Why you should buy the small but perfectly formed Suzuki Swift Sport
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
123bhp. 1.6 litres. A naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine. Doesn’t sound like the makings of a performance car icon, does it?
But dismiss the Mk1 Suzuki Swift Sport, to whom these figures belong, at your peril. Here is a car that, when it was launched in 2006, bucked the trend for ever heavier, ever more complex, ever more powerful modern hot hatches, instead choosing mechanical simplicity and lightness – tipping the scales at just 1,060kg – as a path to riotous giggles.
The Swift’s extra naughtiness came from proper old-school tuning, too: high-lift cams, forged pistons, a polished intake manifold, a bigger exhaust, and stiffened, lowered suspension with Monroe shock absorbers.
It worked. Reviews of the Swift Sport in its day were fulsome in their praise. Car Magazine described the Swift as “a hot hatch with old school manners”, praising its rev-happy engine, sweet gearbox, involving steering and chassis – and a gleeful proclivity for mid-corner lift-off oversteer. Evo, meanwhile, spent a year living with one, and described it in its closing report as a ‘likeable, happy little car’ and a ‘true miniature hero’.
Praise indeed. And the best news is that the Swift Sport is simply getting better with age. In a world of over-assisted, artificial performance hatchbacks, it is gloriously analogue, and all the better for it.
Granted, inside you’ll find a cheap-feeling interior and some fairly low-rent materials. But the dashboard is at least appealing to look at, and what’s more, a strong reputation for reliability means it should last the course, too.
Why you should buy one now
Well, that reliability, for one thing. Few hot hatches of this era have particularly impressive reliability records, but the Swift’s is better than most, and while obviously age and provenance will play a part, that means Swift ownership should be largely trouble free.
Then there are the prices. You can secure an early, high-mileage car for as little as £1,000 if you’re prepared to live with a tatty example, though of course we’d suggest you spend a little more. Decent examples with average mileage and a full history will give you change from £2,000, while even super-clean low-milers can be had for £3,000.
It would be wrong to assume those prices are going to rise any time soon, of course; the Swift Sport is still ubiquitous, so it’ll take a while before it starts to move into classic territory. However, at the same time, values haven’t much further to fall, either, and the amount of fun a Swift Sport offers you for the price makes it look like exceptional value at present.
What to look out for
There’s very little to concern yourself with here. Trim rattles can be an issue, mind you, so listen out for those; the driver’s seat bolster can wear, too.
The Sport’s hooliganistic tendencies mean you should probably check it hasn't been thrashed. Telltale signs might include wear to the sidewall of the tyre, a sloppy-feeling gearbox, and signs of crash damage, such as rust where there shouldn’t be any. Check for a high clutch bite point, too.
The Sport is relatively new, so finding one with a full history shouldn’t be too hard; make this a priority, therefore. You don’t have to look out for timing belt changes, as the Sport had a chain-driven cam.
You’ll find Swift Sport owners are near-unanimous in their praise for their cars. We can’t blame them. It’s that rare thing a terrifically fun car you can enjoy right now on a shoestring budget.
And if you do treat yourself to a Swift Sport, why not grab yourself a shiny new Suzuki keyring to go with it?