Suzuki hatch 2011, Suzuki Alto 2011

Chery J1 vs Suzuki Alto: Australia's cheapest hatchbacks

Chery J1 vs Suzuki Alto GL

Model Overview

  • 2011 Chery J1 five-door manual hatchback – $10,990 ($11,990 with $1000 cash back)
  • 2011 Suzuki Alto five-door manual hatchback – $12,490

The recently launched Chinese-built Chery J1 is the cheapest new vehicle in Australia, at $10,990 driveaway. If that’s enough of a reason for you to head out and buy one, you’d better be quick. As of November 1, the J1 will be banned across the country unless it is upgraded to include electronic stability control (ESC) – a potentially life-saving safety system – as a standard feature. It is already banned in Victoria, with the Victorian Government mandating ESC regulations 10 months before the rest of the country.

If the price of the Chery sounds appealing but you’re hesitant about the lack of safety features, the Indian-sourced Suzuki Alto, at $12,490 driveaway, could be a good alternative. The entry-level GL comes standard with six airbags (front, side and curtain) and ESC – making it better equipped (at least in terms of airbags) than a Ford Falcon G6, which has curtain airbags as an option despite its manufacturer’s list price being $31,000 higher than the Alto.

But safety is only one consideration for new car buyers. Those in the market for either car are clearly looking primarily to get the best deal possible. With a price tag $1500 higher than the Chery, the Alto could genuinely be out of the price range of some buyers on a budget. At 13.6 percent more than the Chery, it’s the equivalent of spending an extra $4100 on a $30,000 purchase. In the scale of things, it’s significant money.

There are a few questions that need answering here. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly: Do you really need a brand new car? There are plenty of used cars in the same price range as these two, and some will still be under warranty. If you do decide a new car is the way to go, then you have to ask yourself: Can I justify buying the budget Chery over the better-equipped Suzuki? And: Do I get enough in the Suzuki for the extra $1500 to make it worthwhile bypassing the Chinese alternative?

Engine and performance

Chery J1Suzuki Alto GL
Engine1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol
Maximum power62kW @ 5750rpm50kW @ 6000rpm
Maximum torque122Nm @ 3500-4500rpm90Nm @ 4800rpm
TransmissionFive-speed manualFive-speed manual
DriveFront-wheel driveFront-wheel drive
Acceleration 0-100km/h15.5 seconds (unofficial)14.0 seconds (unofficial)

Anyone purchasing a new vehicle for under $12,500 probably has performance low on their priority list. That said, if you’re looking to get the most for your money in all areas, bang-for-you-buck is a valid consideration. The Chery’s engine has an extra cylinder compared with the Suzuki and as a result has a 300cc larger displacement. The J1 produces 12kW more power than the Alto and 32Nm of extra torque, and both from lower in the rev range.

But it’s the Alto that puts the power down more effectively. According to unofficial measurements, it trundles along from 0-100km/h 1.5 seconds quicker than its Chinese counterpart.

Both vehicles are front-wheel drive and come with five-speed manual transmissions. Unlike the J1, the Alto can be optioned with a four-speed automatic gearbox for an extra $1500, which frees up the left side of your body but has negative impacts on performance and efficiency.

Fuel consumption and emissions

Chery J1Suzuki Alto GL
Fuel tank capacity43 litres35 litres
Fuel typeUnleadedPremium unleaded
Theoretical range (based on combined cycle fuel consumption)641km744km
Combined cycle fuel consumption6.7 litres/100km4.7 litres/100km
Urban fuel consumption8.7 litres/100km5.8 litres/100km
Extra urban fuel consumption5.5 litres/100km4.0 litres/100km
Carbon dioxide emissions159g/km110g/km

The Alto is a clear winner from this perspective, using 2.0 litres/100km less than the J1 on the combined cycle. And despite its fuel tank giving away eight litres to the Chery, theoretically the Suzuki should go more than 100km further between fills.

The numbers speak for themselves. Even at its most efficient in extra urban (highway) conditions, the Chery uses about the same amount of fuel as the Suzuki does in slower urban (city) conditions.

There’s a catch to the Alto, however. Suzuki Australia insists the Alto’s engine should only be fuelled by premium unleaded petrol. Failure to do this can lead to the engine under-performing or failing to work altogether and the voiding of your warranty. At first glance, you would assume this factor would hurt the hip pocket of Alto owners, but it’s worth taking the time to do the maths to see how the two really stack up.

Premium unleaded is, on average, around 10c/litre more expensive than standard unleaded petrol. For comparison’s sake, let’s say unleaded petrol averages 150c/litres and premium unleaded averages 160c/litre.

At the official combined cycle rates, it will cost you $7.52 to travel 100km in the Alto and $10.05 in the J1. If you do 15,000km per year, you will spend $1507.50 refuelling the Chery and $1128 refuelling the Suzuki. The price difference – $379.5 – means the more expensive Alto will take around four years to pay for itself simply from a fuel-saving perspective. As fuel prices rise, the equation tips further towards the Alto, and the higher percentage of city driving versus highway driving you do, the more significant the savings from the Alto will be.

