For the driving enthusiast, the Suzuki Swift Sport has traditionally been shorthand for compactness and agility, even among entrants of the B-segment hatchback category that typifies quick responses. The previous-generation car, the ZC32S was an invigorating experience, with little over a tonne propelled by a keen engine that redlined at 7,000 rpm.

Time moves on, and so did the free-breathing M16A of that car, therefore its successor would follow global trends in adopting turbocharging. Behold, the latest iteration of the hatchback, codenamed ZC33S for those who prefer alphanumerics for identification.

The current generation actually made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2017, and so almost four years has elapsed between the car’s global premiere and its Malaysian market introduction in April this year, under new brand custodian Naza Eastern Motors.

That passage of time nonetheless doesn’t dampen the sense of newness, given its change to forced induction motive power. That should also mean there is a step change in character for the performance-oriented hatchback – or does it?

Wind of change, turbine-blown

The powerplant in question is the turbocharged, K14C 1.4 litre Boosterjet inline-four cylinder petrol engine, which produces 138 hp at 5,500 rpm and 230 Nm of torque between 2,500 rpm and 4,500 rpm.

That peak power figure may be a mere four hp more than its naturally-aspirated predecessor, but the maximum torque is also 70 Nm greater than that of the free-breathing engine, and at lower crank speeds throughout.

For the Malaysian market, the mill paired with a six-speed automatic transmission; no three-pedal-and-H-gate manual interaction this time around, and by the looks of it, it won’t be visible on the (official) Malaysian horizon. While the P-R-N-D-M selection shows no avenue for manual toggling on the lever itself, the driver does get a pair of shift paddles mounted to the steering wheel for some DIY transmission input.

Interior

A broader view of the Swift Sport cabin finds enlivened surroundings compared to the swathes of grey inside its ZC32S predecessor, with the current car introducing slightly more intricate styling to the dashboard.

The central air-conditioning vents, now circular items, remain above the infotainment stack, while the air-conditioning controls now receive larger, easier to grab rotary controls. Switching off the air-conditioning is via a standalone ‘off’ button; to these hands the function would have been better when incorporated into the fan speed rotary dial, though usage breeds familiarity, as it undoubtedly will be for owners.

The deeper cowlings for the main tachometer and speedometer instrumentation adds depth – literally – compared to the shallower contours of the previous design, while the steering wheel is a tactile delight; moderate of rim thickness, trimmed in perforated leather in key sections and embellished with glossy sections in the inner lower quarters.

The ZC33S-generation car continues the Swift Sport tradition of employing fabric semi-bucket seats for the front pair, which are of a slightly different design compared to those in its predecessor. These are slightly more aggressive in their bolstering; more on those as we detail the drive experience.

The rear quarters are usable, though short stints are advisable as the Swift Sport in this generation continues to be on the tight side of its accommodation offered. Rear knee room offers a reasonable surplus for my 178 cm-self seated behind the driver’s seat (set to my preference), though the smaller glasshouse at the back makes for a particularly snug-feeling rear bench.

Meanwhile, luggage capacity is 265 litres with the rear seats in place and 579 litres with them folded, as well as being usefully deeper than the compartment in the previous car, which offered just 210 litres.

The storage pockets and compartments in the cabin are usable in size and shape, though the main centre console cubby ahead of the gearlever could do with being lined with rubber, felt or similar dampening material to mitigate rattling of items against the hard surface, given the car’s asking price.

Drive

Firing up the engine brings a pleasingly deep idle timbre, considering its reduced swept capacity and turbocharger-occupied intake and exhaust tracts. Toggling through the multi-information display offers a variety of information in large, easily legible typeface. A dynamic set of displayed parameters naturally suits a lively car, so what better choice than the boost gauge – joined by an oil temperature gauge – since this car is turbocharged?

The engine remains off-boost on small throttle openings (as in carpark situations) according to the gauge, and even so the 1.4 litre petrol unit already feels strong. Credit the sub-one-tonne weight figure for that, which will continue to manifest its virtues at higher speeds.

That the K14C Boosterjet mill offers a lower-starting powerband relative to its higher-revving, naturally aspirated predecessor is telling of its character, and so proves; that torque plateau from 2,500 rpm upwards is plenty for making progress in the urban cut-and-thrust, and from 3,000 rpm to its power peak is where you’ll be really getting a move on with glee.

