Suzuki Swift Gti and GT: Pocket Full of Fun
A Cultus for the U.S.
There aren't many cars that truly fit the description of a pocket rocket. In today's world of dual airbags, multiple catalytic converters, and eight-speaker stereo systems, pockets are bulging, if not busting wide open with overweight offerings claiming the title. The Suzuki Swift GT on the other hand, perfectly fits the term pocket rocket. In fact, together with the second generation Honda CRX Si, the "little Swift that could" defined the term in the early 1990s.
Today, Suzuki is better known for its recent stranglehold on the AMA Superbike series and its range of small SUVs, but back in the late 1980s, Suzuki was eager to overcome the problems encountered with the very public Samurai rollover scandal. They did have a presence of sorts in the U.S. economy car market, since the popular Chevy Sprint was essentially a Suzuki Cultus - the Japanese home-market name - with a bow-tie badge.
The waters had even been tested to see if a hot-rod version of the Cultus/Sprint would be accepted, with the introduction of the turbo-charged Sprint Turbo. While the little 993cc 3-cylinder responded well to forced induction, the seventy horsepower it generated failed to ignite the hearts of many performance car enthusiasts. Luckily for us that experiment did not discourage Suzuki from bringing over its own factory hot rod based on the completely re-engineered and re-named Swift line.
First offered in 1989, the Swift Gti (later called the GT) brought along a certain boy-racer image that flaunted its performance potential. Emblazoned with Twin-Cam 16 Valve badging and a well integrated aerodynamic body kit, the GTi at least made enthusiasts take notice. It wasn't until they stepped closer, either taking a peak inside the wheel opening at the four-wheel disc brakes, or viewing the four-wheel independent suspension under the car, that a Suzuki Salesmen could truly feel like he reeled one in. If they weren't hooked by then, a lift of the hood to reveal even more Twin Cam 16 Valve badging on the screaming little cam covers would finish them off.
Sure, it isn't a Ferrari or Porsche; nobody ever made that claim. But the little Gti is a rare machine, built in the spirit of past pocket rockets like the Saab 750GT, Mini Cooper S, or any number of Abarth-tuned Fiats. Better yet, it has the performance of a home-built hot rod with the fit and finish that could only come from a factory. The low $8,995 entry price was another bonus.
Road tests of the day applauded Suzuki's efforts in producing a sprightly little machine that could carve a canyon, zip down straights with a real eagerness, and still feel like it was going to be easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. A potent, high-revving 1.3-liter twin-cam 16-valve engine spins out 100 horsepower, and a willingness to bounce off the 7,500rpm rev-limiter. Acceleration is brisk, with 60mph coming up in the mid to high eight second range, all with a distinct high-pitched mechanical whirl more commonly found on two-wheel machines.
Tuned with an amazing sense of balance and poise difficult to find in short wheelbase machines, the GT offers excellent response and makes quick work of transitions. The only real gripe proved to be a trait common to its VW Gti namesake too; a bit too much body roll during cornering, nose dive under braking, and pitch under acceleration. Thanks to the supportive seats, all these body motions don't distract the driver, but at least Suzuki had given aftermarket companies an opportunity to make improvements on an otherwise great little chassis.
All was not roses and sunshine for the Swift Gti however. As you have already noticed, Suzuki touted the Gti nomenclature quite loudly upon introduction, much to the consternation of Volkswagen. After the threat of litigation from VW America, who wanted to protect the Gti designation, Suzuki simply dropped the "I" and renamed the car the GT in 1990.
The GT was offered for sale in 1989 and continued unchanged in MK2 form (the early Cultus/Sprint body style is considered the MK1) through 1991. In 1992, a revised MK3 GT came on board and was offered in America through 1994, Asia through 1996, and Australia through 1999, making them popular worldwide. The MK3 changes were primarily cosmetic, with a bit of added weight in the latter years. MK2 cars weighed in anywhere from 1775 pounds to 1850 pounds, while the later MK3 weighed 1950 pounds.
