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Suzuki Alto 2009 review

When I was a kid we used to play a game to while away the hours of long, boring road trips called Spotto.  Think of it as a version of the better known I Spy. The aim was to be the first to spot number plates starting with a certain letter, or an orange car or a driver wearing a hat. You get the picture.

There's a modern-day version: trying to guess where a car is made. It's not an easy game to play. Australia now imports vehicles from at least 27 countries.  Some are bleedin' obvious like Japan, France and Sweden. But try China, Turkey, Spain, Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic and Brazil and you get an idea of just how global we have become in our car tastes.

Which neatly brings me to Suzukis Alto, the pint-sized hatch which is cheap and cheerful and affordable to run? No, its not made in Japan, but India.  Small car specialist Suzuki has neatly shoe-horned the Alto into the light car market, one of the fiercest battlegrounds where car sales are won or lost on price.

While there's a bevy of cars that sell for under $20,000, there are six that break the $15,000 barrier. The Alto has the honour of being Australia's cheapest car for now at $12,490. Other cheapies are Hyundai's Getz and Proton's Savvy ($13,990), Holdens Barina ($14,790) and Kia's Rio and Protons Satria ($14,990). Some offer drive-away or special deals so pricing is a guide only.

Suzuki's claim to fame as being the cheapest will soon be shot down by Proton whose S16 sedan will be priced at $11,990 drive-away when it goes on sale next month.  So it is no surprise to see Suzuki fighting hard to get the Alto name up front in the marketplace. The company recently entered the micro in the Global Green Challenge, a gruelling 3000km fuel economy run from Darwin to Adelaide.

Where at one point it returned a remarkable 2l/100km and the whole journey, according to Suzuki, cost less than $160. That's getting down to the figures you would expect to see in a hybrid. Amazing stuff. 

Fit-out and equipment

So is the Alto, for the price, cheap and nasty transport? Far from it, but the little hatch is built to a price point so it's no surprise so find plenty of hard plastic in the cabin. It's a small car so back seat leg room is compromised and the seats are lacking in support.

Standard kit is a bit of an odd mix. You get manual door mirrors (and I can't remember the last time I drove a car with those) but Suzuki wisely has ticked the boxes for most of the desirable stuff like air conditioning, central locking and power windows.

You get power steering, disc brakes up front and old fashioned drums in the rear and a basic suspension design.  The entry $12,490 GL model gets steel wheels, remote central locking, electric front windows, air conditioning, two-speaker CD audio with MP3 input, abundant cup holders and storage bins, split folding back seat and luggage load cover.

On the safety front, there are six airbags, two child seat anchorages, anti-lock brakes and an engine immobiliser.  Spend two grand more for the GLX and you add alloy wheels, fog lamps, tacho (an odd looking thing stuck on the dashboard like an after thought), four-speaker audio, height adjustment for the driver's seat and stability and traction control.

Drivetrain

The Alto is powered by a buzzy three cylinder (yes, they still make them) 1-litre engine which is good for 50kW and 90Nm of torque. The numbers, on paper, should mean the performance is handicapped but Suzuki has been quite clever with gear ratios for both the five-speed manual and four-speed auto to provide the best fuel economy while still retaining some zip.

The Alto only has a 35-litre fuel tank, but with a claimed fuel consumption of under 5.5l/100km it is going to win many friends who are looking for cheap city transport.

Driving

Being a triple-pot, the four-seater Alto shows all the vices of the design — the out of balance engine design shakes at idle, there's a ample torque steer through the front wheels and it sounds like a sewing machine.

Steep hills will catch it out, the steering is overly light, the abundant plastic in the cabin feels cheap and the engine is just adequate.  But don't let that put you off. This is basic motoring at its best. Cute design, reasonably comfortable, superbly fuel efficient, practical and cheap. What more do you want for the money.
 

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