Hot hatches are cool cars.
I love the idea of taking a family hatchback and tweaking it so it offers a more sporty drive.
The engine gets some more herbs, the suspension is uprated, wheels and tyres get bigger, a bit of 'fruit' is added to the exterior and interior to help give it a sporty look, and voila - a hot hatch.
Motorists have been enjoying this concept for years. I'm told the hot-hatch phrase was coined by the British press in the late 1970s when Volkswagen launched its original Golf GTi.
Since then, there have been lots of them, a good number of which have made their way on to the New Zealand roads, to be driven by enthusiastic motorists who have been happy to have the chance to operate little cars with plenty of zip.
Hot hatches that I remember over the years have included the Alfa-Romeo Alfasud, Peugeot 205 GTi, Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo, Toyota Corolla GTi, Nissan Pulsar Turbo, Honda Civic Type R, Ford Laser TX3, and the Suzuki Swift GTi.
SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT
POWER PLANT: 1.6-litre four- cylinder DOHC petrol engine with variable valve timing, 100 kW at 6900 rpm, 160 Newton metres at 4400 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed manual transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs, torsion beam rear setup with coil springs. ABS brakes, stability control.
HOW BIG: Length 3890mm, width 1695mm, height 1510mm, wheelbase 2430mm.
HOW MUCH: $27,500.
WHAT'S GOOD: Sparkling little performer, good looks.
WHAT'S NOT: Usual Swift lack of rear cargo room.
OUR VERDICT: The car's a little beauty. Simple as that.
Quite a list, huh? And the latest to join the hot-hatch lineup is the new Suzuki Swift Sport.
Hot little Swifts have been around for a while now. It all began during the second half of the 1980s when the first Swift GTi was launched here, and there have been higher-powered versions of the popular family hatchback ever since.
Actually, I don't think I'd describe this new Sport as hot. It's more like warm. That's because, despite the fact its 1.6-litre engine offers 100 kilowatts of power that is sufficient to give the little 1060 kg hatch some genuine toe, the interior is too comfortable and well-appointed to give it a genuine sporting feel.
And that's no criticism, either. It's more a reflection of what customers demand of their vehicles these days. They might appreciate performance potential, but they also want decent interior appointment - even in a car that retails for $27,500.
The Swift Sport certainly is well- appointed. It has lovely supportive front seats with red-stitch upholstery inserts, chrome finishing to the gauges, stainless- steel finishing to the pedals, and standard equipment includes keyless entry and push-button start, fully automatic climate- control air conditioning, cruise control, a CD tuner with MP3 playback function and steering- wheel controls, Bluetooth, and a USB port for portable audio players.
The car also boasts an information display that details time, outside temperature, instantaneous and average fuel consumption, and driving range.
Standard equipment includes automatic headlight levelling, front fog lamps, lights-off and key reminder, electric front and rear windows, and the safety of seven airbags, anti-skid brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control, and brake assist.
It all adds up to a hatch that, for the price, is rather impressive even before its sporting ability is taken into consideration.
Now let's look at that ability. Whereas the previous Sport's 1.6-litre engine offered 92 kilowatts of power and 148 Newton metres of torque, with this new model the power has gone up to 100 kW while the torque is now 160 Nm.
But, at the same time, total vehicle weight has dropped by 30 kg thanks to a number of initiatives including increased use of high-tensile steels. This means the Sport has 43 per cent more power and 23 per cent more torque than the mainstream 1.4-litre Swift, and can scoot its lighter- weight self to the open-road speed limit in 8.7 seconds.
It's also got a stiffer chassis, an uprated suspension with Monroe shock absorbers that contribute to roll angles that are 50 per cent less than before, and new 17-inch alloys shod with 45-series tyres.
This car really does feel well- sorted, and I've got to admit that during a recent week when I had a six-speed manual example with the longest colour name I've experienced - Boost Blue Pearl Metallic - I had a ball.
Actually, I very much doubt if I achieved anywhere near the official combined fuel consumption of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which Suzuki tells us is 13 per cent less than the old model. It was probably a lot higher than that, because I couldn't resist buzzing the car through the gears in an enthusiastic way - the Swift simply lends itself to that sort of use.
This new Swift Sport is longer, higher and taller than the previous model, and has a longer wheelbase. Compared to the standard Swift model, it is also a very good-looking hatch, featuring newly-developed high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps with a metallic grey coating, newly designed rear combination lamps, underspoilers front and side, and at the rear a spoiler, air diffuser, and twin exhausts.
So all in all? Lovely.
I know I said before that this new Suzuki Swift Sport should possibly be considered warm rather than hot, but what is beyond dispute is that it is an outstanding little car to drive.
- © Fairfax NZ News