Exterior and dimensions

Chery J1Suzuki Alto GL

The Chery is a slightly larger car than the Alto. It is 20cm longer and almost 10cm taller, and as a result weighs 155kg more. The Alto is more practical in car parks and tight situations, with a turning circle half a metre smaller than the J1 (9.0 metres vs 9.5 metres).

Both vehicles come standard with rear drums brakes, which is a relatively out-dated setup by today’s standards. On the plus side, front fog lamps are also included on both vehicles.

The J1 is better equipped from the outside with 14-inch alloy wheels and power side mirrors. The Alto makes do with 14-inch steel wheels and manually adjustable mirrors. Both vehicles have a full-sized steel spare wheel.

The Alto is available in seven different colours, including bright blue and pink which have been popular with younger buyers. Those colours, as well as silver, brown and black, all cost an extra $475. White and red are the only no-cost colours.

Chery offers the J1 in just four colours. In a move that Henry Ford would approve of, black is the only colour that doesn’t cost extra, with blue, red and silver all an extra $350. In a nice touch, both the Alto and the J1 come with body colour mirrors and door handles.

Suzuki customers can get the Alto Indie package for no extra charge, which adds bonnet and headlight protectors, mudflaps and Indie decals to the exterior.

Interior and equipment

Chery J1Suzuki Alto GL
AudioSix-speaker CD playerFour-speaker CD player, 3.5mm AUX jack
Power windowsFront and rearFront
Luggage capacity324 litres110 litres
Luggage capacity (expanded)Not supplied754 litres

The Alto’s lack of a centre rear seat will be a deal-breaker for some, but won’t be an issue 95 percent of the time for most singles and couples. The Chery trumps the Suzuki for practicality, however, with seating for five and a significantly larger boot space. Both vehicles have split-folding rear seats – 60:40 in the J1 and 50:50 in the Alto.

Common features in both cabins are tilt-adjustable steering wheels and manual air conditioning systems. The Alto also includes a pollen filter. The Chery has four power windows while the Suzuki makes do with just two in the front.

The Chery’s CD audio system also has two more speakers than the Suzuki, but the Alto includes an auxiliary port, which allows you to connect an MP3 player with a special cord to play your music through the car's speakers.

The Alto Indie package also includes Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity for no extra cost.


Chery J1Suzuki Alto GL
AirbagsTwo (front driver and passenger)Six (Front driver and passenger, side and curtain)
Electronic Stability ControlNoYes

If safety is anywhere but the bottom of your priorities list, the choice is simple: buy the Alto. The Chery comes with only two front airbags and no ESC. Even if you wanted to, there is no option to add more airbags or ESC to the J1. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) are the most advanced safety features offered by the Chery.

Alternatively, the Alto has six airbags (front, side and curtain), as well as ABS, EBD, brake assist, ESC and traction control. It officially has a four-star safety rating from ANCAP (Australasian New Car Assessment Program), but that rating was based on a test carried out by Euro NCAP in 2009 when the vehicle had only front and side airbags and ESC available as an option. The 2011 model is a significantly safer vehicle.

The Chery J1 was recently awarded a three-star ANCAP safety rating, and disturbingly the official crash test report included phrases such as:

"The passenger compartment lost structural integrity. Protection from serious chest injury was poor for the driver. There was a high risk of a life-threatening chest injury for the driver."

Warranty, servicing and availability

Chery J1Suzuki Alto GL
Vehicle warrantyThree-year/100,000kmThree-year/100,000km
Service intervalsSix months/10,000km12 months/15,000km
AvailabilityReadily availableReadily available

Daniel Cotterill from Chery's Australian distributor, Ateco Automotive, said there were currently no availability issues with the J1. Mr Cotterill said some dealers faced supply stress initially as they were only given one vehicle at the time of its launch, but said subsequent deliveries meant the cars were now readily available.

Suzuki Australia's Bridget O'Conner confirmed a similar situation for Alto. Sourced from India, the Alto has not been affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and Ms O'Conner said Australian stock levels were fairly healthy.


The 2011 Chery J1 is the car for you if:

  • You must have a new car and cannot spend more than $10,990
  • You need to transport five people regularly and appreciate the larger boot
  • You want the car with the larger engine and more power
  • You plan to stay away from stop-start city driving
  • You can guarantee you won't be in a serious crash

The 2011 Suzuki Alto GL is the car for you if:

  • You value safety and the security of four additional airbags and ESC
  • You want one of the most fuel-efficient petrol vehicles on the market
  • You plan to do plenty of kilometres and don't want to be slugged for city driving
  • You won’t miss the practically of fitting three passengers in the back
  • You’d rather have an AUX plug than alloy wheels

Note: Suzuki Alto GLX pictured.

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