More than a few years ago I was earning extra cash delivering pizzas in the Adelaide hills. The trials and tribulations of that career were punctuated with use and abuse of a Suzuki two-door hatch.
It was an odd choice given the hilly terrain of the Blackwood/Belair area, but we persisted with its use, which regularly involved service work and more part replacements than was close to ideal, according to our boss. It was bent, battered, bruised and butchered but it survived despite several major attempts to kill it, with the odd thrum of three-cylinder a key part of the ‘Pizza Burner's’ charm.
Fast-forward nearly three decades - there's another grey hair - and we're zipping around the suburbs in Suzuki's new Indian-built Alto and there's a striking similarity in engine noise. The three-cylinder runs like it's about to stall, but it doesn't - although there's the constant fear that it will and some inattentive SUV driver will use the Alto as a launching ramp. We're sampling both the GLX auto - which gets the tachometer, among other things - and the GL base-model,which has a speedo only.
It's been quite a while since I've driven a car without a tachometer, but you're never in danger of hitting a rev limiter. The three-cylinder strains vainly but you just can't get punish it that much - this little car is an honest machine.
The automatic needs to be shifted manually for anything other than sedentary pace, but given a bit of welly it gets along without too many issues. The manual can be stirred along a little easier, as well as not paying a weight penalty - the car with the clutch pedal is easier to punt through traffic and its diminutive size means gaps meant for a motorbike are fair game in an Alto. But you'll need to be good at reading traffic flow to take advantage of them.
It is economical, claiming around four or five litres per 100km for the combined-cycle fuel economy figure (depending on the gearbox), but the manual returned 3.9 litres per 100km during the recent Global Green Challenge, with a frugal two litres per 100km during the Adelaide city stage at the event's conclusion.
When you're talking sub-$20,000 the features list isn't going to have massaging seats and radar cruise control. The standard features list includes 14in steel wheels, manually-adjustable exterior mirrors, front power windows, air conditioning, a CD sound system with MP3 auxiliary input, remote central locking, dual front, side and curtain airbags and anti-lock brakes.
The GLX gets fog lamps on the front, body-coloured mirrors, 14in alloys, the aforementioned tacho, four extra speakers for the sound system (which doesn't help it much), a height adjuster for the driver's side seat and stability control.
The road manners are decent - for a shopping trolley - which means its ride quality is decent but there's not masses of prowess in the handling department.
Mind you, it isn't meant to out-corner a Mazda MX-5 - and it won't, just for the record. It can lean a bit and will run wide, but most city running isn't going to stretch its talents too far.
I even picked up a pizza in it, turning for home and almost reverted to the ‘30-minutes or die’ that was the unofficial mantra way back then. Almost. The light car segment is one that is getting more competitive and Suzuki's reputation for solid machinery should get a decent chunk of the market.
Price: GL from $12,490; GLX from $14,490.
Engine: one-litre three-cylinder.
Transmission: five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive.
Power: 50kW @ 6000rpm.
Torque: 90Nm @ 4800rpm.
Fuel consumption: 4.8 litres/100km (auto 5.5), tank 35 litres, 95 RON PULP.
Emissions: 113g/km (auto 130).