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Suzuki Swift 2018 review: Sport

The Swift Sport continues to carve out a unique spot in the market.
EXPERT RATING
7.5
Despite being a latecomer in the segment, this Suzuki is the last of its kind. That’s not to say that the just-released $25,490 Swift Sport doesn’t have any competitors, it does. But none in the same vein, and none of them Japanese. Back in the ‘90s you could choose from a number of silly small Japanese hatches

Despite being a latecomer in the segment, this Suzuki is the last of its kind.

That’s not to say that the just-released $25,490 Swift Sport doesn’t have any competitors, it does. But none in the same vein, and none of them Japanese.

Back in the ‘90s you could choose from a number of silly small Japanese hatches dialled up to 11. Cars previously in the Swift’s segment, like the Civic, had the unhinged Type-R. Or you could pick a now P-Plate-fodder Nissan Pulsar SSS, or - more recently - a Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart.

Today… not so much. Various financial crises ravaged Japanese automakers as much as it sent American ones out of business. The Civic and the Pulsar moved up a size, Mitsubishi almost went extinct and we’re stuck with far more ‘sensible’ flagship versions of the Honda Jazz, Toyota Yaris and Mazda 2 up against the Suzuki Swift.

And yes, you could have one of the European rivals - these days in the form of the Renault Clio Sport, the Peugeot 208 GTi or the Ford Fiesta ST, but they are all a fair bit more expensive.

So, is the last Japanese ‘sub-compact’ hot hatch on sale in Australia worth the cash? I tested one over the course of a weekend to find out.

Saturday

First up, woah boy are Suzuki big on this… banana-riffic… colour. It appears on all the marketing material for the car, was seemingly the only colour at the launch event, and, well, nobody will miss you in it. 

I spent a lot of my weekend trying not to make eye contact with people staring at a bright yellow car that was extra-interesting because it’s barely even in dealerships yet.

Woah boy are Suzuki big on this… banana-riffic… colour. (image credit: Tom White) Woah boy are Suzuki big on this… banana-riffic… colour. (image credit: Tom White)

Thankfully, if you’re not the kind of person who likes being noticed, the Swift Sport is also available in black, grey or a fairly tame blue. 

Colour aside, I think the design of the updated Swift is fantastic and the ‘Sport’ touches genuinely add to the appeal. It’s a bit more muscular than the last-gen car, but really stays with what made the Swift unique in the first place. It’s not too much of a box-shape and Suzuki has maintained that signature, slightly convex windscreen.

The 17-inch alloys and slim rubber, combined with the almost Jaguar-esque LED headlight clusters really bring it a league above the regular Swift variants. I would argue the only thing that tarnishes the exterior treatment of the Sport is one-too-many fake carbon trim bits. It’s unnecessary.

The only thing that tarnishes the exterior treatment of the Sport is one-too-many fake carbon trim bits. (image credit: Tom White) The only thing that tarnishes the exterior treatment of the Sport is one-too-many fake carbon trim bits. (image credit: Tom White)

Step inside and it’s a mixed bag.

I liked the Audi-on-a-very-slim-budget steering wheel with perforated leather, the colour LED screen between the dial clusters, and the real headline act - the bucket-style Sport seats.

I didn’t like the obvious fit and finish issues and the weird glossy red plastic trim bits strewn about the place. (image credit: Tom White) I didn’t like the obvious fit and finish issues and the weird glossy red plastic trim bits strewn about the place. (image credit: Tom White)

I didn’t like the obvious fit and finish issues and the weird glossy red plastic trim bits strewn about the place. Seriously, how hard could it really be to run a strip of rubber over the exposed metal on the doors?

Much of this can be put down to the Swift Sport being built to a price, and that’s where it shines. At $25,490 for the manual (as tested), it compares well to the Europeans, it’s $30,990 for a Clio Sport RS (although, that does have a dual-clutch auto), $29,990 for a 208 GTi (manual only) or $27,490 for the Fiesta ST (also manual only). 

You can have a six-speed torque converter auto on the Swift Sport for $3000 more at $27,490, but don’t do that. It’s not as fun and weighs 200kg more.

Visibility is excellent thanks to the aforementioned convex windscreen that push the A-pillars out of the driver’s regular line of sight, and the front driver and passenger windows maximise the amount of vision around the car. There’s a slight blind spot courtesy of the thick C-pillars, I found this a problem only when merging and trying to look two lanes over.

Feature-wise the Swift Sport is up-to-date, and you do get some bespoke goodies for the extra cash. The 7.0-inch multimedia screen is the same one out of the Vitara. It looks terrible, like something bought from eBay, but has built-in nav as well as Apple CarPlay so you can make that sad-looking home screen disappear. It also hosts the reversing camera that has a good contrast and frame-rate.

The 7.0-inch multimedia screen is the same one out of the Vitara. (image credit: Tom White) The 7.0-inch multimedia screen is the same one out of the Vitara. (image credit: Tom White)

The little colour screen between the dial clusters is the most fun. It’s packed with telemetry bits, a turbo gauge and instantaneous output gauges for power and torque as well as boring stuff, like fuel consumption. It’s a simple touch that’ll keep enthusiasts entertained.

Sunday

Speaking of enthusiasm, I bet you want to know how it drives. A tour around some of the more choice roads on Sydney’s north shore helped me find out.

