Those who were there will remember the eighties with huge affection. Duran Duran, CAR magazine, Sly Stallone, Filofax, Born in the USA, shoulder pads, big hair and Miami Vice; what’s not to like? Some of them might have aged better than others but each one reeks of capitalism and youth, a heady combination as you enter your teens…
As you might expect though I remember the eighties mainly for the cars: VW Golf GTI, Peugeot 205 GTI, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Fiat Uno Turbo; all of ’em fun and feisty and quick. ‘Quick’, you note, not ‘fast’ because we knew, back in the day, that fun cars were quick rather than fast, partly because we couldn’t afford to buy or insure fast cars but mainly because there is so much more fun in thrashing a small car than balancing a powerful one. I had a mate who drove a Fiat 127, and drove it very well. He refused to buy a faster car until he could drive his old one flat out everywhere. I thought that he was bonkers until he overtook me in my Golf GTI Mk1 on the inside of a ninety-degree bend; then I knew he was.
So it was with a tremble of youthful anticipation that I step into the Suzuki Swift Sport, all 136bhp of it. First signs are good. Black cloth seats, heavily bolstered and lined with red piping. Red stitching too round the gearlever and steering wheel, just like in a proper hot hatch. I could practically hear Adam Ant in the background.
Settling into the seat I find that they must have shrunk in the last 25 years because this one is decidedly snug. Never mind, the seating position would be perfect if it was just a couple of inches lower and the pedals are impeccably spaced. At 18 I couldn’t heel ‘n’ toe to save my life but now, a quarter of a century later, I’m an ace and these pedals egg me on wonderfully.
The 1.6-litre VVT engine doesn’t help your good intentions either. Snick quietly through the gearbox and the Sport feels settled and composed, refined, even. I like it. Get heavy with it and it’s even better. It sounds beautifully growly and loves to rev; 7k sounds wonderful and the temptation to stray there is irresistible, especially if you’re pretending you’re a teenager again. Whang that needle round to the stop and it snarls and zings like a champ. Sure, it could do with a louder exhaust but that isn’t going to break the bank, is it?
But good pedals and seats and even a great engine don’t a hot hatch make. We remember the 205 and Golf GTIs for their handling and poise, their grace under pressure and in this respect the Swift Sport is there with the best of ’em. God this thing is lovely to drive hard. Firm, progressive, powerful brakes give you the confidence to stand it on its nose deep into a bend, the front tyres loaded and transmitting every nuance of grip. It’s foolproof but never nannying. That’s quite some trick to pull off.
It isn’t fast, of course, but then I keep telling you that it doesn’t need to be. This thing is a hoot. And it’s cheap to buy and insure. To run too. I got just over 40mpg and I drove it harder and for longer than any sane owner would in a typical week.
An unqualified success, then? Of course. Now where’s that damned Depeche Mode tape?
Price: from £13,499 OTR
Maximum power: 136bhp
Peak torque: 118lb ft
0-62mph: 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
Fuel consumption: official: 44.1mpg, test: 40.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 147 g/km
Article by Carlton Boyce