Suzuki Swift Sport? Sounds like a horrible special edition to me...
The name may suggest graphic-laden dealer special, but this is a genuine junior hot hatch. The Swift Sport is a thoroughly sorted, stiffened, lowered, meaner looking and gruffer-sounding distant relative to the standard car. Above the 17-inch wheels and bodykit are stiffened Monroe dampers coupled with uprated springs, along with a specially developed 123bhp, 1.6-litre VVT petrol engine. It's good value – prices are set to start at £11,200; fast – 62mph is disposed of in only 8.9sec; and it's destined to form the basis for the new Suzuki WRC car. So it's cool as well.
Will my friends laugh at me if I buy one over, say, a Citroen C2 VTS or a Mini Cooper?
They shouldn't. This little car has credibility way beyond the WRC link. For the past year engineers have been lapping the Nurburging to finalise the damper and spring settings. And it's not just the engine that's bespoke: the uprated clutch, big bore tailpipes, the gearchange feel and steering are all new. Even the electronic throttle has been remapped to make the engine feel more responsive.
It costs £2000 more than the standard car – does it feel special?
The Swift Sport looks like a demonic Pokemon. The bodykit works perfectly to pump up the Swift's handsome, cube-like shape. Inside it's a perfectly executed tribute to the outgoing Civic Type-R. Honda-esque red trim, two-tone bucket seats, chunky wheel with red stitching and lots of horrible silver trim all appear. It may look a bit garish, but it's far more concentrated a makeover than in the Golf GTi. Metal pedals join a stubby gearknob, the leather steering wheel is nice to the touch and the dials aren't by Little Tykes. I stepped out of our £28k Subaru Impreza STi and the Swift's interior (£11k) actually felt like a step up. But so does a bicycle's, compared with an STi's.
What's it like to drive?
The new Swift Sport is a hot hatch with old school manners, and that's no bad thing. You sit a little high (a fault of all the old faves) but it's very comfortable. Turn the stubby handle on the ignition barrel and the 1.6-litre thrums to life. The redline is at 7000rpm, a point the needle seems surgically attached to, such is its rev-happiness. The throttle is super urgent but not snappy, the steering feels light but very accurate. Bang through the close ratio 'box and it becomes obvious that you really need to rev the 1.6 to get the best out of it. The Swift's urgent character soon emerges. It wants you to plant the throttle at every opportunity, avoid sloppy changes and switch off the ESP the second you climb aboard. It's a bit of a hooligan.
This is getting interesting. Old-school GTi, did you say?
Oh yes. Through corners it comes alive, revealing a slightly ragged and exciting edge that's reminiscent of the old Peugeot 106 GTI. You never know quite what it's going to do if you lift off mid-corner. So treat the Swift with respect or it may come back to haunt you. While most hot hatches have become bigger and faster but feel a little bit middle-aged, the Sport is light, exciting and just a little bit scary. In a good way. The flipside is that the Swift is no Renault Clio 197 for grunt. But it feels more involving despite the lower peak speeds, and with its decent front end grip, you can maintain a rapid pace from point to point. The engine does sound buzzy at 70mph with 4000rpm on the clock, and it keeps egging you on to go faster. That's tiring when you're caught in traffic, but all is forgiven when the roads open up.
We'd expected a lot of the Sport, especially as it's based on CAR's 2005 Car of the Year. The Sport continues the magic – good looks, comfortable and well-built cabin, decent stereo and standard climate control – but adds to it with an entertaining engine and chassis. It's good value for money, looks like a Adidas trainer (good), returns 37mpg and is backed up by proper WRC credibility. It's a great junior hot hatch.