The engine, despite it’s apparent lack of size, packs a big turbocharged punch. Only 1.4-litres and 103kW doesn’t sound inspiring, but it’s the 230Nm of torque available in a tight band from 2500-3500rpm, combined with the mere 970kg kerb weight, that makes it feel great.

The turbocharged 1.4-litre, four cylinder produces 103kW/230Nm. (image credit: Tom White) The turbocharged 1.4-litre, four cylinder produces 103kW/230Nm. (image credit: Tom White)

It lives up to the ‘Swift’ badge by being exactly that. The stiff, low suspension it gets over the standard range lets it dart around corners without being too savage, and the engine begs you to rev it into that sweet spot (at which point the tyres will chirp off-the-line if you get a little too excited…)

That having been said, it’s not so far detached from the range it feels like another car entirely. There’s no brutalist magnetic clutch, no unnecessarily complicated transmissions (see: the Clio RS’ dual-clutch), invasive computers or ‘trick differentials’. At the end of the day, this is exactly what it should be - a regular Swift dialled up to the max.

On the one hand, this does mean it will never compete with something like a Focus ST or Clio RS on the track. On the other, it’ll be far easier to live with than either of those cars as a daily driver. The six-speed manual I drove, for example, was forgiving if you were lazy in traffic, and overall the car was reasonably quiet in terms of suspension and tyre noise, despite the low-profile rubber.

On the topic of noise, the 1.4-litre engine seemed to be most intrusive at idle, where you could hear the constant clicking of the injectors, particularly with the air conditioning on. The stereo (used to drown out said clicking) I would rate pretty good, but not stellar.

My fuel usage over a whole tank of fuel (mixed freeway-suburban) was 8.0L/100km. Suzuki claims you’ll do 6.1L/100km, which is believable, but not if you drive the Sport the way it wants to be driven. It asks for minimum 95 octane premium petrol.

Practicality-wise, the Swift is super front-loaded. While I fell more and more in love with the spongey but supportive bucket seats and four well-sized cupholders, rear passengers are just abandoned. There’s decent legroom, but if you’re taller than me (182cm - just under six foot) you’ll be hitting your head on the roof, the two cupholders are tiny and the seats have literally no sculpting to them. It’s like a bar seat.

  • Practicality-wise, the Swift is super front-loaded. (image credit: Tom White) Practicality-wise, the Swift is super front-loaded. (image credit: Tom White)
  • There’s decent legroom, but if you’re taller than me (182cm - just under six foot) you’ll be hitting your head on the roof. (image credit: Tom White) There’s decent legroom, but if you’re taller than me (182cm - just under six foot) you’ll be hitting your head on the roof. (image credit: Tom White)

Safety in the Swift Sport is a fascinating topic. The Sport inherits the five-star ANCAP safety rating awarded to the Swift range last year. Dual front, side chest and side head-protecting (curtain) airbags are standard, and there are two ISOFIX child seat points in the back.

Impressively, there is also Auto Emergency Braking (AEB) which I assume only activates in an actual emergency, and yes, Suzuki assure me that AEB is even on the manual versions of the Sport. Although, I’m not sure how this works (does it just stall the car in an emergency?). Also present is Lane Departure Warning (LDW) but no Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM).

But, it also comes with a very annoying feature called 'Weaving Alert' which sounds a high-pitched beeping noise whenever the car thinks you’re headed for an imminent collision. 

It’s overzealous though, and plays whenever you drive past stopped cars in a turning lane, parked cars on a slight curve, etc. Thankfully, it can be deactivated.

Boot space is relatively minuscule at 265 litres which compares poorly with the Peugeot 208 (311 litres) Renault Clio RS (300 litres) and even the Ford Fiesta ST (275 litres). For perspective, two duffel bags pretty much filled the available space. You can increase capacity to 947 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down.

  • Boot space is relatively minuscule at 265 litres. (image credit: Tom White) Boot space is relatively minuscule at 265 litres. (image credit: Tom White)
  • The capacity can be increased to 947 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down. (image credit: Tom White) The capacity can be increased to 947 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down. (image credit: Tom White)

You should also know that there isn’t even a space-saver spare, just a repair kit.

Verdict

The Swift Sport has been very carefully tuned and specified to match the asking price. It’s a delicate balance of an old-school hot-hatch drive experience with real-world comfort that allows it to exist in a market segment long abandoned by other Japanese makers.

It’s leagues above the standard Swift variants, while not being as wild or as pricey as the European competition, and, for most people, it’s all the hot hatch they’ll ever need. 

Do you think the Swift Sport would be enough hot hatch for you, or do you need something more intense like the Clio RS or Fiesta ST? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Pricing Guides

$15,990
Based on 312 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$13,490
Highest Price
$29,990

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Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GL 1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $10,340 – 14,190 2018 SUZUKI SWIFT 2018 GL Pricing and Specs
GL (QLD) 1.2L, ULP, CVT AUTO $13,498 – 19,490 2018 SUZUKI SWIFT 2018 GL (QLD) Pricing and Specs
GL NAVI (QLD) 1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $12,320 – 16,500 2018 SUZUKI SWIFT 2018 GL NAVI (QLD) Pricing and Specs
GL Navigator 1.2L, ULP, CVT AUTO $13,490 – 17,488 2018 SUZUKI SWIFT 2018 GL Navigator Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.5
Tom White
Journalist

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