Singapore - A minute after leaving the dealership, I stalled the brand new Suzuki Swift Sport. Undeterred, I depressed the clutch and fired the car up again, before continuing with my commute back to the office.
As ever, I found myself asking the same question I’ve been pondering since I was assigned to pick up the car: “Is a manual hot-hatch a practical choice in Singapore?”
Ahh yes, the age-old debate of manual versus automatic. Granted, there are several caveats of living with a three-pedal, manual-transmission car in our congested city.
For all intents and purposes, the Suzuki Swift Sport is the cheapest manual transmission passenger vehicle on sale in Singapore today. As a matter of fact, this model is only offered as a manual in Singapore (as of now).
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good manual car. It’s an endangered breed amidst the ever-growing slew of modern, auto-only vehicles. Having said that, I lack experience with a manual-shifter. The last time I spent hours behind the wheel of a manual was when I was still getting familiar with the Highway Code.
Suffice to say, it's been years.
And that’s exactly why the Ed thought it’d be a good idea to send me out in the new Suzuki Swift Sport, now with a turbo and mild-hybrid tech, to hurl me into the fiery crucible of manual shifting, balancing biting points and intermittent stalling.
But I’m not here to judge the Swift Sport based on its performance characteristics. Instead, I’m to gauge how easy it is for an out-of-practice stick-shift driver to get into the car and enjoy it. Or at the very least, live with it as a daily driver.
It’s a good thing that this B-segment hatch isn’t large by any stretch of imagination. Measuring just under four meters long, it matches the length of the second generation car.
However, its wheelbase has grown ever so slightly, which translates to decent interior accommodation and more grown-up on-road manners. Rest assured, this car will fit in any road or carpark in Singapore, however narrow it might be.
The Swift Sport has long been regarded as one of the more affordable and enjoyable hot-hatches on the market, with the new model tarted-up to flash its sporty credentials.
The revised front end boasts a wider front honeycomb grille and a front lip spoiler with a textured carbonfibre motif, admittedly not the best feature in my mind.
However, it does amplify the sporty demeanour of the hot hatch. The Swift Sport also gets 17-inch polished alloys, striking LED headlights, DRLs and fog lamps.
Round back, the rear diffuser sees the same sporty ‘carbonfibre’ style trimmings, with a mid-mounted rear diffuser lamp and menacing twin exhaust tailpipes. The rear door handles are mounted high up in the rear pillar, which along with the blacked-out A-pillars, breaks up the Champion Yellow paintwork rather tastefully.
Inside, it’s nicely embellished with a smattering of leather. The infotainment system has screen mirroring for smartphones, and you get a 4.2-inch digital screen between the dials on the dash (more on that later).
Certain bits of the interior trim are more utilitarian, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice it when you get out and drive it properly. What it lacks in refinement and premium materials, it more than makes up for with character.
Plenty of red accents adorns the cabin to lift it up over the standard car. You get two bucket-style seats with ample bolstering, plenty of red contrast stitching and ‘Sport’ embroidered into the headrest.
Even the dials see the addition of racy red elements. And the middle screen in the gauge cluster now displays the car’s power and torque levels, a g-meter and turbo boost pressure. And last but not least, how does one miss the leather-wrapped 6spd shifter and mechanical handbrake?
The Swift Sport and Plain Vanilla Swift MHEV may share a common platform and numerous components, but they are vastly different cars. Despite the firmer ride and manual box, the Swift Sport represents immense value for a proper manual hot-hatch that can ferry a family of four in relative comfort. Maybe five, if your fifth passenger is tiddly.
Having spent several days in the Swift Sport, I eventually grew to have a vastly different opinion of the car. It isn’t as punishing or unrelenting as I'd initially believed.
You could miss a gear and it won’t bite back savagely – the only injury is to your ego. Also, the eagerness with which the car leaps forward belies its 9.1 seconds 0-100km/h sprint time.
Weighing in at just 1020kg, there’s an air of lightness to the car so the Swift Sport turns into corners with plenty of fervour. In fact, I got the distinct impression that the only thing raising the car’s centre gravity was the weight of my body.
Does the mild-hybrid tech nullify the organic joy of the new Swift Sport? No, not in the slightest. While it does improve the overall fuel economy of the car, I’ll admit that the addition of the hybridisation tech does have its own idiosyncrasies.
On the move, the 48V mild hybrid system is so unobtrusive, you often forget that it's there. Hit the start button and the turbo’d 1.4-litre engine murmurs to life in an instant, thanks to the Integrated Starter-Generator (ISG) bolted to the flywheel.
The ISG system works wonders, especially when you accidentally stall the engine at a set of lights. It takes but a few seconds to restart the engine and drive off before any cars start honking.
When the car is coasting, the ISG siphons a small amount of energy from the front wheels and diverts it back to the hybrid battery. But when you need a little extra boost at low revs, the combination of the turbocharger and the ISG spurs the engine to give you almost linear power delivery to get you back up to highway speeds, even when you're in 4th gear or higher.
Stomp on the throttle, and the turbocharger spools up to give you a surprising amount of shove once the engine breaches 2000rpm. Moments like these are when you feel the full force of all 127hp and 235Nm.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway about driving the Suzuki Swift Sport is the feeling you get when you walk towards the car and think to yourself, with a little bit of incredulity, “Wow, I can’t believe I'm driving this.”
It's not just about rowing through the gears when you’re tackling a set of twisty bends or cutting a path through slow-moving vehicles. It’s the combination of all the little things.
Even the sense of joy you get from doing something as simple as getting a single shift right. I now understand why die-hard drivers continue to choose a manual gearbox over an auto box. I 100 per cent get it.
It’s the sense of engagement and the analogue feel that is sadly lacking in most cars today. Despite being a turbocharged, hybrid hatchback, electrification enhances rather than dilutes the joy of driving a manual vehicle.
In summary, the Suzuki Swift Sport is rapid, engaging, lively and great fun. On the days I had the car, I was always raring to have a go in it. Such was the impression the car left on me that when it came time to return it, I found myself handing the keys back to Suzuki with a tinge of sadness.
I’ll miss it dearly.
PHOTOS Jay Tee
SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT
Engine 1373cc, inline4, turbo, 48V mild Hybrid System
Transmission 6spd manual
Top Speed 210km/h
Fuel Consumption 4.7l/100k