MINI performance for hatchback money? Try a Suzuki. OK, so the MINI remains top of the tree for people wanting a premium hatchback with style and verve but there are plenty of rivals chomping at its heels.

Audi, of course, and Citroen with its DS ranges are the ones to watch, but who would ever have imagined that Suzuki would grab a slice of the action too?

The Swift is a super little car which is a million miles ahead of its predecessors, offering neat looks and good performance. But the Swift Sport is arguably the best of the Swift family.

What Car? magazine agreed. Swift Sport was awarded a ‘Best Buy’ accolade for the third consecutive year. The performance flagship of the Swift range was comprehensively judged as ‘Best Buy Hot hatch for less than £15,000’.

Now it has an even higher standard specification for 2014 which includes satellite navigation and DAB radio, Swift Sport still remains a very good alternative to some rather expensive rivals.

Costing £13,999 for three-door and £14,499 for the five-door model, it should be on the shopping list for anyone seeking a sporty hatchback.

It’s the engine which makes all the difference. A peppy 1.6 litre unit, it is rev-happy and will zip to 121mph where allowed and will do 60mph in 8.7 seconds. Yet it will return 54mpg on a run and 44.1mpg on average.

CO2 emissions are 147g/km and a bespoke exhaust system yields a sporty note and the Sport is fitted with a lovely six-speed manual transmission as standard.

Sport is proving popular with customers, achieving well over 110 per cent of sales target in 2013. To help widen the market as well as assist younger buyers aspiring to own one, Suzuki has included it in its latest PCP (Personal Contract Purchase) offers with a special low deposit of £2,313 required followed by 42 monthly payments of £219 and an optional final payment of £4,815 for the three door model.

Add to that the Group 20A insurance and you can see why it’s proving popular.

Since it went on sale in 2006 Swift has picked up something of a cult following, and everyone who drove it absolutely loved it.

Admittedly the new one looks quite similar, but that’s no bad thing. All the best premium cars evolve slowly and purposefully and older Swifts still look pretty neat.

New Swift is 10mm longer and the front wheels are 10mm further apart. The rear wheels are 5mm further apart and 50mm has gone into the wheelbase. Thankfully, it hasn’t spoiled the natural agility that befits a small, lightweight car with a well-sorted chassis. Suzuki has worked hard to keep the fat at bay, and the result is just 15 extra kilos for the new sporty Swift to carry, and bearing in mind that it's packing an extra 13bhp and 9lb.ft of torque, that’s a worthwhile trade-off.

It’s a lot of fun and it sounds like you must be hitting Mach 2 at the top end of second gear, but in reality it’s not all that quick, so it’s a sensible car. You won’t trouble speed cameras.

But it feels quick and agile. It’s a shame for more experienced drivers, but a bit of understeer appears when getting onto the throttle mid-corner. Most hot hatches react by pulling the car into the turn and tightening the line, but the Swift Sport doesn’t, pushing wide instead.

Stay off the throttle until most of the steering lock has been wound off, though, and it’s clear just how much corner speed the Sport can carry.

Even at speed the ride is remarkably well composed, coping with general undulations and camber changes with gusto. The only thing is that the suspension, attached to those arch-filling alloys, is fairly short-travel and bottoms out uncomfortably over sudden severe bumps. Potholes will be best avoided.

It’s got everything a fun small car needs, and as a bonus it's relatively cheap to own and run.

Meanwhile, Suzuki’s sales for 2013 reached 33,086, an increase of more than 8,200 cars over 2012 and a 33 per cent growth year on year; Suzuki was the second fastest growing brand during 2013 and is now well inside the top 20. Global sales are also looking positive too with full year forecast up 8.6 per cent and net income up 24 per cent year on year, thanks to increased sales in India, Thailand and Indonesia plus additional models for the Japanese domestic market.