Suzuki Alto

4 Aug 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Suzuki Alto

Suzuki Alto

Melbourne, Victoria

What we liked

Price and equipment

Safety and overall quality

Fuel economy and cheerful looks

Not so much

Needs premium unleaded

Three-cylinder engine revs well but idles lumpy

Limited rear-seat room, small boot

Overall rating: 3.0/5.0

Price, Value, Practicality: 4.0/5.0

Safety: 3.0/5.0

Behind the wheel: 3.0/5.0

X-factor: 3.0/5.0

Small cars are getting smaller

The sub-light car class, as it is officially known, is huge in Europe. But we’ve been slow to catch on to the trend here. Suzuki reckons that’s all about to change. But haven’t we been here before?

Daihatsu had a big go at little cars for several decades until the tiny Japanese maker left our shores a few years ago — just as petrol prices started to climb.

Suzuki calls itself a pioneer in this segment, having been a small car specialist for the better part of 50 years. Indeed, the Alto nameplate has been around for 30 years, and has clocked up an astonishing 10 million sales globally.

But trim away some of the PR hype and you’ll find Suzuki is one of many players in the pint-sized end of Tokyo. It’s just that it’s the first to reignite this segment locally (Hyundai is due to follow with two sub-light cars late this year or early next year, and Toyota is considering the same).

So this super-small hatch has a lot riding on its tiny shoulders.

This all-new model is a world car for Suzuki. It is made in India and shipped to all points around the globe. Indeed, it is the first mainstream Indian-built passenger car on sale in Australia.

As with most of the journalists on the preview drive, I was initially highly skeptical of the build quality, but first impressions were good. I’d put it on par or better than the best Korean quality, and equal to budget Japanese models. Hardly surprising given that Suzuki engineers have been all over the factory and the car like a rash.

The Alto’s price is right, it has enough safety equipment to embarrass its rivals, and it’s pleasant enough to drive if all you’re after is a city commuter.


Cheapest car on the market with six airbags and a 4.8 fuel rating

There are four models in the Alto range: GL five-speed manual at $12,490; GL four-speed auto for $2000 more; the up-spec GLX five-speed manual at $14,490 and the GLX four-speed auto topping the range at $16,490. All these prices exclude dealer charges and on-road costs

Translated, this means the Alto has a starting drive-away price of $14,990.

Standard fare on the base GL model includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, remote entry, CD player with audio input socket, power front windows, a tilt adjustable steering wheel, and a covered driver’s vanity mirror.

The GLX has all of the above but gains stability control, alloy wheels, foglights, a hatch release lever near the driver’s door (in the base car you must use a key in the rear hatch), a height-adjustable driver’s seat, a six-speaker sound system and a rev counter that’s stuck on top of the dash.

Both models get window winders on the rear doors (European market Alto have tilt-out rear glass) and manual mirrors.


Economy, not performance, is the key here

The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine isn’t exactly going to get hearts racing. With a 0 to 100km/h sprint time of 14 seconds for the manual and 17 seconds for the auto, the Alto is not a car for thrill seekers. But it might excite a few people by how much they save at the bowser.

For the tech heads (or just the curious) the engine puts out a modest 50kW of power at 6000rpm and an even more modest 90Nm of torque at 3400rpm. But it’s worth putting these tiny numbers into perspective. The Alto is as light as a feather.

Depending on the model weight varies from 880kg to 920kg.

All this combines to create an impressive fuel economy rating of 4.8L/100km (manual) and 5.5L/100km (auto). The next most affordable car with a 4.8 fuel rating is a $28,000 Peugeot.

There’s just one catch: the Alto insists on 95 RON premium unleaded fuel, which can add between $72 to $140 per year to the average annual fuel bill. At today’s prices, it will cost $3.50 more to fill each tank with premium unleaded than regular 91 RON (a quick check shows there is currently a 10 cents per litre difference between the two fuels).

There is a reason for all this, however. The Alto’s engine not only beats Euro IV emissions but also meets the even more stringent Euro V measure — which is yet to be introduced. For the record, the emissions ratings are: 113g/km (manual) 130g/km (auto).


All aboard, it’s a tight squeeze

The Alto is a four-seater and it has four doors, but there needs to be some co-operation if a full load of people plan on travelling anywhere.