Out on the track, GTs have proven popular in the Club Rally scene, particularly in the Canadian Rally Championship series, and still have a fighting chance in SCCA Solo II competition. Perhaps a bit outclassed in H-Stock against the new Mini, a hot-rod GT would make a potent performer in FSP with the right tuning, and even a small bore threat in the popular Street Touring S class.
How to Spot Them
When first introduced in 1989, the MK2 Swift GT was easily distinguished on the outside from its standard Swift and Geo Metro brothers by an aerodynamic body kit. This all-inclusive kit features an aggressive front and rear bumper cover, sculpted side-sills, and integrated rear hatch-mounted roof spoiler, which turned an otherwise droopy, egg-shape into an aggressive wind carver, with a drag coefficient of 0.32.
Up front, the bumper cover incorporates two centrally mounted air intake openings, flanked by rectangular fog lights and narrow brake cooling slots. Headlights feature a flush cover with a fittingly simple triangular shaped turn signal assembly. Between the headlights, an egg-crate-grille is emphasized by the large stylized Suzuki "S" badge placed on the hood's leading edge.
Outside rear-view mirrors are treated to body color paint, as are the door handles and all body moldings, giving a clean, sporty appearance. The deeply-dished side skirts emphasize the wheel arch bulges, and help to visually lower the car. A simple twin stripe runs between the front and rear wheel well openings, knee-high, and includes Twin Cam 16 Valve lettering meant to tempt would-be stop light racers.
Most GTs came equipped with standard steel wheels and 6-hole plastic wheel covers, featuring a directional turbine pattern. Quite a few GTs left the showroom floor with the Suzuki Sport accessory aluminum wheels, which feature an anthracite colored 7-spoke center, with a polished outer lip that fits right in with today's current trends.
Out back, early GTs feature large red taillights - with a somewhat cluttered block design - and a deep cutout for the license plate. The rear bumper has three deep center recesses, while the two small chrome tailpipes exit below on the passenger side. A subtle body colored rear spoiler, mounted at the top of the hatch, finishes off the GTs sporty look.
On the inside, MK2 GTs were only available with a somewhat somber colored black interior, however, the flashy red checker-board seats help to brighten things up. Those seats also offer excellent lateral support thanks to deeply contoured side bolsters, and butt hugging bottom bolsters. The three-spoke steering wheel is fixed, offering no adjustments for tilt or reach, which can block the top of the main instruments for taller drivers.
Speaking of instruments, the first thing you'll notice is the 8,000rpm tachometer, and the simple, legibly marked speedometer, which unfortunately is only marked to 85mph on early MK2s. A fuel gauge sits on the left while the coolant temperature gauge is on the right. Oil temperature, battery charge, and check engine lights can be found above the fuel gauge.
Despite the small exterior size, the GT does offer generous rear seat room, thanks to the tall roofline. With the rear seat backs folded, there is plenty of room to haul a set of race wheels and tires, tool box, jack, and miscellaneous race equipment to and from the track. Everything is accessible through the wide opening rear hatch, that is wiped clean with a standard rear wiper.
The MK3 Swift GT was introduced in 1992 and brought about a fresh exterior look, as well as a more modern feel inside. There were several small detail changes that brought about an increase in weight - an extra 100 pounds - but these later cars don't lose any of their nimble and sprightly feel.
Outside, the biggest changes can be found up front, with a revised front bumper cover that incorporates one thin cooling slot in the bumper face, with three thin slots running the entire width of the under bumper valance. Small rectangular fog lights are positioned out on the corners, while the marker lamps fit slightly recessed into the bumper just above. Headlights remained unchanged, as does the egg-crate grill. Overall, this new look helps to widen the car, and give it a meaner, lower stance.
A new stylized "Swift GT" decal adorns the doors, but the side valance panels remain untouched from the MK2, as do the outside rearview mirrors and door handles. Steel wheels remained standard on the later cars, but updated wheel covers have a clean 7-spoke design.
