NZ's craziest Suzuki Swift? We drive the wild, tuned new Track Edition
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Tight left into tight right, each hook licked by a generous mound of banking. It's dark — my faith entrusted to dazzling high beams that pierce the trees.
Tōuge will be an unfamiliar term to many, but those who worship Japanese car culture will consider it highly. In layman's terms, it refers to winding mountain passes and the act of mastering them.
Some will have come across the word through manga such as Initial D, or through a few too many viewings of that Fast & Furious movie with Bow Wow in it.
In my case, it was something learned through Japan's most well-known car show, Best Motoring.
They would stage closed-course tōuge battles, pitching modified rivals against one another through a challenging, twisting, undulating piece of road. Sometimes the feuds were between big power sportscars, but most of the time they were between highly tuned, highly strung economy cars draped with race-car tenacity.
In other words, cars a lot like this thing — the new Suzuki Swift Sport Track Edition.
We rather like the Swift Sport. It was a finalist in last year’s AA Driven New Zealand Car of the Year, gaining popularity for its high level of equipment, surprising potency, and old-school hot hatch charm.
Evidently, the readers liked it too; voting it forward as Driven’s People’s Choice Car of the Year.
Auckland | Auckland City
$531.52 p/w $2,126.08 p/m
If there was a bone to pick with the Swift Sport (apart from a few low-rent interior plastics and a tall seating position), it was that the force-inducted powertrain lacked the addictive excitement of its naturally aspirated predecessor. But changes made to this Track Edition make for a tasty counterpoint.
The turbocharged 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine that normally makes 103kW/230Nm gains an HKS Super Power Flow Intake system with blow-off valve, an HKS Hi-Power Spec-L exhaust system, and heavier Motul fluids to suit. These changes have given the little Swift an additional 18.6kW kick — impressive, given the lack of any extra boost or ECU reflashing.
Each corner gets a set of B.C. Racing coil-overs with adjustable shock absorbers, beefed up Endless MX72 brake pads, and lightweight 17in WedsSport TC105X wheels wrapped in Continental rubber. Those wheels weigh 500g less than standard each, with the reduction in rolling resistance effectively trimming 15kg off the car when it’s in motion. Thicker Cusco sway bars are an optional extra.
It’s important to note that this wasn’t just some manufacturer-led “parts-off-the-shelf” exercise. The Swift Sport Track Edition was a passionate private pursuit led by Steven Lowe of West City Suzuki. Working alongside noted Auckland-based tuners Jtune Automotive, each new part was tastefully chosen after lengthy consideration and numerous international back-and-forth conversations.
In total, it’s a $11,495 package — raising the price of our manual tester to $39,995 (those wanting an automatic will pay $41,495 for the privilege). Availability is exclusively through West City Suzuki, and is covered under warranty.
For the most part, the interior and exterior are unchanged. That’s not a bad thing, given the respectable level of standard equipment (including adaptive cruise control, satnav, and autonomous emergency braking), and the suitably sporty bucket seats and red accenting.
If there's any 'comfort' concerns, it's likely to do with the Track Edition's much reduced ride-height. Thankfully, the Suzuki remains rather comfortable on most road surfaces. Limited suspension travel does mean some occasional bobbing up and down, but there are plenty of other more fancied, more expensive hot hatches out there that roll off the factory floor with a more bone-crunching ride.
But, it’s the way this drives that we really need to talk about.
For a start, it sounds unlike any Swift before it. Things are somewhat innocuous on start-up, where the Track Edition’s rumble sounds like an amplified version of the standard car. Plant the throttle, and a deeper, chestier four-pot surge fills the cabin — inflecting the ends of its sentences with a sharp blow-off chirp.
In town it’s a little juvenile and brash. But, it certainly makes up for any qualms over the Boosterjet engine’s supposed lack of character. And, let’s be honest, this isn’t a car made for nipping around town. It’s a car made for the track and, arguably, for the tōuge.
Bombing along a twisty, pitch black Scenic Drive in the middle of the night with the Swift is about as close to the Best Motoring world as I’ll ever get. The unmistakable parping and popping of a tuned turbo four-banger rang out; shrill blow-off sounds reverberating off the sleepy mountainside.
I took the standard car along this same road last February, but — as stellar as it was — the experience wasn’t nearly as visceral and exciting as what this thing's capable of.
The Track Edition succeeds in doing what a lot of others try to do, but fail. It takes the already sound ingredients of its canvas, and instead of replacing them it emphasises them.
The wider 215/40 rubber and reduced body-roll makes the Swift somehow feel twice as capable and go-kart-like in corners than before, while simultaneously allowing the chassis (and the driver, if they're game) to flirt with the lift-off oversteer that this platform is known for.
While there’s still no need to use the upper echelons of the Swift’s rev range (peak power comes at 4000rpm), the Track Edition nonetheless rushes to redline with an inflated sense of urgency. It feels incredibly quick, with its stiff platform and 968kg mass helping underline one of the best power-to-weight ratios in the business.
In many ways the Swift Sport Track Edition feels like a binary opposite of the $38,490 Volkswagen Polo GTI — raw, light and loud compared to the German ace’s big-engine torque and quiet refinement.
And, I know which one I’d rather have.
2019 Suzuki Swift Track Edition
Price: $39,995 (manual), $41,495 (auto)
Pros: Feels transformed, balanced dart-like handling, sounds incredible
Cons: Pricier than a VW Polo GTI, too low for some NZ roads