It's a controversial statement, of course, but it's one we are willing to make, because never before have we, as car enthusiasts, had access to such a broad range of spectacularly accomplished and technologically advanced hot hatches. From the beautifully accurate yet rounded Honda Civic Type R, to the monstrously quick and surprisingly adept Audi RS3, there seems to be a performance hatch to suit every type of driver.
Well, almost every type of driver.
Over the last couple of years, it seems like the bar of entry to the hot hatch class has, along with an increase in accessible performance, ramped up a few notches. With the Fiesta ST recently discontinued, and cars like the Vauxhall Corsa VXR and Abarth 595 Competizione both outdated and outclassed, it seems like you need to part with a good chunk of change if you want to get behind the wheel of something truly engaging like a Hyundai i30N or Golf GTI.
So what do you do if you're a young guy or girl, who wants a practical and involving hatch without breaking the bank? Well, at the time of writing, there really are only two choices. You can either opt for the small and characterful VW Up GTI, or this: the new Suzuki Swift Sport.
At £17,999, the Swift Sport is quite a bit more expensive than the smaller VW, but (and perhaps more crucially) it should undercut the new Fiesta ST by around £2,000. However that, if we're honest, puts it in somewhat of an awkward position. Because not only does it have to be good enough to lure potential Up GTI buyers into spending more cash, but it also needs to deliver enough performance to attract potential Fiesta ST buyers into a lower price category. No easy feat.
Suzuki, however, seems confident, because despite the fact that the previous generation Swift Sport's high-revving atmospheric 1.6-litre engine has been replaced by a turbocharged 1.4 Boosterjet unit previously used in the Vitara S, Suzuki claims the new model has lost none of the old car's focused character.
A claim that is, to our relief, substantiated within the first few minutes behind the wheel. Because, despite producing just 140hp - a power output that wouldn't look out of place in a regular run of the mill hatchback - the new Swift Sport benefits from both an increase in torque, (from a puny 118lb ft to a much more respectable 162lb ft) and a significant 80kg drop in kerb weight.
Therefore, with just 970kg to lug about, it's little wonder that the Swift Sport accelerates with an intensity that belies those rather humble numbers. With maximum twist available from just 2,500rpm, roll on performance is in a different league compared to the previous generation model. And while we expected the new turbocharged unit would be more flexible than the naturally aspirated 1.6, what we didn't expect was for the new engine to be just about as enjoyable at the top end.
With maximum power delivered at a very un-turbo like 5,500rpm, you can't help but make the most of the lower trio of gears, letting the little 1.4 sing its heart out until it hits its soft limiter at 6,000rpm. It's a process made all the more enjoyable thanks to a revised version of the same sweet six speed manual gearbox found in the last gen car, although the throw could just a bit shorter.
That said, you won't be thinking too much about the 'box as you enter tight corners as fast as you dare - a none too sensible game that we guarantee you will play again and again, because, with less than 1,000kg to haul about, the Swift Sport is capable of some momentous mid-corner speed. Turn in, and once you're past that initial moment of roll (of which, there's a surprising amount for the lack of inertia) the Swift Sport settles quickly and locks onto your chosen line. Squeeze on the throttle mid-corner and you might get a bit of push, but by and large the front end remains unruffled. It's a sensible, grippy set-up, and one that should allow the majority of buyers to get the most out of their Swift Sport.
And yet, it's this neutrality that stops the Swift Sport from generating the kind of excitement that is delivered by cars like the Fiesta ST and Renault Clio Trophy. Where those cars allow you to modify your line with a lift of the throttle or some well-calculated braking, the Swift Sport is altogether more reluctant to adopt a sideways stance. And if you think turning the traction control off and throwing it in on the brakes will help get the party started, it doesn't. Indeed, you can turn the TC off, but like an overly protective nanny watching you over your shoulder, any funny business is brought to a sudden and rather disappointing conclusion.
It's a complaint we also levelled at the Up GTI. Manufacturers almost seem scared to let their smaller hot hatches off the leash, perhaps not wanting to intimidate the average consumer. But as an enthusiast, it's a real shame that Suzuki didn't take the chance to loosen the leash a little, especially seeing that the Swift's chassis feels like it could be genuinely exploitable.
So once again, it seems like our quest to find a truly engaging yet affordable hot hatch continues. When is the new Fiesta ST out again?
SPECIFICATION - SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT
Engine: 4 cyls, 1,371cc, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 140@5,500 rpm
Torque (lb ft): 162@2,500 - 3,500rpm
Top speed: 130mph
MPG: 50.4 (combined)
CO2: 125 - 129g/km