In Japan, Suzuki is primarily known as a maker of kei jidousha, mini cars whose engine capacity is limited to 660cc. For the past decade, the company has been running consistently at the top of the field when it comes to kei car sales, outperforming Honda, Nissan and Toyota-owned Daihatsu.
Despite being top dog in the kei car class, Suzuki found it difficult translating that success to the compact car segment. Although Suzuki has had a presence in the compact car market for more than 20 years with the Cultus (marketed in the US as the Swift in the late 80s and early 90s), this car was always seen as a low-price alternative. In search of a sporty image, Suzuki decided to go global with the Swift name and set about reinventing the car.
Soon after the introduction of the new Swift in 2002, the folks at the motorsports division, Suzuki Sports, got their hands on it and turned it into a Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) race car. Right idea, bad execution. The JWRC Suzuki Swift failed to impress, running mid- to back-of-the-pack. However, the top brass at Suzuki saw the benefits of rallying a race car (even if it was in the JWRC) and decided the company needed a truly sporty and competitive product, one which they could race and win. And so the Suzuki Swift Sport was born.
The car was exactly what Suzuki needed. Meeting with approval from the Japanese media and immediate public recognition. Naturally, Suzuki wanted to continue this success, so it quickly began work on the second-generation Swift Sport, the car seen here. The team behind the new Swift Sport had one simple goal: to "build a car that will beat the Europeans." Indeed, Suzuki engineers delivered. The new Swift Sport (or SwifuSpo in street Japanese) is one of the best compact cars to grace Japanese roads in years. In fact, the car is so impressive that it grabbed the prestigious Automotive Researchers and Journalists Conference of Japan (RJC) Car of the Year award in 2005.
Under the hood is a 1.6-liter inline four, based on the company's M15A powerplant (the 1.5-liter in the stock Swift). Renamed the M16A, this larger-displacement engine is tuned to produce torque down low, with VVT variable valve timing making the proper adjustments so it also screams up high. There's also a freer-flowing intake and exhaust system for improved throttle response. Power is rated at a mere 125bhp at 6800rpm, with 109lb-ft of torque peaking at 4800rpm. But, weighing just 2332 pounds, the Swift Sport still has an excellent power-to-weight ratio, with a feel that's almost reminiscent of a Lotus Elise. The SwifuSpo is quick and really imparts the feeling of driving something very sporty, though a bit more horsepower would make a better match for the heavenly engine sound, exhaust note and brilliant close-ratio five-speed manual transmission. With short throws and well-defined gates, this 'box compares favorably to the Mazda MX-5's. It's that good.
Just as good is how the car handles. It's as agile as FFs (front-engine/front-wheel drive) get. You could almost forget it's front-drive because of the flawless balance through all types of corners. Steering is sharp and gives the car a crisp turn-in, while body roll is kept in check by the taut suspension - MacPherson struts up front, torsion beam with Monroe dampers at the rear. The light weight and small size makes it highly chuckable, especially through left/right transitions.
Despite its humble boxy beginnings, the Swift Sport is attractive. A variety of aero parts have been fitted to differentiate it from the base car as well as improve its drag coefficient. Also, cast aluminum 16-inch wheels shod with 195/50 R16 Dunlop SP Sports Maxx tires tell you this is no ordinary Swift.
The racing variant of the Swift Sport is the Super Swift 1600. And it's already distinguished itself in the JWRC with a number of victories. As of this writing, JWRC teams running Super Swifts have three of the top five spots in the overall 2006 JWRC standings, including second and third.
The only sad thing about the Swift Sport is that you don't get to drive it in the US. Next time you go on vacation in Europe or Japan, rent a Swift Sport. Once you get even a small taste of this wonderful machine, you'll demand that Suzuki brings the SwifuSpo to America.
Super Swift 1600
The Suzuki Swift Sport is as good as our man in Japan sez; we got a chance to drive a regular version recently at American Suzuki's US headquarters and found even the base car to be a hoot - think mini Mini. The Swift Super 1600 rally car, however, is what really gets us worked up. The best part is, you can buy one and go racing straight away.
Available through Suzuki Sport Europe Ltd, the Super 1600 has already been homologated for rally racing by the FIA. Although all cars are custom-built, the basic FIA-spec race car sells for about 120,000 Euros, which is about $150,000 depending on how bad the dollar is doing. It may sound like a lot, but that's about what you'd expect to pay for a brand new competitive rally car.
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