Singapore - I stalled the car. A minute after leaving the dealership, I stalled in the brand new Suzuki Swift Sport. Undeterred, I depressed the clutch and fired the car up again, continuing onwards with my commute back to the office.
As ever, I found myself asking the same question I’ve pondered about ever since I got 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. Class 3 or Class 3A. Granted, there are several caveats of living with a car equipped with a third pedal and a stick in our fairly congested city. The Suzuki Swift Sport is, for all intents and purposes, the cheapest manual transmission passenger vehicle on sale in Singapore today. Matter of fact, this very model is only offered as a manual in Singapore (as of now).
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good manual. They’re an endangered breed amidst the ever-growing slew of electrified hybrid or battery electric vehicles. Right now, the production of modern manual vehicles are declining, which is a crying shame.
That being said, I lack experience with a manual. I’ve had a fair few bouts of fun in several manuals, but never in rush hour traffic or weaving through MSCPs. The last extended period of time where I spent hours behind the wheel of a manual was way back in the days when I was still getting familiar with the highway code. Suffice to say, it's been years.
Which was why my editor 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 pit me against the fiery crucible of manual shifting and ensnare me in the throes of biting points, intermittent stalling, and clutch kicking.
That last one was a joke.
But I digress. I’m not here to judge the Swift Sport purely based on its performance characteristics. I’m here to gauge how easy it will be for an out-of-practice driver to get into this car and enjoy it. Or live with it as a daily driver.
It’s a good thing that this quaint B-segment hatch isn’t what you’d consider large. Measuring just under 4 meters long, it matches the length of the 2nd generation car. However, its wheelbase has been extended ever so slightly, which makes this already amenable little hatchback just a smidge easier to manoeuvre. 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 most affordable and enjoyable hot hatches on the market. And this new model has been tarted up to display its more sporty credentials. The revised front end has been thoroughly redesigned, with a wider front honeycomb grille and a front lip spoiler that has textured carbon fibre motifs, admittedly not the best feature in my book. But it does amplify the sporty demeanour of the hot hatch. The Swift Sport also gets 17-inch polished alloys wrapped in 195mm tyres. The requisite LED headlights, DRLs and fog lamps are a mainstay on this variant of the Swift.
Round back, the rear diffuser sees the same sporty “carbon fibre” style trimmings, with a mid-mounted rear diffuser lamp and twin exhaust tailpipes that look rather menacing. The rear door handles are now 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 rather nicely embellished with smatterings 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 rather tough and uncompromising in some areas of the cabin, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice it when you get out and drive it proper. What it lacks in refinement or premium materials, it more than makes up for with character.
Plenty of red accents adorn the cabin to beef it up over the standard car. You get two bucket-style seats with loads of bolstering, plenty of red contrast stitching and “Sport” embroidered into the headrest. Even the dials see the addition of red elements. And the central screen in the gauge cluster now displays your power and torque level, a G-meter and turbo boost pressure.
And of course, the quintessential leather-wrapped 6-speed shifter, and a manual handbrake.
The Swift Sport and the plain vanilla standard Swift MHEV may share a common platform and numerous other components. But they are vastly different cars. The lines between performance and comfort in both cars are getting increasingly blurred. Because, despite the marginally harsher ride and manual box, the Swift Sport represents immense value for a proper manual hot hatch that can ferry a family or a troupe of four in relative comfort. Maybe five, if your fifth passenger is of smaller proportions.
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 bark or bite at you too savagely. Also, the eagerness at which the car leaps forward belies its 9.1 second 0-100km/h sprint time.
Weighing in at just 1020kg, there’s an air of lightness to the car. In fact, I got the distinct impression that the only thing that was raising the centre gravity of the car is the weight of my body. Despite this, the Swift Sport turns into corners with gumption and fervour.
Does the mild-hybrid tech nullify the organic joy of the new Swift Sport? No, not in the slightest. But 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 little idiosyncrasies.
On the move, the 48V mild hybrid system is so unobtrusive, you often forget that it's actually a mild hybrid. Hit the start button and the 1.4-litre BOOSTERJET turbocharged engine murmurs to life in an instant, thanks to the Integrated Starter-Generator (ISG) bolted to the flywheel.
That ISG system works wonders, especially when you accidentally stall the engine at a set of lights. Takes but a few seconds to start up the engine and drive right off before any cars start honking. You’ll have the MHEV system to thank for that split-second startup.
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 above 4th.
Stamp on the throttle, and the turbocharger spools up to give you a surprising amount of shove once the engine surpasses 2000rpm. Moments like these are when you feel the full force of all 127hp and 235Nm of torque sent to the front wheels.
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 weaving between slow-moving vehicles. It's not the fact that you can preemptively blip down a couple of gears in anticipation for the upcoming traffic lights to turn green.
It’s the combination of all the aforementioned little things. Even the diminutive sense of joy you get from doing something as simple as getting a single shift right. I now understand why drivers would still choose a manual gearbox over a conventional auto box. I 100 per cent get it.
It’s the sense of engagement and analogue driving essence that is sadly lacking in most production cars today. Despite being a turbocharged, hybrid hatchback, the inclusion of electrification tech does nothing to deter the undiluted joy of driving a manual vehicle. It only enhances it. Eases you into it.
In summary, the new Suzuki Swift Sport is rapid, engaging, lively, and bloody good 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 little tinge of sadness. I’ll miss it dearly.
PHOTOS Jay Tee
SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT
Engine 1373cc, inline4, BOOSTERJET Turbo, with 48V mild Hybrid System
Transmission 6spd manual
Top Speed 210km/h
Fuel Consumption 4.7l/100k