The viable altornative
Reviewing a cheap hatchback isn’t as simple as it may seem. Yes, they are devoid of radar-guided twin-climate subwoofers but unlike the 6-figure monsters we occasionally test, they represent the other end of the automotive scale. The end where most people, yours truly included, tend to shop.
And shop they will – when every Rand counts and there’s a whole battalion of worthy competitors knocking at your door, the little vehicle should ideally offer good value for money. Suzuki South Africa recently strapped a bib on and is anxious for a sizable piece of the proverbial pie from their minute Alto runabout.
Our test vehicle was the higher-spec GLS model and was coated in what the manufacturer dubbed “Healing Green”. Combined with its huge headlights and stubby rear it looked more like “Praying Mantis Green” to me and in super-mini tradition the Alto looks a little too cute.
I do fancy the recessed window line, slightly flared wheel arches and modern proportions, but the gaping air intake, wheelbarrow tyres (155 wide) and stunted back aren’t my style. I realise value always beats looks in this segment; I would choose one of the other nine colours though.
The Alto’s interior is reasonably spacious and will even carry four adults in relative comfort. The layout is as cheap and cheerful as most of its competitors, two-tone grey hard-wearing plastics combined with vibrant cloth patterns. I like it.
Suzuki’s baby has a suitably small steering wheel which is height adjustable and easy to turn with its electric assistance. Feedback and steering feel is commendable for a tiny hatchback and the Alto’s turning radius is a pleasingly small 4.5 meters. Read: a pleasure to park!
Behind the steering wheel hides a big purple-ringed speedometer with a small digital read-out. This will inform you of mileage and odometer plus fuel, but you shall search in vain for a temperature dial. The Alto has a small rev-counter in its own pod which sits to the right of the speedometer. I liked that, too.
The central facia offers a radio / mp3 CD combination with simple operation and decent sound quality, leading to even simpler ventilation controls. The dashboard and door cards offer plenty of oddment space and binnacles, plus two cup-holders near the gear lever.
Boot space is a laughable 110L which extends to 345L with the tug of a chord on the 50/50 split backrests. Then again, 110L of beer should last a weekend and 345L should easily hold the four suitcases of a female student.
Any prospective owners should delight in the electric front windows, air-conditioning with pollen filter, dual airbags, third brake light, rear wiper, child locks, ISOFIX mountings and 12V socket. Even more so in the power plant that propels this 895kg student fodder in the general direction of the next party.
A petrol 996cm 12-valve 3-cylinder labours away to the tune of 50kW (68hp) at 6000rpm or 87Nm at 4500rpm. Before you condemn the Alto as a snail (much like I did) I encourage you to shed your doubts and get your bum in the vibrant driver’s seat.
As mentioned, the steering is wonderfully precise and light, as are the pedals and the crisp gear change. Its skinny tyres hamper any Formula 1 antics but linked to a forgiving and comfortable suspension they’ll give you plenty of advanced warning before things go belly up.
The 3-cylinder engine isn’t as refined as a four-pot but thanks to its odd numbers it hums a gruff melody akin to that of a 6-cylinder. In fact, give it the beans and it thinks it’s an old air-cooled Porsche flat six. I Alto-lutely loved that.
Our GPS 0-100km/h sprint of 13.7 seconds matched the Jimny and undercut Suzuki’s website claim by almost a full second, despite Alto still holding a full 35L tank of fuel. Its average consumption of 5.7L/100km seems utterly plausible, as does its 145km/h top speed.
Much like the Jimny, it’s not as slow as we imagined and is an absolute laugh-and-a-half to drive. Prices? Our GLS model requires N$119 900, while the GL only costs N$104 900. Both include a 3-year 100 000km warranty and 3-year AA roadside assistance.
In the lower-spec GL model you won’t find any tunes, electric windows, steering adjustment, remote central locking, rear folding seats, parcel tray, remote boot opener, fog lamps, body-coloured side mirrors and door handles, alloy wheels, Anti-lock Brakes, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist or that funky rev counter.
You could arguably live without the majority of the aforementioned, but personally I wouldn’t tolerate the Alto if it didn’t have the last four items. The difference of N$15 000 is quite a stretch when you’re shopping on a budget but I would save up until the GLS is mine.
Date/Time: 15/07/2010 14h02
Climate: Overcast, no wind
Road: Dry tarmac, level
Occupants: Driver, no passengers
Fuel level: Full
Mileage: 6 500km