Often being successful means playing to your natural strengths, which is why you never see 7-foot tall jockeys and likewise with 5-foot tall basketball players. For Suzuki, its strength is in small cars, it’s where success has been found in the past, currently with the Swift, and where opportunities exist for the future. Suzuki’s latest weapon in the increasingly city car battleground is the new Alto. Now in its seventh-generation the Alto is an international success story having sold more than 10 million units over a 30-year period. Not all models have made it to NZ but this writer’s mother once owned the first generation and spent many childhood holiday road trips wondering why large trucks were overtaking our car when I was sure it should be the other way round. Now, with any flashbacks well-repressed Car and SUV spent a week with the fresh-faced Alto to find its strengths and uncover any weaknesses.
Fortune rose pearl metallic wouldn’t have been my first colour choice from the five available hues but it reflects an exterior aesthetic that is modern and fun. Designed in Japan but built in India the Alto has a clear European influence in its large, raked headlights and prominent grille. Rear design is more generic but clean-cut and a steeply raised belt-line along the flanks gives the Alto a perched profile. At just 3.5m in length and 1.6m in width, with a turning circle of only 4.5 meters, the Alto is capable of negotiating the tightest of urban landscapes. Overall, the exterior styling is crisp and while isn’t gimmicky-cute enough to have women everywhere swooning it’s not radical enough to dissuade potential buyers either.
Despite diminutive outward dimensions the Alto cabin offers reasonable space for its two front occupants thanks to a clever fit-out. The dashboard and door trims provide a busy array of colours and circular shapes, everything is at hand and easy to use. The shrouded instrumentation is very basic with a small digital display and a large speedo, but no tachometer to check the engine’s rpm. There is also no glove box, with an open shelf standing in, there are cup holders and map holders in the doors, but no covered storage areas to hide cell phones or other valuables. Everything feels well screwed together in the cabin but plastics are of mixed quality. In terms of equipment the Alto receives power windows in the front, air-con, power steering, tilt adjustable steering wheel and a single CD player with auxiliary jack.
Being a sub-light vehicle space was always going to be an issue and although large front seat passengers shouldn’t bump shoulders the back seat is less accommodating. Fitting two adult passengers into the backseat for shorter journeys is a possibility thanks to easy entry/exit from the rear doors but front occupants will need to slide forward significantly to allow adequate legroom. Headroom in any seat is ample for all but 7-foot tall basketballers. The front seats are comfortably wide and are finished in a durable cloth with rose or grey accents.
Luggage capacity is the hatch is limited with just 129-litres available with the rear seats folded up, only enough room for a few bags of shopping or overnight gear for one. Larger items will require the 50:50 split rear seat to be folded down allowing for a more generous 367-litre max load.
Packed in under the small bonnet is an equally small power plant in 996cc, three-cylinder petrol form. This little engine that could produces 50kW of power and 90Nm of torque. Before passing judgement keep in mind that the Alto is a true flyweight tipping the scales at a scant 880kg. General performance is willing and the Alto is certainly capable of moving in city and suburban traffic without hassle. However, entering the motorway or when tackling hills at open road speeds the Alto needs to be worked hard to keep up with larger cars. That said, its three-cylinders will push to the redline and let out a distinctive howl in doing so.
A four-speed automatic gearbox handled shifting duties on our test vehicle and proved a useful unit in extracting all available power. It dropped down gear quickly if not too subtly and never refused to hold a lower ratio when the accelerator pedal dictated. The flip side of such a small engine is economy and in manual form the Alto is rated at 4.8l/100km combined making it the most efficient non-hybrid petrol ride in NZ. In automatic form this increases to a still very good 5.5l/100km. The Alto does need to be run on the more expensive 95RON fuel but with its frugal usage that shouldn’t put off many.
During cornering the Alto is fairly nimble, with thin tyres and a narrow track you won’t want to push it around like a sports car but it rarely gets unsettled under normal driving. The steering is light but responsive and direct enough to really support the nippy manoeuvrable characteristics that are one of the Alto’s strengths.
In terms of general refinement it’s a passing grade with a ride quality that is firm but not uncomfortable. Little wind or road noise enters the cabin and the three-cylinder buzz from the engine only intrudes under heavy load.
The Alto’s safety credentials are proven by a 4-star ANCAP rating but this has been achieved without stability or traction control. Standard safety equipment does include 6 airbags, ABS brakes (disc front, drum rear) and ISOFIX child seat anchors.
Price is the reason I rode in an Alto as a child and it remains a massive selling point now. At $16,500 for the manual Alto and $18,500 for the auto it’s a tempting proposition for those who wouldn’t initially think they could afford a new vehicle. Combined with a 3-year/100km warranty it offers value and peace of mind motoring.
As a second car or an urban daily driver the Alto ticks many boxes, get on to the open road for touring duties and it’s caught a little short in terms of performance and interior/luggage space. Fuel economy and close quarters manoeuvrability are definite strengths as is its easy driving nature. Although it has a few competitors in the NZ sub-light category its biggest rival may be its ever-popular Swift sibling. The Swift is priced very closely to the Alto from $18,500 (manual) and with the exception of fuel economy has a notch more to offer in every area. The Alto and Swift are examples that Suzuki is still a small car force and if you’re in the market for a cheap dedicated city vehicle both are worth a test drive.
Price: $18,500 (manual $16,500)
What we like:
- Fuel economy
- Agile mover
- Useful auto ‘box
What we don’t like:
- Tiny luggage area
- Rear seat legroom
- No covered interior small storage
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
See below for specifcations.
Other car reviews of interest:
Suzuki Alto (2010) — Specifications
Overall Length 3,500mm
Overall Width 1,600mm
Overall Height 1,470mm
Minimum turning radius 4.5m
Curb weight 855 (880)kg
Gross vehicle weight 1,250kg
Engine type K10B 1.0L, 12 valve, DOCH, 3 cylinder, MPI fuel injection
Displacement 996 cc Max. Output 50/6,000 Kw/rpm
Max. Torque 90/4,800 Nm/rpm
Fuel Type 95 RON
Fuel Consumption – combined 4.8 (5.5)L/100km
CO2 emissions 113 (130)g/km
Transmission Type – Automatic 4-stage
Steering Power-assisted rack & pinion
Suspension – Front MacPherson strut & coil spring
Suspension – Rear 3-link rigid axle with coil spring
Brakes – Front Power assisted rack & piston
Brakes – Rear Ventilated disc Tyres 155/65R14
Seating capacity 4
Fuel tank capacity 35L
Luggage Capacity (Rear seatback rasied) 129L
Luggage Capacity (Rear seatback folded) 367L