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Click to view picture gallery“Unlike many cars
  wearing a ‘sport’
  badge, Suzuki’s Swift
  Sport does exactly
  what it says...”

THERE WAS A TIME when a 'sport' badge meant exactly that — Sport. These days it's the new best friend of the marketing boys, so it doesn't always mean you know what you're getting. But that's certainly not the case with Suzuki's Swift Sport.

Building on feedback from Suzuki's motorsport programme, the Sport takes a sports-tuned version of the capable Swift chassis and adds a Junior World Rally Championship-honed, high-revving 1.6-litre VVT engine. With 123bhp under the driver's right foot it's certainly swift — 0-62mph takes a brisk 8.9 seconds. And while it's definitely sporty enough to drive, Suzuki have also been good sports, because they've priced it at an affordable 11,499 on-the-road.

As you'll know if you've read our recent review of the Swift 'ordinaire', the basic model is an entertaining drive. As you would imagine, much of what we've said about the Sport's 1.5 5-door sibling applies to the Sport. For the record, Car magazine named the supermini Swift its 'Car of the Year', describing it as "stylish, roomy, good value, pretty quick and a lot of fun to drive". The Sport is Suzuki's 3-door hatchback flagship Swift and takes it up a couple of notches — delivering more power and ensuring that keen drivers emerge grinning from their stint behind the leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel.

Externally the Sport wears all the right kit, starting with striking 17-inch 10-spoke alloys shod with Goodyear Eagle F1 195/45 R17 tyres that fill the flared wheelarches. A deep front bumper incorporates a distinctive double honeycomb grille and there are redesigned lights, bold sills and, at the rear, a roof spoiler and a pair of chunky chrome-tipped twin exhausts tailpipes protruding from the honeycomb pattern rear apron.

The cockpit also sends out all the right signals, with a striking red and black trim colour combination, bucket-type sports seats with large side bolsters and brushed stainless steel pedals sporting business-like rubber inserts. Standard equipment includes automatic climate control with a pollen filter, front electric windows, powered and heated electric door mirrors, a full complement of airbags, Radio/CD with MP3 compat-ibility, front foglamps, steering wheel audio controls and Keyless start.

The sporty black-and-red combination upholstery is complemented by red trimmed armrests and aluminium-effect strips along the tops of the door panels, while red stitching is used on the steering wheel, on the seats and on the black gearshift boot. The instrument binnacle is set relatively low to ensure good forward visibility and reinforce the sense of openness. A triple gauge instrument cluster comprises of easy-to-read central 150mph speedometer flanked on one side by a smaller rev-counter and on the other by a combined fuel/temperature gauge. All have unique-to-the-Sport chrome rims. Centrally mounted atop the fascia is a digital information display that shows time, instant/average fuel consumption and the outside temperature.

The standard radio/CD player is seamlessly integrated into the deep fascia and can be operated using the simple, one-touch push button controls or those mounted on the steering wheel. The system features speed-sensing volume control and MP3-compatibility — an appealing duo. Sited beneath the radio/CD are two large rotary dial-type controls for the standard-fit automatic air conditioning. Also welcome are the good trim materials and a tight fit and finish.

Like Swift GLX models, the Swift Sport features keyless entry for simple door unlocking, engine start-up and locking. No fumbling in bags or pockets for keys to gain access to the car for Swift owners, and there's no need to press a remote button. Instead, as long as the key is being carried, or it's in a pocket or bag, the system detects its presence and unlocks the car. The doors are then opened simply by pressing a button on either front door handle; and the engine is started by twisting the ignition key grip. A further convenience, particularly when you have your hands full, is provided by an electromagnetic tail-gate catch that needs just a light touch to release it.

The Swift has a long wheelbase (2.38m) and one of the widest bodies in its class (1.69m) — providing plenty of room for a spacious cabin. In the front, head, shoulder and leg room are generous. Storage spaces for all of your everyday motoring paraphernalia are spread around the cabin and include a glove box, front door pockets large enough for A4-size road atlases and side pockets in the rear. The cube-shaped ash-tray is removable and can be placed in any of the three cupholders. Non smokers will find it useful for everything from coins and pens to a home for their mobile.