New rear taillights are a big improvement on the MK3 design, which feature a simple red strip across the bottom and around the corner, and a thin white strip at the top. The license plate is moved to the bumper, so a simple red panel fits between the taillights, again helping to widen the car visually. The same thin ribbing design as used on the front bumper is carried to the back; while the tailpipe location and rear hatch spoiler remain the same as before.
Inside the MK3 the most obvious changes are to the seats - which feature a more subdued thin gray stripe pattern - and to the steering wheel. Still 3-spoke in design, the wheel has a less angular look, but still retains its thick rim. The shift lever knob is also changed to a proper shape, instead of the popsicle shape of the early cars.
Behind the steering wheel sits an entirely new instrument cluster, with a green illuminated display. The tachometer still reads to 8,000rpm, but the speedometer has been re-calibrated to read a proper 120mph. The fuel gauge and coolant temperature gauges remain in the same location, but all the warning lights are moved to a thin horizontal strip at the bottom of the display. Most of the dash and side panels are also changed, though the look and feel remains very similar between the years.
Underhood, all GTs can be distinguished by the bright blue rocker covers, with raised "Suzuki 1300" and "Twin Cam 16" lettering. The intake manifold is positioned behind the engine, with the throttle body facing the passenger side, connecting to the air flow meter and black plastic air filter housing. The distributor is placed at the end of the engine - on the driver's side - and is adorned with bright red plug wires. The battery is located at the extreme driver side front of the car, with the brake fluid reservoir mounted behind it up against the firewall.
All the Specs
The heart of the Swift GT is clearly its eager revving 1,300cc twin cam 16 valve engine, code-named the G13B. Designed with plenty of high-revving motorcycle technology, Suzuki was still able to bring along a level of sophistication and low-down grunt required for day-to-day driving duties, not to mention a real world service schedule. Horsepower for the U.S. specification engine is rated at 100hp at 6,500rpm, while torque is rated at 83 lb.-ft.
The G13B uses a lightweight aluminum cylinder block with dry steel liners. The robust bottom-end starts with a forged steel crankshaft held in place with five large main bearings. Connecting rods are H-shaped and connect to lightweight forged pistons measuring 74.0mm in diameter. The stroke is 75.5mm, giving the little mill a total of 1,298cc displacement.
The cylinder head is a real work of art - carved out of aluminum - and features a tight pentroof combustion chamber giving a 10:1 compression ratio. The spark plug is centrally located and accessed through the center of the cylinder head, between the twin camshafts. Those camshafts deserve some attention too, since the early versions used tubular construction to keep the rotating mass lower. Valve timing of the camshafts is set at 8/36/42/10, with a 7.3mm lift providing good low-end torque and responsiveness. Hydraulic lifters are used to act on the sixteen steel valves.
On the inlet side of the engine, a black plastic air cleaner assembly is mounted on the passenger side inner fender, which uses a standard panel-style air filter. A 45mm throttle-body connects to an aluminum intake manifold that features short runners connected to a barrel shaped plenum. Suzuki uses a multi-point electronic fuel injection system, with individual intake-port-mounted fuel injectors.
The stock exhaust manifold is manufactured of cast-iron, and features a short 4 into 2 design that promotes mid-range power. The downpipe then merges the two pipes into a single 1.5-inch diameter exhaust pipe that runs the length of the car. A single catalytic converter is used, while exhaust sound is reduced with the use of a resonator - mounted at the head of the system - and a rear mounted baffle-style muffler.
Inside the aluminum-cased transmission lie five forward gears, each with a conventional single cone synchronizer. Gear ratios are set at 3.416 for first, 1.894 for second, 1.280 for third, 0.914 for fourth, and 0.757 for fifth gear. The final drive is a rather short 4.105, giving 32mph in first gear, 57mph in second, and 85mph in third at the 6,800rpm maximum engine speed. Top speed - with stock power - can be reached in either fourth or fifth gears, which are both overdrive gears.
