Small can be aspirational. And the Maruti Suzuki Alto is an example of that. The 5th generation Alto was launched in India in September of 2000 and the Alto went on to become the best selling hatch in India. Maruti Suzuki has sold well over a million Alto’s in India, making it the third Maruti model to cross the million mark. The Maruti 800 and Maruti Omni being the other two. The only real and significant changes made to the Alto were in 2010 when the manufacturer added to the Alto the 3 cylinder, 800cc, K-series engine which also comes in the A-star and the Wagon R. Maruti Suzuki however after the introduction of the K-series engine didn’t take the Alto out of production and the hatchback is still sold in India and is the cheapest Maruti Suzuki on offer. The engine nevertheless in Bharat IV compliant and prices start from Rs2,44,161 to Rs2,94,946 for the petrol and Rs3,24,236 to Rs3,42,521 for the CNG ex-showroom New Delhi.
The Alto first came with two engine options and Maruti later on took the larger 1.1-litre engine out of production and the Alto now is sold only with the 800cc engine.
The purpose of the Alto dictated the design of the hatch. The Alto which is an extension of the 800 is aimed to provide a no-nonsense, simple and easy to operate small car. The styling is very basic and since it was launched Maruti has only changed the grille and there haven’t been any other major changes to the Alto. The bumper has also changed since it was first launched. The hatch is very basic to look at but its simple styling ensures that the Alto remains cheap to maintain and build. Overall the Alto is a conventional ‘two box’ small hatch and the styling looks and feels old. Build quality too is compromised but then for a car costing under three lakhs (for the petrol) you won’t expect anything better.
Even though the Alto is built on the Wagon R’s platform the interior space is limited. Rear passengers are tight on leg and shoulder room and the narrow rear bench is too tight for taller occupants. Quality of interiors also feels basic and that’s not a surprise since the Alto is one of the cheapest cars in the world. The plastic used and the fit and finish feels cheap. The controls are hard to touch and Maruti in 2009 had made some changes to the controls which make the cabin look a little better.
The instrument console has a large speedo and the dashboard is very basic to look at with a scoop on the passenger side. An advantage of the small cabin is that the air con doesn’t have to work too hard to cool the cabin. The wheelbase of 2360mm is the same as the K10 version.
Ergonomics aren’t anything to rave about either and the gear lever sticks out from the floor and is fairly low. The controls for the air conditioning were given a new design. The seats are made of fabric and the quality is poor and Maruti hasn’t even given door pockets to cut on cost.
Engine and performance
The Alto is powered by a 3 cylinder, 796cc petrol engine. The 4 valves per cylinder, MPFI engine with a 32bit ECM is transversely mounted and produces 47PS and 62Nm of torque. The engine isn’t as smooth as a 4 cylinder motor and you also feel the lack of power on the highway. Drivability too isn’t as good as on more modern hatches like the Hyundai Eon and the engine is matched to a 5 speed manual gearbox which has short throws and the gear shifts too aren’t bad. The engine however isn’t as peppy as the K-series engine and throttle response too is weak. Power delivery also feels jerky.
Since its launch the wheelbase and suspension components of the Alto haven’t changed. The hatch uses MacPherson struts and the Alto rides on 145/80 R12 tyres. Ride quality and handling is average and the higher end models get power steering. The front gets disc brakes while the rear uses drum brakes. The steering however lacks crispness and there is a bit of body roll. Its compact dimensions make it easy for manoeuvring in the city and the long travel springs provides reasonable passenger comfort.
The Maruti Suzuki Alto K-10 comes with a more refined and powerful K-series engine. Power delivery is good and so is the fuel efficiency. The Alto with the K-series engine looks a bit more contemporary and interiors too are better looking. That Hyundai Eon is another entry level hatch and the interior and exterior styling is sharp and eye catching which gives it a wide appeal. The engine however isn’t as refined as the Alto K10 and neither is the performance as strong. The Eon’s strength is its ride and handling and the interior space is pretty good. The Chevrolet Spark is a nice and compact car to use in the city. The engine has a good low and mid range grunt and there is also a LPG variant. The Spark’s biggest strength is its ride and handling but interior space is cramped. Chevrolet is expected to introduce the new Spark later this year.
The Maruti Suzuki Alto is a basic and simple hatch and there is no hiding that. There are lots of short comings with the hatch including the styling, build quality, interior space and performance. But the fact remains that the Alto is one of the cheapest cars in the world. Many people in India aspire to own an Alto after graduating from their two wheelers to own their first car. Even though the Alto is basic at best, you do get the comfort of a four wheeler, you can seat 4 passengers, there is an air con and even a power steering. But if you want a bit more refinement and can stretch your budget a bit more, you can choose from between the Alto K-series and the Hyundai Eon , both of which provide a more complete and modern package.
Quotes from other reviews:
Autocar India: ‘The Alto is reliable. If running costs and fuel economy matter most, then the Alto is the automatic and only choice. The Alto’s performance is lack luster and equipment levels are poor. The running costs are relatively low and the Alto should hold its value well. It’s cheap to buy and run, but there’s no other reason to buy it. It’s basic to a fault and is lacking in critical areas, especially space and a cramped rear bench.’