With an average-sized driver sitting comfortably in the front, it’s likely he or she will feel a pair of knees in their back if someone sits behind them. You see, the seats are super thin to maximise interior space and the downside is that they do little to disguise who (or what) is behind you.

To get four in there in comfort, the front two occupants need to inch forward a little. No real hardship on short trips. And we’re guessing the target audience of young women may take up less space than the boofy blokes in the motoring media scrum.

They’ll be better looking too.

The cabin has a reasonable amount of oddment storage, although there is nowhere to secure loose items out of view. The glovebox is an open-top design which, if stuffed with maps and other junk, could obstruct the path of the passenger’s airbag.

There is a recess in the grab handle of each door big enough to store a small phone. The rear doors also have a single drinkholder each while the front doors have thin map pockets.

There’s space to carry some CDs in front of the gear lever and two drinkholders, and a small oddment tray under the audio system.

The boot is small (a laptop bag and an aircraft carry-on case just about fill it) but at least there is a full-size spare tucked under the floor. The rear seat split folds 50:50 to create a larger load space.

Visibility is reasonable, especially with the convex mirrors on both sides of the car, although the rear window line is a little high when parking. Fortunately, though, it’s so compact you’re in little doubt about the external dimensions of the car.


Four-star safety and curtain airbags are standard

The Alto scored a marginal three stars in crash tests by the independent European New Car Assessment Program. But the locals-pec Alto scores an acceptable four stars locally because it comes with six airbags as standard on all models.

In a rare example of role reversal, Australia actually has the better equipped car: in Europe the base model Altos only get two airbags. This means the Alto is the cheapest car with six airbags on sale in Australia today, an impressive achievement.

Anti-lock brakes are also standard. This means the Alto has more safety equipment than its competitors. For example, the base models of the Holden Barina (four airbags), Hyundai Getz (two airbags) and Kia Rio (two airbags) don’t even have anti-lock brakes as standard.

Only the more expensive Alto GLX gets stability control. It is not currently a stand-alone option on the base car. But given that the technology will be compulsory in a few years we expect to see stability control on the base model Alto before too long.


No direct rival, other than the price leaders

The Alto is cheap, but it is not the cheapest car in Australia because its starting drive-away price is $14,990. The Hyundai Getz and Holden Barina are currently thrashing it out at $13,990 drive-away.

But, the rivals are three-door cars (not five), are about to be superseded, and the Alto is much better equipped.

For now, though, the Alto has the sub light class to itself until the similarly sized Hyundais and Toyotas arrive over the next year or so.

Regardless of size, people buy cars on price, and so the Alto is expected to steal sales away from the Toyota Yaris or Mazda2. You can get an Alto with the works for the price of the base models of one of these.


Anyone who doesn’t like this car doesn’t get it

Be prepared for reports of sluggish performance and ordinary handling. But you know what? The Alto is absolutely fine for what it’s supposed to do.

I’d prefer driving this than some of the other cut price offerings.

I spent most of my time behind the wheel of the automatic, as that is expected to account for most sales. The test drive was mostly in the city, in stop-start traffic, so I can’t deliver any firm assessment of its handling prowess. But in this class, tight turning circles and ease of use are more important.

The steering is light and easy, the turning circle is tight and the brakes feel decent.

Acceleration requires a slight change in driving style. If you really need to move in a hurry, you need to push the accelerator to the floor to trick the automatic gearbox into changing down. It’s good news then that the engine absolutely loves to rev — you can feel it start to get its legs at about 6000rpm.

The manual requires a bit more shuffling of gears to make the most of the engine’s modest torque. I normally prefer manuals, but I reckon the auto Alto is definitely the pick. Just don’t be afraid to squeeze the throttle.

The Alto soaks up bumps and thumps without much fuss. And the grip from the skinny tyres is adequate providing you’re not trying to set a lap record on your way to pick up some KFC. (Incidentally, the genuine replacement tyres are pretty cheap, with a RRP of about $100 each; genuine replacement tyres for the Swift, Yaris and Mazda are closer to $200 each).

My only real gripe was the engine at idle speeds. I have a soft spot for three-cylinder sewing machine engines, as I call them, but they can be a bit lumpy at idle. Apart from that, I had a surprisingly enjoyable time.

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Published. Monday, 27 July 2009

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