All Suzuki Swift GTs are built on the AA34S chassis, and use four-wheel disc brakes for strong, surefooted stopping power. Up front, full-floating single-piston brake calipers are used to squeeze D-shaped brake pads. Ventilated front brake discs measure 9.8-inches in diameter, while the solid rear discs measure 9.3-inches in diameter, and are grabbed by single piston calipers.
A manually operated rack-and-pinion steering system features a tight 13:1 ratio, giving incredibly quick responses. That quick response is also a benefit of the fully independent suspension, which incorporates MacPherson struts, coil springs, lower control arms, and a 19mm anti-roll bar up front. The MacPherson struts use a simple two-bolt method of attaching to the hub, and three bolts for attaching to the strut tower bodywork. Coil springs have ground, open coils with thin rubber-isolating pads to help reduce noise and vibration. In the back, Chapman-style struts are used with coil springs, and lower semi-trailing arms. A somewhat beefy - for economy car standards - 15mm anti-roll bar helps provide a neutral balance.
Stock wheels are made of pressed steel and measure 14-inches in diameter, but only 5-inches in width. A popular aluminum wheel - with the same measurements - was offered as an accessory. A standard 4x100mm bolt pattern is used, making it easy to find aftermarket wheels. Tires, on the other hand, were an uncommon 175/60-14 size, and were typically supplied by Bridgestone in their all-season RE-92 offering.
A good starting point for Swift GT owners is to upgrade to wider wheels and tires, which can dramatically improve the handling of their cars. Since the GT uses a common 4x100mm bolt spacing, it is quite easy to find suitable wheels, in various widths and diameters. A popular - and cheap - solution is to simply upgrade to wider 6-inch wheels, in the stock 14-inch diameter size. 185/60-14 performance tires are offered by several manufacturers, and only slightly increase overall gearing compared to the stock 175/60-14 size,
The next step would be to go the "plus one" route and fit 15-inch diameter wheels. 6.5-inch wide wheels will fit inside the fenders without rubbing, as long as a low profile 195/50-15 or 195/45-15 tire is used. Again, these sizes are becoming more popular, and are offered in quite a few high performance tire models. With a little work to roll the fender lips, 16-inch wheels can be shoehorned under a GT, with 205/40-16 tires.
For autocross and road race fans, there are several DOT-approved racing tires available in 13-inch, 14-inch, and 15-inch sizes, including the Yokohama A-032R, Kumho Victoracer V700, new Kumho Ecsta V700, and Hoosier radials. For stock class competition or occasional road course play days, a 185/60-14 or 205/55-14 is a good choice. When running in F-Street Prepared, where wider wheels are allowed, Hoosiers wide 225/50-13 radial and Kumhos new 235/45-13 Ecsta make good choices.
Swift GTs are popular among the rally crowd too, and luckily there are numerous choices when looking for rally tires. Kumho, Pirelli, Michelin, and Yokohama all make 13-inch and 14-inch diameter rally tires suitable for the GTs level of power. A popular rally tire size for the GT is 17x550x13.
After wheels and tires, the next upgrade for the Swift GT should be to its strut and spring package. Popular upgrade units include the KYB GR2 and KYB AGX. The GR2 provides a good improvement over stock struts, but is not adjustable. The AGXs offer 4-way adjustment in the front (at the top of the strut) and 8-way adjustment for the rear units (controlled by a knob at the bottom of the strut body.) Another popular upgrade, especially for the racer crowd, is the use of Koni Sport struts. The Konis have a fixed compression (bump) setting but offer adjustable rebound valving capable of supporting higher spring rates.
Several manufacturers offer uprated performance springs for the GT, including Eibach and Whiteline. Most of these springs offer increases rates and lower a GT roughly 1 to 1.5 inches. Any lower, and suspension travel becomes too limited for daily driving. The ultimate spring and strut setup for the GT includes custom manufactured coil-over kits, as offered by SSGTi.com, that offer adjustable valving and ride height.
