I'm coming straight out with it: the 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport is the best-looking Swift since the GTi of the 1990s. You can argue with me all you want, but the new, more mature and more masculine model just looks terrific to my eyes.
Masculinity in design hasn't been the Swift's forte over the years – it has been considered by some as the sort of car that will appeal more to females than to blokes like me. But I reckon I'd have a Swift Sport now, because it looks like a little nugget – a gold one, in that yellow hue, I guess.
The 17-inch wheels are a bit blingy, but likable.
Changes over the regular Swift include a more aggressively styled front bumper and grille – the nose of it sticks out quite a bit more than the regular model, which Suzuki says is because this model "is poised to pounce". The LED daytime running lights and headlights cut through the dullness of some regular cars, too, while the honeycomb grille finish is pretty aggressive, as is the blackened carbon-fibre-look body kit that that visually sucks the Swift Sport down to the tarmac.
There's also a rear spoiler on the hatch, and a pair of exhaust pipes poke their respective snouts out of the rear bumper. Some might think the 17-inch wheels are a bit blingy, but I really like them.
Of course, you mightn't be sold on the Champion Yellow hero colour, but there are quite a few choices available for buyers, including white, black, blue and grey – there's no red or silver.
And yeah, of course its styling is sportier inside, too. You can read about that in the next section.
The cabin is zinged-up by a red theme that runs throughout – there are red finishes on the doors and the dash, the 'semi-bucket' sports seats have red fabric innards and red stitching, the flat-bottomed steering wheel also has red stitching, and there's red on the the gearshift boot and surround, too.
There are also red instrument dials with a digital driver information display in between with a boost meter, oil temperature gauge, and g-force meter. No digital speedo, though - you get the speed shown up when you set the cruise control, but it's annoying that it isn't shown in regular driving.
There are still some of those telltale 'affordable car' traits, including hard plastics that span the dash and doors, which isn't overly lovely.
But you do get the brand's 7.0-inch media screen with reversing camera, in-built sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and a single USB port. Annoyingly, there's still no volume control knob, but the steering wheel features a toggle for the driver.
Inside, There’s a 7.0-inch screen with the extended smartphone connectivity and built-in navigation.
Under the screen there's a single-zone climate control system with some nicely finished knobs (it may seem I have a knob obsession... we talked about knobs in the last CarsGuide Podcast, too), but while there is decent storage below that section and there's an open bin with cup holders between the front seats, there's no centre armrest or console. You get bottle holders in all four doors, but there is no flip-down armrest with cupholders in the second row (just a square section between the front seats that might be able to work as a cup holder), and just one map pocket.
While the Swift has grown in this generation, it's still pretty small by class standards – both inside, and out.
Measuring 3890mm long, 1735mm wide and1495mm tall, the Swift is diminutive. But the new model has a 20mm longer wheelbase compared to the existing, promising better comfort over bumps and extra cabin room, while the track has been widened by 40mm to enhance stability.
But how does that translate to cabin room?
The back seat is pretty flat, but reasonably comfortable. A six-foot (182cm) adult like myself can sit behind their own driving position (just), but legroom is tight. Headroom is generous, however. If your back-seat bandits are youngsters, then you'll likely be happy with the dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors, and there are three top-tether points as well.
The boot isn't necessarily family-friendly, with a 265-litre capacity – which is 55L more than before, but less than the better light cars in the class.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
Under the bonnet of the Swift Sport is a 1.4-litre 'BoosterJet' turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, which is turned up to the tune of 103kW and 230Nm - a staggering 70Nm than the old 1.6-litre non-turbo in the previous Swift Sport.
It's worth noting that the torque range is quite narrow, between 2500-3000rpm only. Peak power hits at 5500rpm.
There's the choice of two transmissions – a six-speed manual carried over with a few modifications for the new turbo engine, or six-speed automatic with paddle-shifters – the auto replaces the existing CVT, which wasn't really very Swift Sporty at all. And, being a light hot hatch, it's front-wheel drive.
Now, it may not seem like a lot of power, but you need to consider the weight of the new Swift Sport – it tips the scales at just 970 kilograms for the manual and 990kg for the auto. The torque to weight ratio – 4.2kg/Nm – is pretty convincing.
What isn't so impressive is Suzuki's claimed 0-100km/h time of 8.0 seconds, whether you choose the manual or auto. It felt quicker than that on the track...
Suzuki claims fuel use of just 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres for the Swift Sport, no matter whether you buy the automatic or the manual. You can expect to see higher than that if you drive it like you should be.
I could stop there, but that's not what the job calls for.
That thrusty little turbocharged engine has completely changed the character of the car – it doesn't rev out as much as its predecessor, but that's to be expected. That 8.0sec 0-100km/h time seems a little glass-half-empty, because it feels quicker than that – on the track, at least.
