Driven: Suzuki Swift Sport

I fell in love with the original Suzuki Swift Sport. Its 1.6-litre engine might not have been the last word in refinement, but the chassis was joyously chuckable and the whole was so much more than the sum of its parts that you could forgive its slightly cheap interior and the unsupportive front seats. It was a Jack Russell terrier of a car, made all the better because its charms were accessible at sensible speeds.

It was cheap, too and cheap meant something, back-in-the-day. But times change, and the world’s moved on and cheap means nowt now that no-one pays for their car up front; the advent of low-cost PCP deals mean that the price in the windscreen is becoming less and less relevant. At a time when an extra grand only means a few pounds more each month, people are treating themselves to cars that they previously couldn’t afford and the role of the cheap hatchback is diminishing.

Which is a problem when small cheap cars are your USP. To counter this, Suzuki moved up-market to create the all-new Swift Sport. The outgoing model’s 1.6-litre normally aspirated engine is now the smaller, more sophisticated 1.4-litre turbocharged Boosterjet engine, which made its debut in the Vitara. While the Boosterjet’s 138bhp is only 4bhp more than the engine it replaces, that power advantage is further leveraged by the new car’s featherweight build: It tips the scales at just 975kgs, which is a full 65kgs less than the car it replaces. That’s the equivalent of losing a passenger from your car. Or, in engineering terms, a lot.

It feels light, too. I threaded it along the mountains outside Dublin before throwing it around Mondello Circuit and it handled both with aplomb, acing poor surfaces and adverse cambers alike. The suspension is precise and agile but surprisingly compliant; Suzuki claims that it tried more than 100 spring and damper combinations to fine-tune the Swift Sport for British roads, and it shows.

While some manufacturers might have been tempted to bias the car’s dynamics towards handling at the expense of ride, the Swift Sport treads the line perfectly. Only a pedant will find anything to complain about with the way the chassis interacts with the road surface.

The way it interacts with the driver on the other hand, is open to some criticism because the new car’s throttle adjustability just isn’t as good as that of the old car’s. Perhaps it’s legislation, perhaps it’s the slightly numb steering, or perhaps it is just a bit too grown up for its own good but it’s just not as much fun as it was.

This is because the back end sticks resolutely to the tarmac, even when you snap the throttle closed mid-bend. This might be the safe option but it isn’t as much fun as being able to invoke a smidge of lift-off oversteer at will. The new car rewards precision rather than hooliganism, and while this is an admirable trait in most cars I can’t help but think the pendulum might have swung too far in this case.

So, while it isn’t quite as much fun as the older car it is more grown up, more civilised – and better equipped.

Much better equipped, in fact. There might be just the one trim level available but that trim level gives you Apple CarPlay, satellite navigation, proper climate control, keyless entry, rear parking sensors, very effective LED headlights (with high beam assist), and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The 4* NCAP safety rating comes courtesy of some extra electronic kit, namely automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, a weaving/drowsiness monitor, advanced pedestrian detection, and radar cruise control.

On a more personal level, the front seats now provide very good lateral support as well as placing you lower in the car; these were the only two significant faults with the old model, so it’s nice to know Suzuki listened and rectfied what almost everyone felt was the old Swift Sport’s one weakness.

You might get the impression that I was a bit disappointed and you’d be partly right. I loved the old car and came away only admiring the new. Having said that, it’s still a nicer place to be than the new Fiesta ST, and a more quirky, left-field choice than almost anything else in its class.

Of course, the acid test is whether I would one. The answer to that is an emphatic “Hell yes!” It might have lost some of its character but I’ve no doubt that it’s an easier car to live with now it no longer constantly yaps for attention.

The old car might have been great for a dirty weekend but the new one is the one you’d marry.

Carlton Boyce @motoringjourno