Another popular upgrade for the GT is to install urethane bushings for the lower control-arm pivot-points. SSGTi.com offers an all inclusive kit that features much stiffer urethane construction, sharpening turn-in and reducing bushing deflection during hard corning and acceleration. A larger 18mm rear anti-roll bar is a good addition, and when combined with firm urethane bushings, helps bring the GTs balance closer to neutral.
Keeping the chassis stiff will go a long way toward improving the performance of a Swift GT, and is best accomplished by installing a front strut tower bar, as offered by SSGTi.com and GAB. A lower tie-bar - connecting the lower control arm mounts - will also help to minimize the effects of torque steer under hard acceleration. A Swift GT can also benefit from a rear-mounted strut bar, which helps to keep the rear of the chassis square and solid.
A good alignment is crucial to the performance of a GT, whether it's being used on the street or track. Up front, toe settings of 1/8-inch toe-in can improve turn-in and stability, while the same amount of toe-out can improve overall front end grip. Rear toe is also adjustable, and a slight amount of rear toe-out (1/16 to 1/8-inch) can help the car rotate on corner entry, and hold a tighter line under acceleration.
Front camber can be adjusted by using camber kits, as supplied by SSGTi.com. These kits allow for up to 1.75 degrees of negative camber in the front. Rear camber changes as the car is lowered, and is typically found to be around 1.5 degrees negative. If you can't find camber kits, the old school method of slotting either the top strut mount holes (where the strut mounts to the strut tower body work,) or one of the two main strut mounting holes (where the strut mounts to the hub) will work.
Once the suspension is dialed in, some attention to the braking system is in order. Besides ensuring that the basic components of the braking system - master cylinder, brake lines, calipers etc. - are in as new condition, a high-temperature DOT4 rated brake fluid should be used to help resist boiling under extreme use.
The best place to start is to upgrade to a more performance oriented brake pad. Luckily for Swift GT owners there are several offerings from companies like PBR, EBC, and Ferodo, that are tailored to street use or for high-temperature racing applications. Another good upgrade to the braking system is to use stainless steel flex lines, which help to resist swelling under severe use and give a firmer brake pedal. For the owner seeking serious stopping power, a set of cross-drilled or slotted rotors will help to minimize the effects of gas build-up between the pad and rotor interface, further reducing the effects of brake fade due to overheating.
The Swift GT is well known for its eager little G13B power plant, punching out 100hp at elevated revs. Most owners would like more power however, and thanks to an active - but somewhat underground - aftermarket, there are numerous choices. Starting with the intake, a Powermax replacement air filter will increase airflow and let out a healthy snort. The next step would be to custom fabricate a cold-air intake system using any number of available cone-style externally mounted air filters.
A bored out throttle body will allow that extra air flow to reach the engine, while improving top end pulling power and throttle response. There are several different TB options, including fitting a modified Nissan V6 throttle body. Since Suzuki did such an excellent job designing the stock cylinder head, there is no real need to port or polish the intake or exhaust ports, unless larger valves are fitted. If the cylinder head is already off the car, a good three-angle valve cut and general cleanup around the guides will help to smooth flow.
If serious engine work were planned, an upgrade to the intake system would be required. A unique solution is provided by Calmini, which offers a custom inlet manifold for mounting twin 44mm Mikuni carburetors. Another possibility would be to adapt the Electromotive programmable fuel injection system, which can be programmed to take advantage of elevated revs and fuel requirements.
One area where the Swift GT can pick up some ponies is in upgrading the exhaust system. The stock system measures only 1.5-inches in diameter and upgrading to 2-inch diameter - as offered by Calmini and Genie - improve airflow out of the engine. Both companies also manufacture headers, featuring a 4-into-2 design aimed at increasing both torque and top-end power, not to mention that sweet high-pitched Suzuki wail.
