Suzuki Alto GLX 5-door hatch vs Nissan Micra ST 5-door hatch
• Nissan Micra ST five-speed manual - $12,990 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
• Suzuki Alto GLX five-speed manual - $12,490 (Manufacturer's List Price)
The competition in the so-called 'Light Passenger' class is as fiercely contested as any State of Origin decider. This hotly contested segment represents a massive 20 percent of the total global market. There is also a significant proportion of the players in this automotive segment which I would class as A-list stars in their own right. Those players include the likes of the Honda Jazz, Ford Fiesta, Holden Barina Spark, Hyundai Getz and new Hyundai i20, the Mazda2 and the Toyota Yaris. As a group, they represent the most popular choice by buyers who are after that small car advantage.
Bang for buck though, it doesn’t get better, or any closer than the Nissan Micra and Suzuki Alto. Both cars have an entry-level price of under $13,000 (for the manual models) and both offer extraordinary value for money.
Light Passenger cars they might be classified as these days, but 20 years ago, they would have been called small cars, given the fact that they are both capable of carrying 4 people as well as the weekly grocery shopping.
If we wind the clock back just 10 years, there was no way on earth that this class of car would have come equipped with standard features such as air conditioning, electric windows, 6 airbags, and a full suite of electronic driver aids including, stability control, ABS, and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD).
They might be relatively inexpensive to purchase, but the latest light car offerings from the likes of Suzuki and Nissan are more or less a complete transport package that gives nothing away to styling or the fun factor. They also provide buyers with some of the cheapest running costs on the planet as well as excellent resale values when it comes time to trade up.
Nissan is no stranger to the light car category, with this edition being the fourth generation of the Micra. It is currently sold in three grades ranging from the 1.2-litre ST to the top of the range 1.5-litre Ti at $16,990. In the middle sits the 1.5-litre ST-L at $14,990. Australian-bound cars are built in Thailand alongside versions for the Japanese market.
Nissan had some success with the previous iteration of the Micra, which was launched in Australia in 2007, and found close enough to 20,000 buyers during a relatively short life-cycle, despite it’s less than attractive rear end styling.
Suzuki has built a solid reputation for building small cars that, generally speaking, tick all the boxes. The Swift has been a major success story, but the Alto is a brand new car for Suzuki and is available in just two flavours, the 1.0-litre GL for $11,790 (MLP) and the 1.0-litre GLX at $12,490 (MLP). The Alto is built in Suzuki’s award winning Manesar plant in India.
Both the Micra and Alto model range are available with an optional four-speed automatic transmission for a $2000 premium across the board.
For this specific comparison, we drove the 1.2-litre Micra ST with manual transmission, and the 1.0-litre Suzuki Alto GLX with optional four-speed automatic transmission.
Engine and performance
|Suzuki Alto||Nissan Micra|
|Engine||1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol||1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol|
|Maximum power||50kW @ 6000rpm||56kW @ 6000rpm|
|Maximum torque||90Nm @ 4800rpm||100Nm @ 4000rpm|
|Transmission||Five-speed manual||Five-speed manual|
Read CarAdvice's full drive review of the Suzuki Alto.
Read CarAdvice's full drive review of the Nissan Micra.
Although both the Nissan and the Suzuki are powered by small, ultra-fuel-efficient three-cylinder engines, the Micra is the more powerful of the two, developing 56 kW and 100 Nm to Alto’s 50 kW and 90 Nm. Peak torque comes on song late in the rev range for all cars in this class, but again the Micra is stronger due to its larger displacement.
You can certainly feel the additional displacement of the Micra’s 1.2-litre powerplant, especially noticeable when climbing steep ascents or carrying a passenger or two, although there is a measurable advantage with a manual box under such conditions. I can’t say it’s quick in the true sense of the word, but it certainly gets along.
It’s not that the 1.0-litre Alto is slow, because that’s simply not the case. Its super light weight of just 895 kilograms (Micra – 947kg) ensures that off the line acceleration from the lights or intersections is more than adequate, but it's no firecracker.
Small cars are naturally suited to manual transmissions, as better performance can be achieved by holding the gear ratios longer before shifting up, as there is almost always insufficient torque to get moving with any urgency unless you are up in the rev range.
That said, I was a little sceptical about the Alto and its optional four-speed box and how it would perform. The fact is you need not be concerned. This is a smooth shifting unit and the gear ratios are well spaced for good all-round acceleration and cruising.
On the other hand, the Micra’s five-speed manual transmission was overly notchy, and required more effort than expected when shifting. It’s by no means a deal breaker, as like most buyers these days, auto transmissions are the popular choice, even in the light car class.
From a ride and handling perspective, it’s the Micra that pulls slightly ahead of the Alto, with one of the best suspension set-ups you will find in this class. The chassis feels very tight and the car is particularly well balanced. You could almost call it a sporty drive; such is the car’s ability to punt through a corner at a reasonable pace with minimal body roll. The ride quality is in between firm and compliant, giving the Micra a very planted feel on the road, while at the same time ironing out uneven road surfaces.
