By Matt Brogan
When it comes to saving a buck, buying new is often a trap when it comes to small cars with price tags that just seem to creep forever northward – not to mention their physical size.
So when it comes to buying something that won’t break the bank, yet still ticks all the boxes in terms of safety, performance and economy, this end of the scale could well be considered slim pickings – until now.
The Suzuki Alto sits in the sub-light category beneath such players as Holden Barina, Ford Fiesta and its sibling the Swift to fill a void that was until now met by only one other challenger – the Proton Savvy.
Suzuki’s latest effort, the Indian built Alto, revives a nameplate that dates back to the two-stroke models of the late 1970s, which in turn replaced Suzuki’s Fronte badge.
Alto’s have always been a rather basic offering and in comparison to other cars on the road the same is true today, but that doesn’t mean this latest comer is a bare-bones budget bomb you wouldn’t let you dog sleep in, no, this amiable little character actually boasts a lot of merit, and not all of it in the fiduciary department either.
Despite its minimalist exterior proportions you’ll find Alto’s cabin is actually rather spacious thanks to some clever packaging techniques, and although it’s hardly the Taj Mahal, does provide enough interest through its two-toned decor and blend of colours to make for a cheerful occupation.
One of the first things I noticed, in addition to the omission of a tachometer (only available in GLX models), was the lack of a day-night mirror on my evening commute home. Given the Alto’s short stance this meant copping a lot of headlight reflection, and in turn, more looking around the cabin. In fact the more I looked, the more I discovered this wasn’t the only thing missing.
The small but well-heeled cabin also features a dashboard sans lidded glove box with instead, as I dubbed it, a glove bucket filling the void. Alto also misses out on power exterior mirrors and rear power windows as well as any form of remote boot opening, you’ll need the key for that one.
On the glass-half-full side though Alto does include front power windows, air-conditioning, power steering and a MP3/WMA compatible single CD tuner with auxiliary jack, and perhaps surprisingly, offers accommodating seats for four passengers with ample space in all dimensions.
The one small area you may find a little close for comfort is the proximity of the passenger’s knee to the gear lever, but a little manoeuvring from the left seat can sort this one out rather readily.
The cabin is quiet when cruising too managing an impressive 72dB at 100km/h, but under heavy acceleration, the sub-litre unit can prove a little vocal and at idle, is a little lumpy.
When it comes to engines this remarkable little 996cc, three-cylinder offering epitomises the old adage about the size of the dog in the fight, punching well above its weight when it comes to “on paper” results.
With a mere 50kW/90Nm on offer in full swing the Alto may not seem like a solid performer, but thanks to a low kerb weight of 880kg and a well cogged gearbox, the little Suzuki offers an eagerness about its performance not dissimilar to that of the original Mini – even with four adults on board.
Sure you’ll need to keep it on cam to maintain uphill flow with highway traffic, but around town the Alto sings through traffic with ease, and best of all, our week saw an average fuel return of 4.95L/100km through mixed urban and freeway driving – that’s only 0.15 litres more than the ADR claimed average!
It’s a nimble handling little number too with a rather advanced strut front/multi-link rear suspension arrangement shaming bigger, more expensive cars not only in terms of handling, but in providing a comfortable ride as well.
Mid-corner lumps and bumps don’t seem to unsettle the Alto from its intended course at all though a stiff breeze can make spanning a large bridge a somewhat nervous proposition.
Never fear because in addition to the Alto’s quick steering and stop-on-a-dime braking safety is about as good as you can get in this category with such standard features as dual front, side and curtain airbags, disc/drum brakes with ABS, EBA and EBD to provide the baby Suzuki with a four-star ANCAP rating.
Unfortunately the Australian GL variant of Alto excludes Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which earns it a five-star rating in Europe, although ESC is standard on the GLX model.
Up back the Alto offers a cargo capacity of 110 litres, which although a little tight, can be expanded thanks to a 50:50 split fold rear seat and was even big enough to carry the step ladder we use for our photography.
At the end of an entertaining week with the Alto, even if Fortune Rose wasn’t my first pick in colour, the pint-sized pink pill box has proved its worth as a city car that boasts a lot of personality as well as an ego to challenge even the fittest of next-sized rivals.
Sure, it’s not going to set your world on fire but if you’re hunting the low end of the market, be sure to add this one to the test drive list.
*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer.
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