It pushes away from a standstill after a touch of lag, and builds pace pretty quickly. While Suzuki said it had worked on making sure there's a nice sound from the engine and exhaust, it can be a little boomy at high revs. At lower speeds, the manual model sounded a little meatier to my ear.
Yep, I drove both the manual and the auto models, and I've got to say that if I had to buy one, and wanted to spend time at a track, it'd be the manual.
Changes over the regular Swift include a more aggressively styled front bumper and grille.
Admittedly it doesn't have the best shift action – it's a bit light and lacking feel – and it seemed that second gear ran out really fast. But the manual felt a little lighter on its feet, a little more malleable on the track, and, being more hands-on, it's the enthusiast's choice.
The auto is a huge improvement on the old CVT, but it's not perfect – even with the standard-fit paddle-shifters. In regular D mode, it is geared towards economy, but slip it to M for manual, and – oddly – it'll still shift gears for you but will hang on longer between changes. The shifts are relatively smart, but at times it didn't allow me to downshift or upshift when I really wanted to.
Hey, at least there is an auto option... You can't get that in the Fiesta ST. And a manual isn't an option in a Renault Clio RS... So kudos to Suzuki for offering something for every buyer.
As for the character of the handling of the Swift Sport, there's a lot to be liked.
It runs a Macpherson strut front end and a torsion beam rear, the latter of which you might expect to be a little underdone for a 'hot hatch'. But the balance on offer is really good, and it'll be playful in corners if you push a little too hard. Another 'thanks Suzuki' for its lenient traction control system, which doesn't interrupt you unless it really ought to.
The steering is pretty darn good, too. It isn't as pinpoint accurate as a Ford Fiesta ST, but it's involving and a lot of fun to pilot through a chicane or sweeping bend. Of course there's some understeer, and a little bit of torque steer too, but it's definitely fun enough to warrant the 'hot hatch' tag.
Suzuki Australia reckons a staggering 1500 examples of the Swift Sport are already accounted for.
The Swift Sport runs ventilated front discs and solid rear discs, which help pull it up well ... for a few laps on a hot track. They did start to fade a little, but if you're not the sort of person who will pound their new Swift Sport on the track, you really needn't worry.
If you've watched the video and seen my track talent (or lack thereof), you may have noted that I said I didn't get a chance to drive it on the road... but a little bit of persuasion on my part after finishing the track part of the video saw me get a very brief road loop.
My 26 minute real-world drive saw me take in the sights of a little town called Broadford in Victoria, where I found some pockmarked streets and a speed-hump or two, and the Swift handled those contentions well. The auto in D mode in regular driving is perfectly fine, too, so don't stress it if you're thinking the transmission isn't the pick but you want an auto. If I never planned to take my Swift Sport to the track, the auto would be the hands-down pick.
Where it wasn't as stellar was the amount of road noise at higher speed. I left Broadford and hit the highway (very briefly), only to be nearly deafened by a lot of road noise in the cabin. Plus the suspension can be a little sharp at highway pace.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
ANCAP safety rating
Most Suzuki Swift models have the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test rating – the base model GL missed out on achieving that score when tested in 2017 due to a lack of active safety kit. The Swift has six airbags (dual front, front-side and full-length curtain).
The Swift Sport has that kit, which includes auto emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning (above 60km/h – has a warning light and can vibrate the steering wheel, but won't steer for you) and a driver sway control system that the company describes as a "drowsiness and distraction monitor".
It also has auto high-beam headlights and adaptive cruise control, plus a reversing camera with visual guideline. There are no rear or front parking sensors, or blind-spot monitoring, or rear cross-traffic alert, or reverse auto-braking... but you have to remember the price tag of this little monster is pretty low.
If you plan to carry children with you, the Swift has the requisite dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors for outer rear seats, plus three top-tether points.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
3 years / unlimited km warranty
Suzuki Australia backs its cars with a three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty – so there's no arguing that you can do better elsewhere.
The same might be said for servicing which is due every six months or 10,000km, with a capped-price service plan covering the little sporty Suzuki for five years/100,000km. Services are pretty cheap, though, at $175 for most of them, but $349 for the 24 month/40,000km visit, and $379 for the 48 month/80,000km.
It's hard to say if the Swift Sport is better than the impression I got during our brief, mainly track-focused drive. But I can confidently state that it's an entertaining offering in the segment – perhaps not as potent as Fiesta ST, nor as polished as a Polo GTI... but it's an intriguing midpoint between the two, that's for sure.
I can't wait to drive it again.
Would you choose the Suzuki Swift Sport over one of its compact hot hatch competitors? Let us know in the comments section.