Speaking of top-end power, Tighecams and SSGTi.com offer re-profiled camshafts that features more aggressive valve timing and more lift, both aimed at increasing the power capability at elevated revs. These cams have shown to pull strongly to 7,500rpm, and can bring as much as a 10hp increase at these speeds. A set of adjustable cam gears can be used to fine-tune the setup.
If all of these modification added up don't satisfy the energetic Swift GT owner, there are a couple more options, including turbocharging and full-on engine swaps. AVO offers a bolt-on turbo kit designed to operate at a low seven pounds of boost, which can accommodate standard pump gas.
Another interesting power booster is to swap in a 1.6-liter SOHC G16A engine from the Sidekick. These engines can be made to put out in excess of 160hp (120 with mild preparation) and offer bags of low-down torque. A disadvantage to both setups however, is the increase in weight placed on the front of the car, which can negatively affect handling. The price we pay for power.
The Suzuki Swift GT continues to be a car sought after by enthusiasts who appreciate their unique character and mix of potent power and light weight fun. A true enthusiast would not be put off by its pint size stature, or its family resemblance to the humdrum Geo Metro. Instead, A Swift GT owner would take pride in knowing they own a unique car, one that isn't seen on every street corner or showcased in all the import tuner magazines. The Suzuki Swift GT, truly a machine that deserves the reputation as one of the great pocket rockets of all time.
Sidebar: Suzuki Aerio SX
Suzuki hasn't offered anything with a sporty flavor since the Swift GT left our shores at the end of 1994. The new Swift - introduced in 1995 - wasn't offered in GT trim, and the pudgy little Esteem sedan and wagon don't offer much for the performance enthusiast. Enter the Aerio SX and GS models in the summer of 2002.
Following the current trend of highboy wagons - popularized by the Toyota Matrix - the Aerio SX combines a station wagon look with a mini sport utility flavor and functionality. Nobody will call it beautiful, but some might appreciate the SX's chunky profile, crisp edge details, and sporty nature.
The deep front air dam features small recessed fog lights flanking a pronounced center air intake. Large triangular headlights blend into contoured front fenders with cola-bottle style flares. The small - by today's standards - 15-inch diameter wheels and slim side-walled 195/55-15 tires are dwarfed by the high waistline and narrow greenhouse. In the rear, the SX sports large vertically styled taillights and a top mounted spoiler. The overall look is aggressive and sporty, if not a bit thick in the middle.
The other sporty Aerio model is the GS, which is based on the 4-door body-style. The GS and SX are essentially the same from the doors forward. The slimmer C-pillar and lack of the tall station wagon roofline makes the GS better proportioned, and overall the better executed of the two designs.
Regardless of the body-style, both the SX and GS share the same platform and potent little 2.0-liter 16-Valve twin-cam engine, featuring all aluminum construction. Rated at 142 horsepower and a strong 135 lb.-ft of torque, the little Aerio twins can scoot to 60 mph in roughly 8.5 seconds, quicker than a Protege5 or Focus ZX5. Better than cutting quick acceleration runs, however, is the engine's willingness to pull strong in the mid-range, making it great for brisk city driving and spirited highway running.
The chassis is pretty decent too, with a good compromise of strut, spring, and bar rates for daily driving comfort or running through the occasional high-speed slalom. The true enthusiast would like a bit more stiffness and sharpness, and hopefully the aftermarket will step up to provide this. The only downside of the Aerio's twisty-bits capability comes from Suzuki's decision to fit the "off-road" oriented Yokohama Geolander tires, which give a numb feeling and generally lack grip at full lean.
If the potent engine and sharp chassis don't bring enthusiasts rushing to their local Suzuki dealer, perhaps the low price of entry will. Equipped with everything from standard power windows and door locks, to the in-dash CD player and cruise control, the Aerio SX and GS are quite a bargain for their $14,999 asking price, especially when its competition is nudging closer to $20,000. A sporty, yet reasonably priced Suzuki? You bet. Just consider the Aerio SX and GS a modern day Swift GT.