DELMAS, Mpumalanga – The third-generation Suzuki Swift Sport has finally arrived in South Africa and the local arm of the Japanese company decided to launch it on the twisty Red Star Raceway on the East Rand. Is this latest version of the warm hatch as exciting as its first two generations?

What’s new?

Gone is the naturally aspirated 1,6-litre engine, replaced by a new 1,4-litre turbopetrol known as the "BoosterJet". Although power has increased by a mere three units to 103 kW (offered at 5 500 r/min), maximum torque has jumped by a massive 44 percent to 230 N.m (on tap between 2 500 and 3 500 r/min).

In addition, Suzuki says it has lowered the weight of the car by some 90 kg. In an era where companies are compelled to build cars that are safer, quieter and crammed full of technology (all adding mass), the claimed kerb weight of 970 kg is a notable achievement. The claimed fuel consumption, meanwhile, has also been improved to 6,1 L/100 km. So far, so good, with the new Swift not putting a foot wrong.

Design

There are a number of external elements that grab your attention when you first see the car. These include the small front splitter, various bold exterior colours ("Burning Red" and "Champion Yellow" stand out) and the 16-inch alloy wheels. However, it's the rear of the car that proves the business end, complete with a cheeky roof spoiler and a faux-diffuser housing a pair of exhaust pipes. There's certainly no mistaking this for a standard Swift.

Behind the wheel

In a world filled to the brim with sports-, super- and hypercars, the new Swift Sport arrives as – to paraphrase a highly respected journalist – a veritable palate cleanser. Hot hatches have transformed into super (even hyper?) hatches, with the new 310 kW Mercedes-AMG A45 S leading the pack. But it's cars like the Swift Sport that allow us to learn pretty much all there is to know about the basics of driving quickly (think understeer, lift-off oversteer and just how important a lack of weight is in terms of making a car fun to drive).

We didn’t have the chance to drive the new Swift Sport on the road, but did spend some time on the tight and twisty track that is Red Star Raceway. And it was a perfect proving ground for this little hatchback. As before, the seating position is spot-on (even for someone 1,87 metres tall), affording the driver perfect command of the controls and a great all-round view through the glass.

The six-speed manual gearbox (interestingly, a six-speed automatic transmission is also offered) is slick in its operation and the shift action is short – two vital features for driving enjoyment. The moment I leave the pits and put my foot down, I realise the urge from the engine is vastly superior to that of the old model. As I lean on the brakes and flick the car through the first few corners, the low weight is obvious. The Sport feels light, nimble and changes direct sharply.

Although now turbocharged, the engine is still eager to rev, but you also soon realise you can save the time you'd otherwise use changing a gear and rather leave to ‘box in third or fourth gear, making use of all that added torque.

As expected, there is notable understeer (as is the case with the vast majority of cars), which forces you to be patient when applying the throttle as you leave a corner. However, when you do hit the accelerator, the inside wheel tends to spin thanks to the extra torque. This was fun for the first lap or two, but I quickly realised that if Suzuki offered the optional 17-inch wheel and tyre combination (not yet available here for a number of reasons), a little more grip would be available.

Apart from the latter, this is a really enjoyable front-driven hatch. The brakes feel strong and there was no doubt in my mind the Swift Sport would survive the day of on-track punishment; that's not often the case with road cars, even those retailing for 10 times as much as this model.

Summary

The Swift Sport has a small handful of competitors in South Africa, some far more expensive (think Volkswagen's Polo GTI) and some not quite as fun (I'm looking at you, three-door Opel Corsa GSi). Sadly, the latest Ford Fiesta ST is not destined for our shores, which leaves the Swift Sport as one of the most affordable daily drives in this segment. What’s more, the Sport feels quicker than its claimed 0-100 km/h time of 8,0 seconds suggests.

In short, the new model is exceedingly difficult to fault. Indeed, Suzuki should be commended for offering a vehicle capable of serving up this much fun at this end of the market. Long may the success of the Swift Sport continue!



FAST FACTS

Model: Suzuki Swift Sport
Price: R315 900
Engine: 1,4-litre turbopetrol
Power: 103 kW at 5 500 r/min
Torque: 230 between 2 500 - 3 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 8,0 seconds
Top Speed: 205 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 6,1 L/100 km
CO2: 142 g/km
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Service Plan: 4-year/60 000 km