FORD FIESTA ST
VALUE 3 STARS
A relative bargain when introduced five years ago but the price hit $31,000 drive-away after gaining built-in navigation, rear view camera and illuminated sill covers. Standard fare already included Recaro racing seats, push button start, puddle lamps under the auto-folding mirrors and auto-up power windows. Warranty is three years/100,000km, service intervals are
12 months/15,000km. Servicing over three years is $1030.
DESIGN 3 STARS
Its bold snout and sleek bodykit are a clue to its sporting intent. The interior fit and finish are a mix of high quality (soft dashboard material, large metallic volume dial) and low rent (flimsy aircon dials, cheap plastics everywhere below elbow height). Opening the long doors in tight spots can be a hassle. There's a space-saver spare - the Swift Sport only has an inflation kit.
ENGINE 4 STARS
The 1.6-litre turbo (134kW/240Nm) has plenty of oomph for a car just shy of 1200kg. Short gearing also helps. First gear runs out at 50km/h and second is done by 90km/h, which hurts
0-100km/h times but makes it super-responsive between gear changes. It can run regular unleaded but prefers premium.
SAFETY 3 STARS
Seven airbags, rear view camera, rear parking sensors and auto emergency 000 dialling if airbags are deployed in a crash. In 2013 it earned a five-star score based on 2009 crash tests. Crash protection is good but it wouldn't get five stars today as it lacks some current crash avoidance technologies.
DRIVING 4 STARS
The Recaro seats hold you tight in corners and the engine and gearing are matched for instant response. The steering is more direct and better weighted than the Suzuki's. The brakes have a sharp and precise feel but the suspension is a touch too busy at low speeds. Enthusiasts love it, those after luxury not so much.
SUZUKI SWIFT SPORT
VALUE 4 STARS
Suzuki is yet to publish a drive-away price online; dealers quote $27,500-$29,500 drive-away. Over time it will get closer to the lower price. Standard fare: built-in navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, rear-view camera, push button start, radar cruise control and more. Service intervals are six months/ 10,000km and routine maintenance isn't cheap ($1438 over three years). Warranty is three years/100,000km.
DESIGN 3.5 STARS
A bold nose, bright colours, twin exhausts and sharp-looking alloys improve an already good-looking design. Four-door body is handy, too. The seats are sporty and faux carbon-fibre on the bumpers looks the business, the flashes of red inside less so. The instrument screen has everything except the one thing it needs: a digital speed display. Rear camera image is fuzzy at night.
ENGINE 4 STARS
The 1.4-litre turbo four is only marginally outgunned in this company (103kW/230Nm). Suzuki has copied Ford's formula of short gear ratios. On the plus side: it feels ready to pounce in any gear. In the 0-100km/h contest, it clocks 7.6 secs versus 7.5 for the Fiesta. The Suzuki commands premium unleaded.
SAFETY 4 STARS
Impressive standard equipment includes six airbags, AEB, lane wander warning, radar cruise control, and rear camera (no rear sensors). Five-star score for crash safety.
DRIVING 4 STARS
An absolute hoot: responsive, instantaneous acceleration. Sharp brake pedal feel. Surprisingly supple suspension over bumps, especially compared to the Fiesta, although the rear dampers can top out on big bumps. Impressive braking - it pulls up from 100km/h in a shorter distance than the Ford, no doubt aided by its 970kg body and decent tyres. The steering lacks the finesse of the Ford but this is the closest Japan has been to outmanoeuvring a pint-size Euro hot hatch.
The Fiesta ST is the better driver's car overall but the Swift Sport is easier to live with day-to-day, just as much fun to drive, is cheaper and loaded with more technology.