. Blame the short gearing (it has six ratios, but even in top it's a bit droney on the motorway) and eager, revvy nature of the 1.6. As noted previously, this is a car you jump into and drive quite hard, as you would an MX-5. It's not a turbocharged torque-fest, it's not even that powerful – this less-is-more quality defines the Swift's character, but it seems the thrash-me zestiness is harming the economy.

Here's a note of how far our last few tanks have stretched:

• Brim at 5734 miles – 36.5mpg
• Brim at 6040 miles – 35.2mpg
• Brim at 6355 miles – 34.6mpg

Naturally, I wasn't exactly expecting the Swift Sport to match the official 44.1mpg, but it's still disappointing that a supermini weighing just 1045kg isn't more frugal than our diesel Merc CLS long-termer (average 45mpg). I shall report back when I install a box of eggshells, a yellow flashing light and a hyper-miling instruction manual.

By Tim Pollard

 


Month 4 running a Suzuki Swift Sport: the Swift Sport's great (big) headlights

The clocks changed in the UK at the weekend and we're now plunged into darkness well before home time, so last night was a good test of the Swift Sport's headlights. We've already raved about the bulging spec sheet on Suzuki's warm hatch and included in the price are high-intensity discharge projector lamps. They're a kind of poor man's xenons, using similar electrical-gas discharge technology but at a more affordable price.

Living in the murky middle of nowhere, I reckon my commute is as good as any test of a car's lights and I'm pleased to report the Swift passed with flying colours. On full beam there's a pleasing, hard-edged illuminated halo of light which reminded me of top-end Mercedes' beam patterns. When dipped, they still perform with a bright crisp intensity.

It's yet another reminder that the £13,499 Swift Sport is exceedingly well equipped. No other supermini costing less than £20,000 has HID lamps as standard, and you'll spend £485 speccing them as an option on a Mini. Others charge more, up to £765 on an Ibiza or A1.

I was impressed – they're the best lights I can remember testing on a supermini. But then there's nothing 'mini' about them. The Swift's lights are absolutely massive!

By Tim Pollard


Month 3 running a Suzuki Swift Sport: the good, the bad and great visibility in the Swift Sport

A few weeks in, and I still can’t get the Swift Sport's seat in the right position. Plus I’ve recently noticed that, as short as I might be, my knees are knocking the steering wheel column. At first I thought this was because I have to pull the seat quite far forward causing the knee-knock, but when in heels I push the seat back further and my knees are still knocking the bottom. I'm surprised the taller members of the CAR team - step forward Ben Pulman and Tim Pollard – don't find this a problem.

On a good note, visibility in the latest Suzuki Swift is awesome. The large door mirrors are big enough to eliminate blindspots and yet do not look out of place with the design. And that perpendicular, upright glasshouse means it’s a very open, airy environment in the cabin - and you can see out in every direction.

It's still a bundle of fun, too. The Swift Sport responds well to being driven flat-out (within the speed limit, of course). It's not a particularly fast car, but with revs it comes to life and it always remains composed and comfortable. This approach is not so great for fuel economy, however.

Oh, and I still find the stereo just shocking. It's too tinny, and the quality of the sound betrays this car's £13,499 price tag.
 
By Sarah-Jayne Harrison


Month 2 running a Suzuki Swift Sport: comfort versus fun: the Swift Sport conundrum

The Swift Sport is a popular choice at CAR Towers, and keeping hold of the keys is no easy task. It’s made a lot easier with the Swift Sport’s fitted-as-standard keyless entry and start feature, though.

'Where are the Suzuki keys?' is a regular call around the CAR office. That'll be me ‘hiding’ them in my handbag again. It's so easily done – and convenient for wresting the Swift away from other members of the CAR team. It’s one of my favourite inventions, keyless entry. I've been spending a lot of time with the Swift recently, and so really appreciate not having to actually dig out the keys from the depths of my handbag every day.

