Suzuki Swift Sport: First drive
I was lucky enough to spend two weeks earlier this year driving diesel and petrol versions of the current Suzuki Swift. I liked the way they looked and enjoyed the enthusiastic drive - but really yearned for more power.
Well, Suzuki has remedied this by re-introducing a range-topping Sport version of the Swift.
The Swift Sport is a car which, in its original form, had a cult hot hatch following; but can the second-generation version offer more than the driving appeal of its predecessor? I headed to Barcelona to find out.
It gets off to a good start with the looks, which takes the Swift's attractive modern design and adds just the right amount of hot hatch aggression.
One of the criticisms of the last Swift Sport was the fact that it perhaps looked too similar to the standard car. This can't be said for the new car. At the front there are the distinctive HID headlights in metallic finish, fin-like foglight clusters and the deep honeycomb grille.
At the side, there are new skirts and lighter 17-inch alloy wheels. Whilst at the back, there's a rear roof spoiler and deeper rear bumper with distinctive twin exhausts.
Inside, the changes are less noticeable but no less worthwhile, with just a set of supportive sport seats and different instruments being the only changes over the original well-designed cabin.
I thought that the new sports seats were really comfortable and supportive in twisty corners, though perhaps mounted too high for some drivers to find a comfy driving position. Still, all- round visibility is generally good.
There's enough room for two adults to travel in the back of the Swift in comfort, but the three-door hatchback body does make access to the rear difficult. The disappointingly tiny 211-litre boot is only good for a couple of squashy bags too.
Mechanically, the new Swift Sport follows the proven formula of the last, as the latest 1.6-litre Variable Valve Timing (VVT) engine is based on the outgoing cars. Top speed is 121mph, with 60mph acceleration coming up in 8.7 seconds.
However, in line with the new marketing slogan for Swift Sport of 'high emotion - low emission', the Sport now has 136bhp; an increase of 13bhp over the old car, with torque similarly increased by 12Nm to 160Nm and all of this at a far less frantic 4,400rpm.
With all Sport's extra power and torque you'd be forgiven for thinking the new car would be less green, but you'd be wrong as CO2 emissions have dropped by 10 per cent to 147g/km.
Other changes for the Suzuki Sport's drivetrain is the addition of a bespoke six-speed manual gearbox.
So, what's the Swift Sport like to drive? Well, the Suzuki has an exclusively tuned chassis that includes more rigid torsion-beam bushes, larger rear wheel bearings, increased spring rates for the coil springs and map change for the electric power steering.
Despite it being the sporting version of the Swift, this set-up surprises as this car rides very well. I appreciated the extra stiffness of the chassis in corners, body roll is kept well in check and this Swift certainly feels more nimble than standard.
Whilst lacking feel around the straight ahead, the weighting for the electric power steering is genuinely good. The brakes also feel strong and are more than a match for the enhanced performance.
You have to work the engine and gearbox hard to get the best out of the Swift Sport, so it's a good thing that the 1.6-litre engine always feels responsive and fizzy. Even if the charismatic rasp of the new sports exhaust can get tiring after a while.
It's a good thing then, that the new Swift Sport has the slick six-speed gearbox, as when you don't want to play, it can do refined much better than the old car.
So with an estimated list price of £14,500 when it goes on sale in January 2012, if I was in the market for a hot hatrch would I buy the Swift Sport over rivals such as the Ford Fiesta Zetec-S and the Renault Twingo Gordini?
Well, I think it's more interesting to look at, is as much fun to drive, yet with the changes to the engine, is more refined and frugal than before. Hot hatch buyers have never had it so good.