Test drive: 2021 Suzuki Swift Sport 1.4L Boosterjet (RM139,900)
After a five-year hiatus following a collaboration with Proton that failed to progress past the rebadging of the Ertiga MPV, Suzuki returned to Malaysia under new distributor Naza Eastern Motors earlier this year with all eyes on the sole product it had at launch: the third-generation Swift Sport (fourth if you count the Ignis-based hatch that debuted the nameplate in Japan).
By the time the new Swift Sport got here, European markets had already received a hybridised update to meet the continent’s stricter Euro 6d emission standards. And there was already a flurry of reconditioned units sitting in the showroom floors of grey importers, such was the delay. That said, the saying “good things come to those who wait” rings true to fans of the feisty little hatch who have shown great patience with the funds they’ve put aside for the down-payment on a new car.
Never mind the fact that it only comes with an automatic gearbox or its wheels are an inch tinier than those in other markets. The age-old formula that made the Swift Sport so lovable to begin with is not just completely intact, but bolstered by forced induction, an auto transmission with actual gears and notably improved build and insulation. Track-going enthusiasts may not care so much about the latter, but these things matter when you’re charging RM36k more than a Proton X50, minus the size, specs and power (yep) to show for it.
For the grand sum of RM139,900, the latest iteration of the Suzuki Swift Sport puts forward a direct-injected 1.4-litre turbocharged engine which develops 140PS and 230Nm of torque. It’s a fairly modest output that requires eight full seconds to propel the sub-tonne (970kg to be exact) hatch to 100kph from a standstill, on paper at least. Though it's worth noting that these figures are rated for RON95 – earlier models were notorious for their appetite for higher-grade fuel. Behind the wheel, the Swift Sport feels a lot more energetic than its numbers suggest, with barely any whiff of lag and a bottomless sense of zeal no matter what rpm you’re in; a stab of the throttle raises the same wealth of effort from the ‘Boosterjet’ engine whether you’re already at 1,500rpm, 3,000rpm or inching closer to the 6,500rpm redline.
Whether any of that translates to actual acceleration and velocity is a separate debate altogether. But in terms of the sensations communicated to the driver, the Swift Sport is every bit the type of car you’d expect from the second half of its name – engaging, intuitive and addictively so. The eagerness of the four-pot engine is matched by the 6AT’s satisfying shifts; urgent, with a distinct ‘bite’ between every gear change which puts the left foot’s restlessness to, er… rest. The paddle shifters, though nice to have, are pretty much ornamental, such is the swiftness (pun intended) of every premeditated upshift. Needless to say, it’s a much more driver-oriented package than the old CVT by a country mile, and then some.
This is particularly evident in how the steering is tuned, with quite a bit of resistance woven in to completely mask the fact that it’s an electrically powered unit (EPS). The added weight can prove a slight chore if you’re jumping in from a compact hatch or crossover and driving around narrow city confines. But it shines on the open road in tandem with the sports-biased suspension made up of a MacPherson strut up front and Torsion beam in the rear, which naturally leans towards the firmer side of things, but not jarringly so.
The Swift Sport is every bit the type of car you’d expect from the second half of its name – engaging, intuitive and addictively so
The sum of these parts is a hatch that, while not searing hot, has so much to give in terms of how well balanced and optimised its limited qualities (and quantities) are. As exemplified by ‘sports cars’ like the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota 86, Japanese certainly know how to light a big spark with minimal kindle and the little Suzuki is no exception, such is the expert weight management and composure of the safety-oriented ‘Heartect’ platform that also underpins the brand’s JDM kei cars, among many other four-wheeled offerings.
That said, the Swift Sport is not without its questionable quirks. For the price of a well-appointed C-segment sedan, you’d expect a bit more finesse in things like the old-fashioned keyless entry and touchscreen head unit that looks like it was supplied by a local accessory shop. However, not everything inside is bad, as evidenced by the lovely semi buckets that offer a reassuring hug through corners (not necessarily a boon for bigger builds) and the tastefully-fashioned trim pieces sporting red-to-black gradients.
It’s also worth noting that the new ZC33S Swift Sport is a more functional hatch than the outgoing ZC32S, with a touch more room and practicality hiding beneath its more angular and chiselled lines. This is particularly obvious in the 265-litre boot, which is a substantial step up from the old 211-litre cubbyhole. Though nowhere near today’s B-segment standards, the extra space beneath the rear hatch is bound to make the regular Swift a stronger proposition to those looking for an alternative to the Honda Jazz (or upcoming City Hatchback) and Toyota Yaris should Naza Eastern Motors want to tap into a more mainstream market.
All things considered, the 2021 Suzuki Swift Sport is not the easiest thing to sell to the calculated consumer, what with the conservative figures printed in the spec sheet paired with the heftiest price tag the nameplate has ever carried in Malaysia in three generations. That its warranty only lasts for three years doesn’t help. But let's not forget that the Swift Sport was never really a headline act on paper to begin with – its predecessors were never the most competent packages around be it in terms of value or performance, but held their own nonetheless to not just sell in numbers amidst notably feistier competition, but build a cult following in the process.
Now that the other hot hatches have left the playground, who are we to say that RM140k is too much to spend on a dinky little Japanese runabout aspiring to be a sports car? If fun has a price, cars that are as intrinsically delightful to drive as the Swift Sport certainly deserve some say as to how much that should be. And those who recognise it won't be fazed.
Suzuki Swift Sport
Price: RM139,900 on-the-road w/o insurance
Engine: 1.4L 4cyl turbo, 140bhp, 230Nm
Transmission: 6spd auto, FWD
Performance: 0-100 in 8.0 secs, 205kph
Economy: 6.1L per 100km
Modest performance figures against a relatively steep price tag struggle to convince, but there's a whole lot more to the new Swift Sport behind the wheel.
Enthusiastic 1.4-litre turbo is charming and effective while the ride is as well sorted as can be for a hatch of this size. A constant reminder that the journey is substantially more rewarding than the time it takes to get to your destination.