Accommodation for rear seat passengers is good, with entry and exit through the tall, wide doors best made via the passenger door as this seat tilts and slides for maximum accessibility. Three can be seated in the rear but there's no middle headrest. Two travel very comfortably — thanks to the good backrest angle and the comfortable, well-shaped and supportive headrests that drop out of sight when not in use. Plus there's a good view out through the fixed rear side windows. For a compact car, there's also reasonable boot space: 213 litres behind the rear seat and the rear single-piece seatback can be folded down to expand that to 495 litres. Although there's no spare wheel, you do get a tyre repair kit.

Driving the Sport is good fun. For a start it feels right just sitting in the red body-hugging rally-style seats. They provide excellent support at all times and the tilt-adjustable steering wheel is sportily sized. Fire up the engine. The driving position is commanding, thanks to the driver's thigh being a good 13 inches off the floor. The result is not only good for working the pedals smoothly, but proves very comfortable on long runs. The sporty steering wheel is wrapped in perforated leather and there are comfortable cut-outs for your thumbs. First impressions
of the major controls are also reassuring: the close-ratio five-speed 'box comes with a brilliant, slick-action gear change and a gear knob exactly where it should be for ease of use, complemented by a nicely-weighted and progressive uprated clutch and a sharply responsive electronic throttle.

The 1.6-litre twin-cam revs happily, always ready to dance to the tune played by the driver's right foot. And with 123bhp and 109lb ft at 4,800rpm, it's at its most eager when pressing on with larger numbers coming up on the rev-counter. Third gear, on challenging B-roads in particular, is a hoot. And the way it piles on speed as you power up a slip lane to join a motorway leaves you in no doubt that its posted official 124mph maximum speed is more than credible. Even cruising on the motorway — 70mph in top calls for a non-intrusive 3,700rpm — it still picks up cleanly in 5th gear when asked. A high-capacity exhaust system plays its part in boosting efficiency and sounds pretty good too, especially at higher revs.

The Sport's stiffened chassis features a MacPherson strut suspension set-up at the front, matched by a torsion beam and coil springs at the rear with Monroe shock absorbers for enhanced damping character-istics. The reworking makes for good body control, but not at the expense of a comfortable ride quality. Power into the first sharp corner and there's that grippy-wheel-at-each-corner feel reminiscent of the MINI. The Sport is chuckable, gripping well both with its chassis and the Eagle rubber. As part of the standard package, there's also the added security of a switchable Electronic Stability Control system that Suzuki's engineers have tuned in such a way that it is not overly intrusive.

The Sport's new-specification, electronically-controlled rack-and-pinion power steering feels reasonably meaty and fared well in an unexpected emergency 'elk test' — the severe direction change and recovery necessary should you come round a bend to find an elk in your way! It's astute enough to get you through fast corners flat and poised, so long as you pick your line and stay with it. The trick is to keep the power on and trust the chassis to do its stuff, because there's a lot more grip that you'd guess from your first acquaintance. Overall the Sport is a willing performer, and always feels ready to play some more.

Certain stretches of our usual test route are pretty unforgiving and will soon see air between the tyres and the track. The Sport behaved itself surprisingly well, retaining its composure whatever we threw it at. That's not to say it can't be caught out — any car can, but you'd have to be behaving idiotically to lose the Sport. Large ABS disc brakes all round, ventilated at the front and backed up by electronic brake-force distribution, provide reassuring stopping power with a strong bite.

Safety is also well-sorted, with a 4-star Euro NCAP rating, driver and passenger front and side airbags, full length curtain airbags and brake and clutch pedals designed to collapse out of the way in the event of a frontal impact.

At 11,500 on-the-road, the Swift Sport is going to give a lot of its sporty, compact-hatch rivals a headache. Few offer the same mix of kit and driving charisma as the Sport which — if it matters — is faster and £1,500 cheaper than the MINI Cooper. And you don't have to
pay for your driving entertainment at the pumps either, because — despite its sporting credentials — it still averages a creditable 39.2mpg. Officially, the urban and touring figures are 31.4 and 45.6mpg respect-ively. Our test average worked out to a plastic-friendly 30.3mpg. If that's not enough, scoot out and try it for yourself.

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Swift Sport 1.6 VVT
| 11,495
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 30.3mpg | Power: 123bhp | Torque:
109lb ft
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