Warm and hot hatchbacks are a godsend for enthusiasts. Be it an old Citroen Saxo VTS or a new Volkswagen Up GTI, such a car will often serve up more on-road fun than a bigger and more powerful alternative.
There are exceptions, of course, but the likes of finely honed compact runabouts with peppy engines often deliver numerous other advantages; sensible economy and affordable consumables, for example, could allow you to more frequently drive and appreciate what you’ve bought without spending a fortune.
And, these days, ever-declining speed limits, growing average speed camera networks, bunched-up traffic, and tired tarmacadam, all conspire to make it difficult to exploit, let alone enjoy, more serious pieces of machinery.
Consequently, when I was after a car that would put a smile on my face at sane speeds, daily and without torpedoing my finances, I bought a 2015 Suzuki Swift Sport. Yes, I walked past the esteemed Ford Fiesta ST, as well as other offerings in the Fiesta range, and discounted options from Abarth, Honda, Mini, Renault, and Volkswagen, to jump into a Suzuki.
Bear with me, though. From the outset, I wanted a small car offering a modicum of performance, five doors instead of three, xenon or LED headlights, cruise control, a high standard of reliability and durability, and low running costs.
Some of those needs were driven by a rise in the number of long-distance trips I was doing, which also entailed me needing a car that wouldn’t prove utterly intolerable when cruising. It was a long list of requirements, for sure, but one that played in my favour; combined with my circa-£6,000 budget, my finicky demands eliminated all but the Suzuki.
The second-generation Swift Sport, often referred to by its chassis code of ZC32S, also strongly appealed to the engineer and automotive enthusiast in me. Like its predecessor, the ZC31S, it wasn’t just a regular Swift with a dash of extra power and some additional flash - the suspension, wheel bearings, bushes, steering gear, structure, transmission, clutch, gear shift, brakes, tyres, and more, had all been revised or upgraded to deliver a more capable and driver-focused car.
And then there was its finely engineered and naturally aspirated 1.6-litre M16A engine, which produced 134bhp at 6900rpm and 118lb ft at 4400rpm. Lacking compared to turbocharged rivals, unquestionably, but tasked with accelerating a mere 1060kg of five-door Suzuki.
Now, a year down the line and after covering some 7000 miles alongside other cars, I’m still very much enjoying Swift Sport ownership. It’s just uncomplicated fun, for one thing; sling it into a corner and load it up a little, even at unremarkable speeds, and it’ll spring to life around you. The steering is responsive and accurate, with a good amount of feedback, and the chassis agile, talkative and playful.
The straight-line performance on offer is modest, sure, with an on-paper time of 8.7 seconds for the 0-62mph dash, but the Swift fully abides by the slow car fast mantra; wind it up, chase the limiter, revel in the gratifyingly mechanical action of each gear change, and enjoy the sensation of hacking down the lanes without immediately and unwittingly obliterating your licence.
I don’t think the subtle yet smartly styled Swift disappoints inside, either; it has supportive seats, clear instruments, plenty of kit, and just enough pleasing details, such as red stitching and aluminium pedals, to make it feel more distinct and noteworthy. No rattles or notable wear in mine, to boot.
It’s also refined and comfortable enough that I can happily undertake regular 400-mile trips, it’s capable of returning a true 45mpg when driven sensibly, and it’s not difficult to get more than 300 miles out of a single tank. There are other appealing facets, too, such as the active Suzuki Swift Sport Owners community on Facebook, as well as myriad cosmetic and mechanical upgrades.
That isn’t all to say that the Swift is perfect. One of my initial major gripes was that it was simply too quiet, meaning there was little aural excitement despite the snappy M16A’s rev-happy nature. Fortunately, an aftermarket intake from specialists CTC Performance neatly solved that problem. Oh, and the poxy digital clock in the dash always runs fast. Go figure.
Make no mistake, rivals such as the Fiesta ST are quicker and better in areas, but the overall package and affordability offered by the Suzuki made it the best choice for me. If you’re seeking similar, it might prove just the ticket for you as well.
Pleasingly, if you do fancy one, there’s also not much to worry about. At the very least, the usual checks aside, just remember to listen out for excessive valvetrain noise. If present, particularly when the engine is hot, it could be indicative of the car requiring a costly valve lash inspection and shimming session.
The only other purchasing snag you might encounter is that in the five years it was available after its launch in 2012, sales of rivals sometimes significantly outstripped those of the Mk2 Swift Sport. As a result, although comparative rarity can add appeal for some, finding a good one can take a bit of time and effort. But, all told, it’s effort well worth expending if it fits your particular bill.
And, yes, I did at one point fleetingly consider upgrading to the latest turbocharged Swift Sport. I’ve driven a few now, including the newest mild hybrid Swift Sport; any Boosterjet-powered Sport unsurprisingly feels punchier than the past models and is stiffer and more eager. They’re also noisier than mine inside, though, and the quality of everything feels to me like it’s been toned down by several per cent.
That, coupled with new and used prices that often aren’t that compelling, means it won’t be a newer Swift that ultimately replaces my Suzuki. I could be tempted to go the other way and pick up a less refined but more entertaining first-generation Swift Sport for a track car build, mind, but that’s another story altogether.