Retro Car Review: 1989-1994 Suzuki Swift GTi/GT: A little rocket for the…

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Had it not already been in the vernacular, the term pocket rocket would have had to have been invented for the Suzuki Swift GTi. It was as tight a package as one could wrap around 1299cc worth of twincam and front wheel drive and a pair of occasional seats out back. Just enough, at 1,768 lbs, to fit in your pocket, but with an even 100 bhp on tap, enough to make it, well, a swift little rocket.

The Suzuki Swift entered the American market for the 1989 model year. Prior to that, Suzuki-built automobiles had been sold as the Chevy Sprint, while the Suzuki Samurai mini sport-utility had become a cult classic. Suzuki wanted to expand its single product line by moving upscale with the larger Sidekick SUV and adding cars. However, Chevrolet had tied up Suzuki’s allotment of 60,000 units under the Voluntary Restraint Agreement then in effect with the Sprint.

But Chevy wanted a piece of the small truck market. So Chevrolet and Suzuki reached an agreement where Chevy got old the Sidekick as the Geo Tracker and the Swift as the Geo Metro.

The Metro would be sold with a 55-hp, three-cylinder engine, but the new Swift would get a four, and in the case of the Suzuki Swift GTi, a twin-cam, 16-valve head version with the aforementioned triple-digit power rating. Pop the hood and the engine looked like something only the erstwhile motorcycle manufacturer could build, with red plug wires aligned on the black cam cover emblazoned with Suzuki 1300 and Twin Cam 16. On the intake plenum was EPE Electronic Petrol Injection.

EPA estimated fuel economy at 25/32 mpg city/highway.

Already with flush glass and aero headlamps, the GTi version added a special front cap with integrated fog lamps, side cladding, rear roof-top spoiler, and a sculpted lower rear valence panel. Colors were limited to monochrome red, black and white.

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Inside, the GTi had well-bolstered sport buckets in front and a cramped bench in back. White on black gauges had a tach redlined at 6800 rpm. A sport steering wheel and a cylindrical shifter that looked vaguely obscene completed the interior.

Well equipped, the GTi package included a rear window defroster, rear wiper-washer, AM/FM stereo cassette, power mirrors, tinted windows and more not usually found on an econobox.

The suspension was fully independent, MacPherson struts in front and struts with semi-trailing and lateral links out back, with disc brakes at all four wheels. All-season P175/60R-14 Bridgestone Potenza RE92s on steel rims were standard, though 14×5.0-inch cast alloy wheels were a $572 option. The whole thing had a base price of $8,995.

Air conditioning was a $830 option.

Suzuki FB 80

The Swift GTi not only looked the part of the pocket rocket, it could act it as well. Most testers recorded 0 to 60 mph times in the eight second range, with the quarter-mile ticked off in the 16s. The tires weren’t the most radical of Bridgestone’s line, but the Suzuki Swift GTi was capable of .80 g on the skidpad and was so agile in the slalom that testers doubted their instruments.

Despite a 59/41 percent weight distribution, wrote one critic, it displays a neutral character in most turns. The unassisted steering was heavy and the 18:1 ratio a bit slow, but the car’s attitude could be controlled equally with steering and throttle input, said another.

It was, as they said, a MIni Cooper for the ’90s, with an emphasis. on sportiness and light weight; refinement takes a back seat to performance. Indeed, the engine was raucous when revved and the doors closed with a tinny clang. Said one, A bit too crude to compete with such stars as the Acura Integra or the Volkswagen GTI.


Named too much like the GTI, said Volkswagen. So for its second year, it was simply the Swift GT. Except for the obligatory mid-run facelift, the GT continued unchanged through the ’94 model year.

Although the Suzuki Swift GTi/GT was popular with the gonzo element of the automotive press, the mass market was more interested in less frantic wheels, and those who wanted to go quickly were prepared to pay more. When the Swift lineup was updated for ’95, the Suzuki Swift GT was gone.

Call it the pocket veto.

Illustration: 1989 Suzuki Swift GTi. Photo by John Matras.

Suzuki FB 80

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