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Shootout:

Suzuki Swift Sport vs Opel Corsa GSi

Hot hatches have seemingly fallen from grace in South Africa, with a single badge being the reason for it all. If it doesn’t wear the letters ‘GTI’ on its bum, the South African public won’t pay for it. It’s the reason we no longer see full-fat hot hatches like the Ford Focus ST and Opel Astra OPC, while even in the junior ranks, the Polo GTI is one of the few left, with the Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTI, and Opel Corsa OPC all nowhere to be found. Manufacturers cite the expense not being justified by the demand, and if it won’t sell, why import it in the first place? Fortunately, enthusiasts who understand that power isn’t everything are in for a treat, as there are now a number of so-called ‘warm hatches’ on the market, with enough power to make things interesting, but a core focus on fun more than outright speed. We got two of these warm hatches together in the latest Torquing Cars shootout, to see if the third-generation, turbocharged Suzuki Swift Sport can fight off competition in the Ford of the Opel Corsa GSi.

It must be said that hatches in this segment are never going to be practical, and to that end, these two will not be measured on that factor – as the three-door Corsa GSi loses out in that regard, while the Swift Sport’s small boot poses its own problems. No, these two tykes should be compared based on all that matters when it comes to a junior hot hatch, where fun driving dynamics and explorable limits are the hallmarks of greatness and the cornerstones of the segment pioneered decades ago by the Mini Cooper, Golf GTI, and Peugeot 205 GTI. So when it comes to hot hatch quintessence, which of these two has what it takes to take the win?

Performance

On paper, these two stack up remarkably well. Both are powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine, although for the first time in the case of the Suzuki, it’s strapped to a turbocharger, giving it more power and vastly more torque than the outgoing generation that proved itself to be a firm favourite for the Torquing Cars office. The Corsa is the more powerful one, though, with 110 kW to the Swift Sport’s 103 kW, but the tides are turned in the torque stakes: while the Corsa boasts a torque figure of 220 Nm, the Swift Sport does one better with 230 Nm of twist on tap. Both send power to the front axle, and both utilise a six-speed manual gearbox.

But on paper is where the similarities end, as in a straight line, the Swift Sport simply feels more vicious. It’s almost entirely down to the fact that it weighs less than a tonne, 970 kg to be precise, while the Corsa is substantially lardier at 1,214 kg. There’s also a very different way in which the two engines deliver their power. The Suzuki jumps on the boost early, giving you a low-end surge that sucks you back into the driver’s seat as quickly as it plasters a Cheshire grin across your face. The Corsa’s mill feels different, less reliant on more boost and more naturally aspirated in the way the usable torque seems to arrive much, much later in the rev range. But it’s also lumped with a heavy dose of turbo lag, which means when you really need the power – we got caught in a truck’s blind spot while the driver errantly drifted lanes – there’s a massive delay between flooring the throttle and getting up and going. There’s no such fear in the Swift, which after a moment’s pause dumps the torque in your lap in a heap, mitigating the need for a downshift.

Should one be needed, the Suzuki also delivers a sweeter action. The short-throw box is light and snicks between the gears with ease, but it seems to be missing the weightiness of the previous-gen shifter, feeling almost too light and easy for our liking. The Opel’s is weighted better, and the clutch seems to take a little more progressively, but the shift itself lacks finesse – clunky and prone to missing the 2-3 shift unless you’re slow and deliberate. Gearboxes have never been a strong point for the German brand, and while this may be better than the previous-gen Corsa OPC, it’s not good enough in the company of the SSS.

Ride and Handling

But power and straight-line performance have never been what a warm hatch is about. The joy of these mites is that even devoid of poke, every drive is a joy and every turn an experience. Head for the twisties, and things quickly even out between the two, although both have strong points in lieu of the other’s weaknesses.

Riding on larger wheels and with OPC suspension honed on the Nurburgring, the Corsa GSi was expected to be the harsher of the two – so much so that mere days before this twin-test began, we received a call from Opel SA to remind us that it’s a more focused machine that should be judged accordingly. Remarkably, despite lower-profile tyres and 18-inch wheels, the GSi feels the more settled of the two hatches when it comes to regular road imperfections. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, as Opel has historically impressed us in this regard. The OPC made the bumps felt, but the damping meant that all bumps and abrasions were subtly communicated rather than jarringly sent to your spine. The Swift Sport is by no means jarring, bu the featherweight chassis feels bouncier, more on edge even in a straight line. Both will happily manage day to day tasks, but the Corsa truly surprised with its suppleness.

