How does our road car stack up against its rally-tuned cousin?
Has our Swift met its match? Pitting our faithful long-term supermini against its rugged rally car relation might appear a little unfair, but there is method in our madness. In recent years, the Suzuki’s reputation has been boosted by considerable motorsport success – and I am keen to see if any of the lessons learned on the special stage have filtered down to the standard car.
First, I have to collect the bright red, near-showroom-standard previous-generation Suzuki Swift Sport Group N rally machine you see in our pictures from its owners at Monster Sport Europe in Milton Keynes, Bucks. The factory-backed squad knows a thing or two about Swifts, having secured two Junior WRC crowns with the Japanese supermini in 2007 and 2010.
However, it’s our Swift that scores first blood, impressing with its refinement and ride during the motorway journey north. Despite having only five gears, it eats up the miles with ease, while big-car features such as cruise control and automatic headlights really come into their own.
Leaving its quality cabin and clambering into the stripped-out cockpit of the rally car is a shock to the system, as is the throaty roar from the exhaust on start-up. Hit the road and the red machine soon becomes tiring – there’s very little sound proofing and the stereo has been removed.
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But on the tight, twisting track at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire, the competition machine comes alive. The major controls are sharper and meatier than in the standard car, and it’s quicker to respond. The short- ratio gearbox means I make a lot of quick changes, but the fantastic engine note is a fair trade-off for the effort. Also, because the 1.6-litre racer is based on the old Swift Sport, it’s much quicker in a straight line.The big surprise is that our Suzuki isn’t out of its depth, and it’s clear the firm’s engineers have benefited from the motorsport links.
In fact, it’s easier to drive round the circuit than the physically demanding racer. There is more body roll because of the softer suspension, but it still grips very well and gives plenty of feedback. The only downside is that the smooth 1.2-litre engine lacks the firepower of its rallying cousin – something which should be fixed by the arrival of the beefier Sport version later this year.
If you can’t wait until then, Monster Sport Europe will sell you this rally car for £8,000. If you ask nicely, it will even fit a supercharger for an extra hit of adrenaline. For most drivers, though, the standard car has more than enough appeal, while our Swift’s 40.9mpg economy shows that having fun doesn’t have to cost the earth. It also proves once and for all that motorsport really does improve the breed.
“Our Swift’s only drawback is a lack of space. While I enjoyed a recent drive to Norfolk in comfort, my girlfriend and baby daughter found the car much more cramped. The boot was too small for all our gear, so every spare inch of cabin space ended up crammed with luggage, too!Jon Morgan, Staff writer