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Suzuki Alto GL auto 2009 review

People who say they wouldn't be seen dead in a light car, please come back and see me in 10 years. Or five years. Because, we hope, you won't be dead but commuting in a weeny car along with a traffic flow of other weeny cars on your way to work while smugly snubbing anyone with an SUV.

You will change because the bright light of logic — driven by the need to preserve some of your soaring transport costs — will have illuminated above your head. This car, this Indian-made Suzuki Alto, is one of the cars that will change your mind into moving from small cars to the light-car class.

Body and equipment

It's clearly small and exaggerated by the chopped tail that puts the wheels at each corner — almost literally if you check out the back wheels — and the short, slanted bonnet. To be honest, it doesn't look safe. But it is! Surprisingly, the base model Alto GL has a four-star safety rating thanks to six airbags and ABS brakes with brake assist. That's as good as some much bigger cars — Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Camry and so on — which is a bit comforting even if the view from the driver's seat is less succinct in relaying that message.

Spend an extra $2000 and the GLX model gets the all-important electronic stability control plus a few extra goodies.

Drivetrain, economy and price

But the big news here is the economy. Suzuki claims 4.8 litres/100km from the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine when attached to the five-speed manual gearbox and, for the four-speed auto as tested, 5.5 l/100km.

Diesel cars and hybrids do better than that but can't come close to the Alto GL's $12,490 price-tag (plus on-road costs) which is less than a third of the price of a Prius. The automatic transmission is an extra $2000 and the more upmarket Alto GLX starts at $14,490.

It appears the economy is not only in the fuel. However, Suzuki stipulates only premium unleaded for the Alto which bumps up the petrol bill by about 9c a litre. So if you travel 15,000km a year the premium adds only $1.20 a week to the Alto manual's fuel bill. Big deal.

Driving

The cheap-as-chips car seats two adults and will take two children in the back seat. Rear seat legroom is a premium, though headroom isn't bad. Recognise that filling the car with people or luggage will severely dampen any dreams you have of this car having a career on the race track. In fact, just clearing the traffic lights is a blessing.

No, it's not even remotely fast and as an automatic will be defeated by Chinese scooters and triathlons in training. But that's ignoring that it is a good drive. At idle the engine emits an odd beat that's in tune with its odd-numbered pistons, and yet sparks up quickly to become a nimble if somewhat buzzy power unit.

Even the auto is remarkably adept at keeping up with the charade going on beneath the bonnet. Around the city and suburbs it's a comfortable car despite the thin seats. The suspension does a pretty good job of warding off poor bitumen and it's only the chunkier country asphalt, or a sudden winter-born pothole, that will make the Alto feel uncomfortable.

It cruises easily and quietly at 100km/h and will take to country roads with only the driver's fear of larger vehicles being the deciding factor. Interestingly, the Alto has a full size spare wheel but has virtually no boot space. Not even a space-saver spare will help here.

There are some welcome things about the GL, such as good front seat room and its brilliant turning circle, and some not-so-good things including the manual mirror adjustment (actually even the GLX has this) and the crappy sound of the audio system. But it's the future. Maybe not my future, more likely yours.

Verdict: 78/100

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Pricing Guides

$5,990
Based on 21 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$4,998
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
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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