The Alto also corners will little or no body roll, but the ride is slightly firmer than that of the Micra. You wouldn’t call it harsh, but there’s less rebound and therefore less compliance from the suspension. Steering wheel weight is surprisingly meaty on both cars, although the Micra feels the more natural of the two and a little quicker to respond to driver input than the Alto, but there isn’t much in it.
Braking is never going to be an issue with such lightweight cars either, and both the Nissan and the Suzuki stop efficiently and with a solid pedal feel despite both subscribing to vented discs up front, and a drum set-up on the rear wheels.
As far as manoeuvrability goes, it’s a dead heat with both cars needing just 9 metres from kerb-to-kerb, and are incredibly easy to park in tight spaces, although I think all round vision goes to the Alto.
That said, if that extra performance is more important to you than overall fuel economy, then the Micra is the way to go.
Fuel consumption and emissions
|Suzuki Alto||Nissan Micra|
|Fuel tank capacity||35 litres||41 litres|
|Theoretical range (based on combined cycle fuel consumption)||745km||695km|
|Combined cycle fuel consumption||4.7 litres/100km||5.9 litres/100km|
|Carbon dioxide emissions||113g/km||138g/km|
When you’re shopping in this segment, fuel efficiency and low emissions are automatically guaranteed, but the 1.2-litre Micra can’t compete with the ultra frugal 1.0-litre Alto, which even with the auto box, still manages to sip just 5.3 litres/100km against the manual Micra’s 5.9 litres/100km.
If you go with the manual Alto, then you can expect to consume a miserly 4.7 litres/100km, so if you prefer fewer stops at the petrol station and a few more dollars in your pocket, then the Suzuki is the clear winner.
It’s the same story when it comes greener motoring, the Alto triumphs over the Micra with a count of 126g/km (auto) to Micra’s 138g/km (manual), although both cars subscribe to ultra low CO2 emissions.
Styling and dimensions
|Suzuki Alto||Nissan Micra|
They both look cute, and have similarly styled bulbous front ends, but the Alto has a cleaner looking rear end and integrated taillight assembly than the Micra. It’s a huge improvement over the previous generation car, but the Alto scores slightly higher on that count. Both cars also come in a range of cool colours.
The Nissan is longer, wider, and higher than the Suzuki, but that’s hard to pick once you’re inside the cabin. The Alto rides slightly higher than the Micra with a ground clearance of 150mm against 116mm, although I didn’t strike any issues with driveways etc despite the lower ride height.
Both cars offer more than sufficient luggage capacity with the rear seats in the upright position for several soft bags and the weekly grocery shop.
That’s not all they can carry. Both cars also offer spilt fold rear seats, which means that snowboards, skis and surfboards can be safely carried despite the relatively small, but deceptive dimensions of these vehicles. That said the Micra offers a larger aperture than the Alto for loading and each car provides a full-size spare wheel.
Interior and Equipment
Both the Alto and Micra offer surprisingly comfortable seats up front, although the Nissan provides more side bolster. Long drives in both cars won’t be an issue in any chiropractic sense.
I’m a big fan of the Alto’s two-tone interior styling over the Micra’s mostly grey look. Especially cool is the retro-fit style tachometer, which sits atop the dash to the right of the instrument housing.
There’s also plenty of metallic look highlights throughout the Suzuki’s cabin, which gives the car a slightly premium feel over Micra
Both cars offer an excellent suite of standard features including, electric windows (front only on the Alto), air conditioning, MP3 player with 4-6 speakers and remote central locking to name just a few. But it’s the Micra that scores higher with items such as Bluetooth hands-free phone system, steering wheel controls and driver’s power window with auto down function.
You also don’t get power door mirrors on the Alto, which are standard on the Micra. It’s not really an issue, as even a short stack like myself can easily reach over and adjust the left hand mirror in a few seconds. But why should I have to?
This is where both the Alto and Micra shine brightest, with a full suite of both active and passive safety features including six airbags, Electronic Stability Program along with ABS and Brake Assist (BA), although Nissan and Suzuki use slightly different terminology for what are similar systems.
Both cars are four-star safety rated, the Alto from ANCAP, and the Micra from Euro NCAP.
It’s comforting to know that both these manufacturers place such high value on safety with their smallest cars. It’s absolutely mandatory when you consider that some of our least experienced drivers may well be behind the wheel of either of these two models.
Warranty and Servicing
|Suzuki Alto||Nissan Micra|
|Service intervals||12 months/15,000km||Six months/10,000km|
Nissan also includes a 3 year/24-hour Roadside Assistance Program. Suzuki does not offer a free roadside assistance program on the Alto.
The 2011 Suzuki Alto GLX is the car for you if:
• You want one of the most fuel efficient petrol cars in the business
• You want a small car that doesn’t compromise on safety features
• You want a small car with class-leading styling, inside and out
• You want a car from a manufacturer with a proven track record building small, reliable cars that are fun to drive
The 2011 Nissan Micra ST is the car for you if:
• You want class-leading performance and handling in a light car format
• You want premium interior features such as Bluetoooth hands-free and power side mirrors in this segment
• You want class leading interior space and comfort
• You want free three-year/24-hour roadside assistance