THE first car I owned was a Mini, a 1973 Mini Mk II with an 850cc engine. Even though it was pretty much the only car I had ever driven, I knew it was unusual. If you wound it up it would do 80mph and make a proper car noise getting there. At speed, it was loud. Despite its diminutive size, it seemed utterly stable and inspired supreme confidence in my 18-year-old self.
Since then I have tried and all too often failed to get close to the purity of that early no-frills motoring experience. And short of buying an old Mini – as opposed to the new MINI, which of course has almost nothing in common with the original – I had pretty much given up trying.
Until now. Now I have discovered that the car that has come closest to replicating that original Mini experience is a Suzuki Swift Sport. Eh? That’s right: it isn’t the new MINI. If you are at all sentimental about the original Mini then you should drive the Swift Sport. I haven’t had so much fun in a little car for a long time.
It’s pure and simple fun. I guarantee you, if you stick one of these on your driveway– even if it’s a second, even third car – that it’ll be the Swift’s keys that you reach for when you head off out of the village for the paper on a Sunday morning and you’ll no longer be bemoaning the demise of the local village shop either.
First, its looks. Unlike the MINI and the Fiat 500 there is nothing retro about it. Yet it is something of a looker. Thanks to a sloping waistline and flared wheel arches it has an aggressive, though still cheeky, stance. Add 17-inch alloys, halogen headlights, two exhaust pipes, a roof spoiler and front fog lamps and it looks like a bit of a street fighter.
Performance-wise, the car is a treat. Its top speed of 124mph is not something that I personally felt compelled to test but what I can say is that on the way to triple figures, the Swift Sport feels quick. The 123bhp twin-cam 1.6 litre engine can power itself up to 62mph in a tad under nine seconds. But the point is, just as I felt in my original Mini, I feel like I’m flying. It feels – how shall I put this – it just feels so great caning it. The handling is really good when cornering thanks to a stiffened chassis that Suzuki is rightly proud of. The ride is firm and the car loud at speed due to the high-revving VVT engine, so that you feel like you are really wringing it out. The result is an authentic motoring experience.
The Swift is bigger on the inside than the outside would indicate. I would go so far to say that it’s roomy, certainly compared to most of its rivals. There’s room in the back for two adults no problem and certainly a few kids. Unlike the new MINI, which is only good for carrying granddad if he’s an amputee. Otherwise, stick him in the back for a long road trip and he’s going to be begging you to remove his legs. Inside, even the headroom is generous. Which means tall people can still apply.
It all feels so deliciously old-school. In the front it’s just a steering wheel, shifter, shiny metal pedals and a stereo so that the addition of the air conditioning seems seriously modern alongside the 1980s-style simple red racy pipe trim. There are no gadgets to distract you from the sheer pleasure of tooling about in it, which you’re going to want to do a lot of. There is plenty of plastic trim, granted, but then at this price it’s forgivable. It feels more authentic anyway, as if the car is too serious for any of that soft-feel trim nonsense. Strangely the interior is surprisingly comfortable: the bucket seats are good and firm, and the red accent trim – which is picked up in the doors and seats – does just enough to lift what is essentially a very sparse interior. The stereo, too, is very good – no doubt Suzuki has an eye on the youth market – and the controls remind me of the original Sony PSP gaming console. The leather-trimmed three-spoke steering wheel is also a treat. It’s thick and comfortable, so thick in fact that it feels sportier than any steering wheel in any car I have driven recently – it feels like a proper little racer.
Around the City it would be a fantastic little commuter. It’s economical enough, agile and once you clear the traffic you’ll have the reward of good, old-fashioned unadulterated driving fun to help you unwind. And what can be better than that? Exactly.
THE FACTS: SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT
0-60MPH: 8.9 secs
TOP SPEED: 124 mph
CO2 G/KM: 165
MPG COMBINED: 39.8 mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****