Car reviews - Suzuki - Swift - Sport CVT 5-dr hatch
Nimble chassis, eye-catching looks, responsive paddle shifters, value for money, good brakes, fuel efficiency
Room for improvement
CVT takes the edge off performance, uninspiring engine note, boot space, illegible speedometer, light steering
13 Apr 2012
WE WERE big fans of the second-generation Suzuki Swift Sport following its local launch back in February.
We found it to be a fizzy and fun driving experience that proffered plenty of bang for few bucks – at least in the conditions we tackled. But these conditions were limited to sweeping country roads and a compact racing circuit in regional Victoria – not exactly the full spectrum.
One of the big joys of cars like this is the fact that you can enjoy them in the most modest environs. A deserted roundabout here, a quick corner there … The potential for fun is almost everywhere you look.
Therefore, we wanted to know how the car performed in day-to-day city driving, where target customers are likely to spend most of their time.
In the spirit of practicality, we also opted for the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) – which Suzuki Australia projects will account for 70 per cent of sales – since we only drove the six-speed manual version on the launch.
One thing we liked about Sport then – and still adore now – is the way it harks back to classic hot hatches of yesteryear like the Peugeot 205 and Mk 1 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
It’s not the quickest car out there, but its featherlight 1060kg kerb weight and well-sorted chassis give it the ability to leap into corners like an excitable puppy. It takes little effort to get a chirp out of the 195/45 Bridgestone Potenzas.
We’d like to add some weight to the artificial-feeling electric steering, but we can’t fault its directness and sharp turn-in, nor the lovely feel of its leather-wrapped wheel.
Indeed, despite the use of cheap-feeling hard plastics, the Sport’s interior is a nice place to be. The ergonomics are typically well thought-out and the build quality is of a high standard. The racing bucket seats are supportive and comfortable and visibility is top-notch, courtesy of small A-pillars and powerful headlights for night driving.
It’s not perfect, though. The Bluetooth system is tricky to negotiate, and made pairing up the phone a chore. Sure, it’s simple to figure once you know the method, but these systems ought to be more immediately intuitive.
The sporting speedometer with its 30km/h increments is a pain as well, with its cluttered face making it hard to accurately gauge speed.
Space is also at a premium, even for a light-sized car such as this. Headroom is fine, but rear legroom is tight, while forget packing more than a few carry-on bags into the boot (under which sits no spare wheel – replaced by a repair kit).
We reckon the Sport is a bit of a looker, with a bodykit that complements its stubby proportions and wheels that nicely fill the arches. We aren’t alone in our assessment, either, with our signature canary yellow car getting a lot of ogles from passersby.
As on the launch, we were surprised by the pliancy of the Sport’s ride on those 17-inch alloys, as well as the subdued road noise. Suzuki has hit a great balancing point that keeps the car firm and flat in corners without shaking loose your fillings over rough strips of road.
The all-round disc brakes (ventilated at the front and solid at the rear) essentially been have carried over from the previous generation, albeit with slightly larger pads.
Thank the car’s light weight for their effectiveness, because they belie their small size with their strength, feel and resistance to fade. They aced our track drive earlier in the year, and city commuting posed no real problem.
For all this, the heart and soul of any hot hatch is its engine. The little 1.6-litre 100kW naturally-aspirated unit is no firebrand, but is adequately zippy when kept on the boil, with a characterful arc and a willingness to rev and shriek past 7000rpm. This is where our problem with the CVT comes to the fore.
While a lack of fixed ratios should theoretically make best use of the modest 160Nm of torque by keeping it at optimal revs, it doesn’t feel as lively and full of pep as it does when matched to the self-shifting option.
The aural experience is also lacking: Since this type of transmission has an unlimited number of gear ratios, you neither hear nor feel the shifts between them.
When left to its own devices in automatic ‘D’ mode, the acceleration is linear but lacks the sporting character and pizzazz essential to a baby hot hatch like this one.
A weakness of the manual Swift Sport – one of only a few – is its uninspiring exhaust note, and the whirring drone of the CVT only compounds matters, rendering the driving experience somewhat counter-intuitive.
Luckily, Suzuki has fitted paddle shifters for more spirited driving, with seven pre-set ratios turning the continuously variable unit into a more conventional seven-speed automatic.
This manual mode is rather good – its snappy changes and more conventional (albeit still underwhelming) note provides a much more connected driving experience for the inner boy-racer, replenishing some of the spark of the manual gearbox.
It will also rev the engine all the way out to redline before taking over proceedings and changing up.
Even with this sort of driving, we still recorded average fuel consumption of 6.6 litres per 100km – close to Suzuki’s official claim of 6.1L/100km on the combined cycle. Impressive numbers.
The paddle shifter CVT, then, is for the most part an acceptable compromise for less performance-oriented driving, with ‘D’ mode suited to keeping it frugal in stop-start commutes, and the paddles adding a modicum of fun and spark to proceedings.
Overall, our opinion of the Swift Sport remains largely untempered after experiencing it across a different set of conditions. It’s hard to think of a more fun driving experience for the outlay (starting at $23,990 for the manual, an extra $2000 for the CVT).
The driving purist still ought to save their hard-earned and opt for the manual gearbox though. We certainly would.
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