So, what of the Swift Sport once installed behind the wheel? The style is subtly improved from its predecessor. They're only minor adjustments, granted, but the nip and tuck has made a difference; it’s still a boxy little hatch but there are more curves and flair, thanks to those massive xenon headlights and cheeky rear diffuser.

More chic it may be, but the Sport version of the Swift is no back massager. Point it down its spiritual home territory of a winding B-road, and you feel every bump (and occasional jump). The seats don’t help, either. The bolsters are supportive but for me, finding a comfortable driving position is nigh-on impossible. And, if you manage to get it spot-on, it’s all undone if when you allow passengers access to the back seats, whereupon you have to readjust the seat all over again.

Comfort grumbles aside, over the past few weeks our Swift Sport has proved it’s nothing if not fun. Send  the rev count north of 4000rpm and you can really push the Sport on country roads – abuse which it just laps up and begs for more. It’s not a soothing choice, but if it’s good-value fun you’re after, I reckon the Swift Sport is up there with the best of them.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison 


Month 1 running a Suzuki Swift Sport: CAR's first impressions

The Swift has now been with us for a few weeks and you can read our full first report in the August 2012 issue of CAR Magazine on sale now. It's proving popular with the CAR team, many of whom remember making the last-generation Swift our car of the year back in 2005.

This latest generation is a tad bigger in every dimension – we're talking stretched by a centimetre or so – so it remains a bijou supermini, which is proving ideal for day-to-day duties. I've yet to resort to family duties in it with children in the back, but I'll be sure to test out the rear accommodation during this test. What I can confirm at this point is it's perfectly comfortable in the front, even for a 6ft 2in lanky driver like me.

There's something pleasingly just-right about the package. In my mag review, I asked whether it was time for a Slow Car movement, in the same vein as the Slow Food movement. One where we don't obsess over horsepower and more of everything. One where we applaud smaller, lighter cars with the emphasis back on the basics. We've seen Mazda succeed with its MX-5 for this very reason, and it looks like the motoring world is equally switching on to the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ twins.

After these first few weeks getting to know the Swift, I'd say we'll end up saying the same about the new 2012 Suzuki Swift Sport. It serves up just enough performance to sate my warm hatch wants. It's small enough to be city-friendly, yet capacious enough for my day-to-day driving. And it's bristling with sportiness – not Usain Bolt 0-60mph obsession, but with a general athleticism borne of its 1045kg kerbweight. It's highly chuckable and you can extend it further than a full-bore hot hatch at lower speeds.

Less, so far, really is more.

By Tim Pollard


Speccing CAR's new Suzuki Swift Sport

Well, that was one of the easiest new-car specs we've ever done. The Suzuki Swift Sport - soon to be of this parish - doesn't have many options, you see. None at all, in fact. It's literally down to colour.

Suzuki Swift: a centimetre longer in most directions

Visit the Suzuki.co.uk car configurator and you're faced with a modest five paint options. We chose Silky Silver Metallic for its photogenic qualities and, besides, we've kind of moved on from our silver ennui of a few years ago. A small car like the Swift just photographs well in bright metallics, and it appealed more than the white, black, blue and red hues.

So apart from choosing the colour, there was nothing else to do while speccing CAR Magazine's new Swift Sport long-termer. Standard equipment is pretty generous for a £13,499 warm hatch - and the following is fitted as standard:

• Five airbags (twin front, side and driver's knee)
• Cruise control
• Electric front windows and mirrors
• HID projector headlamps with washers
• Automatic lights
• USB socket with iPod compatibility
• 17in alloy wheels
• Rear privacy glass
• Keyless entry and ignition
• Bluetooth phone integration

That's a good stash of kit for the money - and not too profligate, either. This car is all about simple thrills, so what more would we need on a pared-back warm hatchback?

I can't wait to start running the Suzuki Swift Sport. This car is all about mimimalism: a small price, a small footprint and modest power - but allied to big thrills. I've driven the hatch a few times on shorter road tests and loved its purity of purpose. It's more 1980s than Noughties - so stay tuned for regular updates on CAR's new 1045kg tearaway soon.

By Tim Pollard