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Suzuki Alto manual 2009 review

There is a new baby car screaming for attention. Suzuki's new five-door 1.0-litre Alto hatch enters the light car class from $12,490 for the well-equipped five-speed manual.

It is pitching into a new nursery of sub-light microcars heading our way from Korea and China over the next 18 months. But in reality it must also go up against larger-engined rivals like the three-door Hyundai Getz, Holden Barina and Toyota Yaris, as well as the Kia Rio.

But Suzuki Australia general manager, Tony Devers, says the public mood is right for a car like the Alto. "If economists are correct we could be paying $1.60 a litre for petrol by Christmas so there is an opportunity with cars like this," he says.

"The Alto is not only a good proposition for budget buyers, but people with an eye for economy and the environment."

He has big hopes for the five-door hatch even though Suzuki has set quite modest sales targets of just 1000 this year and about 3000 next year. Devers says it has the potential to help grow a new segment ahead of the arrival of the Hyundai i10, Proton Saga and entrants from China. "Hyundai is keen to see how this car goes but we don't want to give too much away with our expectations," he says.

Suzuki is doing a hard-sell on the car's European styling and engineering, good fuel economy and low C02 emissions, presenting itself as a real-world low-cost `green' car."

The Alto is already a hit in Europe and India, where demand is exceeding supply. Although designed in-house, Suzuki looked to Europe for inspiration in both the car's styling and driving experience.

Platform and safety

The smallest member of Suzuki's range tips the scales at just 850kg and measures 3500mm in length and 1600mm in width and has a wheelbase of 2360mm. It has a compact turning circle of 9m. The car is only marginally shorter than the Swift, which measures 3755mm long and 1690mm wider. Despite its diminutive size and light-weight, the Alto makes extensive use of high strength steels that have helped deliver a four-star crash rating.

Engine

The Alto is powered by a Euro 4 compliant three-cylinder engine that develops 50kW at 6000 revs and 90Nm at 3400 revs .Its combined fuel economy figure is a hybrid-busting 4.8 l/100km and CO2 emissions of 113g/km. However, the downside is that the engine must run on more expensive premium unleaded.

Variants and pricing

Two variants are available, the GL and GLX. Introductory prices start at $12,490 for the GL manual with the GLX manual $14,490. A four-speed automatic is an extra $2000. Despite its low-cost entry, the micro-Alto gets standard safety features rarely seen in the light car segment. Six airbags, traction control, anti-skid brakes and brake assist are standard and the GLX version adds electronic stability control.

The GL has air conditioning, CD stereo system with MP3 auxiliary input, remote central locking, anti-skid brakes and front electric windows.

The GLX adds 14-inch alloys, foglights, a six-speaker sound system and tachometer. A full-size spare wheel is also standard.

Appearance and interior

Visually the Alto adopts a distinct Euro look within its compact dimensions and oversized headlights. In profile the car has a wedge-shape with a rising shoulder line along the rear door that provides a contemporary look. At the back the truncated rear end has a wide opening hatch with large high-set tail-lights and bumper. Inside the cabin uses sturdy, but hard plastics, integrated CD/stereo, height adjustable steering wheel.

The driver gets a motorcycle-inspired single speedo with integrated digital fuel gauge. The front seats are similar to those in the SX4 and Swift and are height adjustable on the GLX. The rear seats split fold 50/50 with a small amount of boot space. There are plenty of storage spaces in the cabin.

The CD stereo was specifically designed for the car to wrap seamlessly around the centre console.

Market

Devers expects the Alto to be popular with people looking for a low-cost second car and two other distinct buyer types. "There are the over 45 couples or empty nesters and then the 18 to 23 year old singles looking for their first car," he says. The Alto is build at Suzuki's Manesar plant in India. The first Alto was launched in Japan in 1979 and over the past 30 years more than 10 million have been sold globally.

Driving

This is not a story about power and performance. The Alto is not that type of car. Instead, you get a reasonably willing little three-cylinder city commuter that even with just 50kW on board, can keep up with peak-hour city traffic without trouble.

The bigger surprise is how refined the Alto is over rougher undulating roads. It exhibits a high level of engineering integrity in the way it steers and rides over some of Melbourne's harsher bumps.

And those who expect tinny cheap-as-chips motoring will be pleasantly surprised. The Alto feels like a more substantial car that it really is and the six standard airbags provide some extra comfort. The doors shut with thud and the cabin is sturdy despite the extensive use of hard plastics.

There is plenty of storage but the lack of a proper glovebox lid means valuable items will need to be tucked out of sight. Front seat passengers are treated well. There is plenty of leg and headroom and the seats are surprisingly supportive. In the back though, legroom is modest and so is boot space. We suspect many owners will just flip the 50/50 split rear seats down and use it as a comfy two-seater.

Fire up the 988cc three cylinder and you get a distinct "heartbeat" throb at idle that smooths out once under way. At highway speeds the wee little hatch is quite capable of keeping up with traffic while the cabin remains impressively quiet and composed. Wind noise is low and the car will track true even in the harshest crosswinds.

Of course if you mash the accelerator away from traffic lights the engine will scream its lungs out but it is a willing, if leisurely performer. Perhaps the only downside is that when mated to the smooth four speed auto - expected to be the most popular choice - it is a little slow off the mark.

The steering is direct yet reasonably weighty, but not enough to discourage folk who like light-fingered steering. The Alto's tiny turning circle and size makes it the perfect city car.

But the biggest surprise about Suzuki's newest hatch is that after four hours tootling around town we could quite easily have hit the road to Sydney without feeling even slightly embarrassed, particularly when you pulled up at a petrol pump.

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Pricing Guides

$5,990
Based on 18 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$2,500
Highest Price
$7,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GL 1.0L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $5,750 – 7,990 2009 Suzuki Alto 2009 GL Pricing and Specs
GLX 1.0L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $5,990 – 6,995 2009 Suzuki Alto 2009 GLX Pricing and Specs