Take a compact, lightweight car and shoe-horn the most powerful engine possible under the bonnet. This was the template set by the Golf GTi, the original hot hatchback, back in 1976. But as the years went by, this recipe started to fall by the wayside as buyer preferences changed in favour of space and luxury, thereby forcing the hot hatch to grow up.
Drawing an aviation analogy, the modern hot hatchback has turned into an executive jet, compared to the aerobatics plane it used to be. Responsiveness has been replaced by computer-simulated feedback, and hugely powerful engines lug along the excess mass that keep their occupants comfortable.
But some people still yearn for the simple thrills afforded by a high-revving engine, crisp manual gear changes and the agility afforded by a very lightweight bodyshell. The Suzuki Swift Sport is here to scratch that itch, mirroring the original recipe of a small body, small engine and entertaining handling.
Adding a larger engine and some luxury items hasn’t significantly affected the Swift Sport’s weight, for it still tickles the scales with a kerb weight of only 1060 kg. As a result, the comparatively skinny 100 kW and 160 Nm delivered by the 1.6-litre non-turbo engine is enough for a few giggles in a straight line. The 0-100 km/h dash is dispatched in 8.7 seconds, and its runs out of puff at 195 km/h – very similar figures to the pocket rockets of the 1980s. It is not supercar quick, but there’s enough power to have fun.
Most of that fun materialises when the roads get twisty, because the combination of a lowered ride height, stiffer springs and wider, low-profile tyres produces lots of road grip and playful handling characteristics. It always feels securely planted, yet it responds to driver inputs with immediacy and accuracy. There’s a light-heartedness to the Swift Sport, a sense of fun that used to characterise pocket rockets of old.
As a result, the Swift Sport feels lively on back roads, where its driver can revel in a cornering attitude controlled by throttle adjustments. It will even swing its rear end wide after a mid-corner throttle lift (with the stability control switched off), but this happens so gradually and controllably that it’s unlikely to startle even a novice. This fun doesn’t come at the expense of ride comfort either, because its 16-inch tyres and well-tuned suspension keeps the rubber on the road and most thumps away from the cabin.
The interior is comfortable, and features niceties like a leather-covered steering wheel, sports seats in front, air conditioning and cruise control. The radio is Bluetooth compatible and has a USB port, and keyless operation and xenon-headlights round out a fairly comprehensive package. Of course, the Swift is still a very small car, and thus suffers from a cosy interior and tiny (210ℓ) luggage compartment. The cabin is however well-assembled and the materials should be durable.
Affordability was another part of the original hot hatchback recipe, not just as far as the purchase price goes, but also running- and maintenance costs. The list price is an attainable R229 900, and includes a service plan for three years or 60 000 km. A reasonably frugal average fuel consumption figure of 6.5 ℓ/100 km means that the Swift Sport should also be affordable to feed.
Sure, that purchase price can buy a very nice VW Polo, Ford Fiesta or something equally serious. But nothing else in this price bracket can offer the Swift Sport’s undiluted driving enjoyment and prodigious handling abilities. Heart and head can agree: for once, being sensible can be fun as well.
1586 cc, in-line four cylinder, petrol
Power and torque
100kW @ 6900 r/min and 160Nm @ 4400r/min.
Acceleration and top speed
0–100km/h in 8.7s and 195km/h
Chevrolet Sonic RS