Just one throttle map is on offer, and that’s just fine; it is well judged for all driving scenarios. On-throttle traction is no issue either in the majority of scenarios; you’ll really only bother the traction control in the wet by giving it a bootful of throttle from a standstill.

Leaving the six-speed automatic to its own devices is largely satisfactory, even when driven with verve. Shifts are reasonably intuitive, and are joined by throttle blips upon its own downshifts with moderate braking inputs. The quality of gearshifts are just middling, however, exhibiting a mild shove through each upshift of a generously-portioned throttle opening and not the snappiest of responses in comparison to dual-clutch units paired to similarly-sized engines.

Slotting into ‘M’ on the gearlever for manual overrides improves smoothness ever so slightly as you can time the throttle moderation yourself upon upshifts, while downshifts remain of similar quality when summoned manually; satisfactory, though without being exemplary.

That said, the six-speeder is much better suited to this application of sporting intent than the previous, comparatively elastic CVT. This new one won’t let you bounce the engine off the limiter in ‘M’, though, as it will upshift on its own at the redline. As expected from a car of this ilk, gearing is relatively short overall; an indicated 100 km/h in sixth registers just over 2,000 rpm on the dial, a by-product of its mid-range punch.

I like the way you move

Steering has a good, appreciable heft to its movement, though still more than manageable at very low speeds such as when parking. There’s a reasonable helping of feel through the leather-trimmed rim, lending itself very well to imbuing confidence particularly from the front end with its resolute purchase, as well as a sharp initial turn-in.

The Yokohama Advan A13C rubber – measuring 195/50R16 all around – on our test unit performed admirably on a variety of roads that were both rain- and sun-soaked. Road and wind noise at a steady 110 km/h cruise was a non-issue, subjectively speaking, and conversations between front-seat occupants needed no raised voices here.

There was initially concern for ride comfort, given the ‘Sport’ brief as indicated in the Swift’s suffix. Allowing for its sportier model positioning, there is a commendable level of bump compliance on this 16-inch wheel and tyre combination as tested, and from memory of the previous car, less flighty over undulations than the ZC32S.

On this acquaintance, it feels as though Suzuki has managed to attain its handling sharpness objectives for the new Swift Sport without resorting to too much spring and damper rate, which will be a result of its modest 970 kg. This was very much welcome for the unavoidable potholes and manhole protrusions around the Klang Valley, which were met firmly, but not harshly.

There’s a little black spot on the sun

It isn’t perfect, of course. While the reach and rake-adjustable steering offers ample range, the manually-adjustable front seats never quite delivered an ideal seating position for both driver and passenger on this occasion – support was ample for the outer thigh and lower back region, but fatigue set in after less than an hour for each stint.

The driver’s seat could do with more range of height adjustment to be lowered further than it currently can, as part of that fatigue experienced was also from the angle of the driver’s feet to the pedals; in this instance, a lower hip point will help. To compensate, a more reclined seat back angle was used.

There is then the not-so-small matter of ZC33S Swift Sport’s price tag, which weighs in at RM139,900. The previous-generation ZC32S Swift Sport was already a relative curio of the market in the B-segment, having arrived on the scene in 2013 at RM102,888 in its CVT guise, or RM97,888 for those who elected to row their own gears.

The previous car’s six-figure price tag was already a big ask, even with its more driver-focused positioning, and tacking on another thirty grand to its sticker for this current iteration is ambitious to say the least.

To boot, in terms of equipment, the Malaysian market entrant is missing the active safety suite including forward detection system, Dual Sensor Brake Support (DSBS), lane departure warning, weaving alert function, high beam assist and adaptive cruise control that is offered in other markets.

Are you in?

Its pricing bracket means it will be a rather select group of buyers will are willing to pay upper C-segment hatchback money for a B-segment car, granted, one with a distinct keen-driver focus.

Given the competent, but not stellar qualities of the automatic transmission, one wonders how the manual would have turned out. We can’t blame car companies, though – is there really enough of us who voted with actual downpayments at official dealer networks?

“Save the manuals” chants aside, the ZC33S Suzuki Swift Sport automatic is a logical progression of the nameplate, bringing a welcome sprinkling of maturity to its youthful zest that is still very much present in this latest form.

For the would-be buyer, this means a bigger boot, a much better two-pedal variant gearbox and more accessible performance which, by the way, no longer demands more premium fuel than RON 95 petrol. The question remains: is this enough car for the price tag?