Review of the new Suzuki Alto - A Practical Choice?

TOWN PLANNING

SUZUKI ALTO - A PRACTICAL CHOICE?

star rating 6.2 out of 10 (6.2 out of 10)

REVIEW DATE: 15 Mar 2010

Suzuki's uncomplicated Alto attacks the citycar market with simple practicality but is that enough? Steve Walker finds out.

Suzuki Alto

SUZUKI ALTO - A PRACTICAL CHOICE? NEW CAR ROAD TEST

The citycar sector is rapidly emerging as the most style-led in the whole of the car market. The main protagonists are locked in a war to win the hearts of fashion-conscious urban buyers by any means necessary. Suzuki's Alto is a citycar but you couldn't really call it a trend-setter. It's a simpler, less image conscious option than many of the alternatives but is that something that should deter prospective buyers? We took a long term test to find out.

At a time when car manufacturers seem increasingly obsessed with their own brand image and that of their products, it's refreshing to encounter a car that seems comfortable in its own bodywork. It's no secret that through clever marketing and advertising, car makers can enhance their public perception to a level that justifies the charging of premiums on their products. It's a route out of the low-cost, low-margin slog at the budget end of the market into premium brand profitability and it's no surprise that so many companies seem so keen to take it. Against this background, Suzuki stands out for what looks to be its straightforward, honest approach to the car market. The Alto citycar doesn't really indulge in the flashy design and brand-building promotional shenanigans that occupy its rivals. It's a small five-door car that aims to be practical and affordable, rather than the thing to be seen driving through upmarket shopping districts.

With its practical five-door shape and inoffensive but not particularly memorable exterior, the Alto will blend into the background more than the urban trendies will like. Inside, the designers have been a little more adventurous. The vibrant colour schemes available in some rivals aren't offered and our car has a simple black and grey cabin, though there is some interest in the way contrasting materials have been juxtaposed and the sculpted dash.

"The car may not be the most fashionable option in the citycar segment but you find yourself admiring its honesty"

The rev-counter pod that protrudes from the main instrument cluster is a feature borrowed from the smart Fortwo and the Citroen C1, citycars that openly play the trendy game, but it works, as do the chunky round air vents and the classy stereo. Cast your eye further down and the quality of the plastics and build drops off. A pull on the glovebox, the door pockets and the door handles reveals rather more play than you'd want but nothing seems unduly flimsy.

The five-door bodystyle and a relatively tall shape make the Alto a practical option. It's a good choice for citycar buyers who are likely to carry rear seat passengers more than once in a blue moon as the back seats are accessible and usable. With tall front seat occupants, rear legroom becomes pinched and the tapering windows restrict the view out but there's little issue with headroom in any of the seats. The boot is less impressive with just 129-litres of capacity that can increase to 367-litres with the seats folded down. It's by no means the most meagre load space you'll find in a citycar and is a price many will be willing to pay for the Alto's four-seat practicality.

The Alto's 1.0-litre petrol engine looks ideal for a compact urban vehicle. The 3-cylinder unit musters 67bhp and 90Nm maximum torque at 4,800rpm. That doesn't sound thrilling but in a car that tips the scales at 855kg, it's enough to cover the 0-60mph sprint in 14 seconds. When you're on the gas, the engine responds with an offbeat 3-cylinder thrum that isn't unpleasant but certainly reminds you that you haven't got a creamy V6 mounted over the front axle. If you venture out onto the motorway, the powerplants stay surprisingly refined at cruising speeds, with wind noise the most obvious companion in the cabin. The Alto's suspension hops about a bit over expansion joints but in general it must be one of the better long distance options in the citycar sector - especially if you take its small engine into account. Combined cycle economy of 64mpg and 103g/km emissions are the trade-offs for any lack of outright grunt.

Motorway travel, of course, isn't the point of this car. It's designed for urban use and the tribulations of the school run or the morning commute. As such, it does quite well. The steering isn't all that sharp and the car doesn't respond as sharply to inputs as some of the sportier models in the sector do but the turning circle is suitably tight. The suspension provides a comfortable ride and is unfazed by speed humps, even if you take them more quickly than was intended, but there's quite a bit of body roll when you pitch the Alto into a bend.

Our Alto is an SZ4 model and comes with most of the stuff you'd want for around £9,000 - including air-conditioning and a passable stereo. The car may not be the most fashionable option in the citycar segment but you find yourself admiring its honesty. There are rival models which will come less well equipped with less space but will charge you a premium for their adventurous looks and elaborate marketing campaigns. The Alto will tug on the heart-strings less vigorously but is likely to be at least as capable as real-world urban transport. Prospective buyers will just need to ask themselves what value they place on looking cool.

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RATING OUT OF 10

For ALTO PRACTICAL
OVERALL 6.2 OUT OF 10
Performance star rating 5 out of 10 5
Comfort star rating 6 out of 10 6
Handling star rating 5 out of 10 5
Economy star rating 8 out of 10 8
Space / Versatility star rating 5 out of 10 5
Styling star rating 5 out of 10 5
Equipment star rating 7 out of 10 7
Build star rating 6 out of 10 6
Depreciation star rating 6 out of 10 6
Insurance star rating 8 out of 10 8
Value star rating 7 out of 10 7
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