Heading into the first turn of the back-to-back drives, and the Opel immediately shines with a natural steering feel that inspires confidence. By contrast, the Swift turns in sharply, but there’s a noticeable blankness to the initial change of direction, followed by a sudden sensation of support from the front tyres. You have to trust the Swift before it rewards you, while the GSi inspires confidence from the very start. Yet it’s the Suzuki that feels the more playful of the two, and once you get passed that initial hesitation, it’s a hatch that wants to play. It changes direction eagerly, with poise and balance the order of the day, leaning on its toes to allow the rear end a bit of rotation – even with the stability control on – which plasters a grin on your face corner after corner. There’s far less fanfare with the Corsa, which predictably turns, grips, and pulls you out the other side without batting an eye.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the speeds were greater, but these aren’t mean to be speed demons, and the Corsa simply feels too serious about its job. You can feel this is an OPC chassis designed for more power, likely capable of hundreds of kilometres on a track, but on the road, it fails to set the soul alight in the same way the Suzuki does. Of course, not everyone likes a car that’s on its toes all the time, and the Corsa strikes a better duality between reserved and spirited driving, while the Swift is always straining at the leash like an overly excitable puppy.

Interior and Features:

While we can ignore the practicality issues both possess, it’s hard to ignore the price disparity between these two, especially when there’s a noticeable difference between the interiors in favour of the vastly more expensive Corsa. Leather-clad Recaro sport buckets are the reserve of vastly more hardcore machinery, and in contrast, the cloth-upholstered tombstone-style perches of the Swift Sport look cheap. But those tombstones oddly feel more supportive, both when cornering and when commuting. The Swift also provides a better driving position, and despite the driver’s seat being set too high for our liking, the steering wheel provides a better range of adjustment, while the ergonomics of the Corsa feel odd, suited to those with disproportionately short legs and long arms.

The rest of the materials in the cabin feel better in the Opel, too, but aside from the seats, it lacks the drama of the Swift. In the Suzuki you get faux carbon fibre and touches of red on the dash and the gauge cluster – which looks great in combination with the Burning Red exterior paint, but might look a little more out of place when hued with the luminous Champion Yellow many will opt for. Both make use of touchscreen infotainment systems that work well, and both offer full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality for smartphone integration. Automatic climate control is another staple of both, but it’s the Opel that gets the most premium features, with heated seats, a heated steering wheel, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and even traffic sign recognition. We’re told to bring the GSi to South African shores, it had to be an all-or-nothing package, but considering it costs nearly the same as far more potent machinery with a GTI badge, we can’t help but wonder if it’s all equipment that isn’t necessary, or justified, in a segment with buyers in search of a value-for-money performance bargain.

Styling:

Styling matters, especially when you want people to know you’re not driving a run of the mill hatch when they pull up alongside you at the lights. Immediately, the Corsa GSi’s three-door body gives it an edge, with a sportier coupe look we like, augmented by an OPC-inspired front end 18-inch OPC-spec wheels. The Swift Sport’s tekkies look paltry in comparison at just 16 inches in diameter, as the brand’s Japanese HQ refuses to ship the larger wheels to SA due to its perceptions of our road conditions. Wheels aside, though, the Swift looks butch, with an inflated front end and a chiseled jaw, while at the rear, the signature twin-tailpipes make the GSi’s single tip and rather subdued back end look plain. The Swift Sport has loads of faux carbon fibre, too, but the Corsa gets the real deal, with carbon fibre mirror caps and a matching logo bar in the grille looking the part. The greatest shame for the GSi is that only the front has a look of true aggression, and from behind – where Opel would hope rivals are left – it looks rather ordinary.

What isn’t ordinary, though, it the luminous shade of Mandarina Yellow, which stands out head and shoulders above the crowd. Suzuki counters with its own shade of eye-searing yellow – Champion Yellow – although the unit in our hands wore a deep red shade dubbed Burning Red, a shade we feel suits the tiny hatch best.

Verdict:

Two tiny hatches, both with a singular purpose – be the best subcompact sports hatch around, with enough power to exploit, a chassis to do so with ease, and a fun factor that makes every journey to the shops an unforgettable one. So which one of these best fulfils the mandate of a junior hot hatch? Well in an ideal world we’d have a blend of the two – the suspension suppleness of the Corsa GSi on larger wheels coupled with its communicative and confidence-inducing steering feel with the Suzuki’s liveliness, its playfulness, and the potent hit of torque when you apply the throttle. But at the end of a week of back-to-back testing, it came down to one simple question. Driving the two one after the other, either through a set of twisties or simply to the shops and back, which one made us smile more?

The answer every single time was the Suzuki Swift Sport. It’s a giggle-inducing tyke that made the most novice drivers feel like superheroes, while the more experienced were able to better exploit the chassis. It’s not without its weaknesses, but it’s the one you’ll always enjoy the most, and in a category where a hatch can’t take itself too seriously, it’s not only the most fun, but it’s also arguably the most capable warm hatch around and the winner of this shootout.

Pricing:

While practicality and price didn’t play a role in the final verdict of the competition, there is a vast discrepancy between these two machines. The Suzuki may feel cheaper inside, but at R317,900 at the time of this writing in manual guise, it’s nearly R50,000 cheaper than the Corsa GSi which retails for R365,900. The Suzuki is also available with a six-speed automatic gearbox, too, making the commute in traffic easier for those who don’t like to row their own gears at all costs.

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