The Suzuki Alto was the first Indian-built car sold in Australia, and at launch it was the cheapest available(by far). Aimed initially at older drivers who were looking for something that was not only reliable but cheap to run, Suzuki said it would also appeal to the 18-25 demographic – especially those looking for commuter transport. Indeed, when it was launched Suzuki pitched its entire media campaign on the car’s ‘green’ credentials while also highlighting its safety and economical running costs.
At the time fuel prices were rocketing so small cars began to look more attractive to buyers in Australia, and many took the plunge even though Suzuki admitted that such small cars were a ‘tough sell’ in the country despite their popularity in Japan and Europe.
Any car buyers that may be wary about a vehicle that has been built in India will be happy to know that Suzuki’s Manesar plant consistently scored highly by analysts JD Power, and most of the factory’s output was sent to Europe anyway.
Drivers of the Suzuki Alto will be impressed by its economy, and it’s certainly one of the cheapest, five door 1 litre petrol engines you will find. It gives many small diesel units a run for their money. The manual version will have an average combined fuel consumption of around 4.8L/100km while the automatic version has figures of 5.5L/100km.
The Alto made good progress in a country which didn’t have a large market for small cars – despite various manufacturers trying with their ‘City’ cars over the years. Suzuki had high hopes for the car and initially charged just $12,490 for the GL, which was the bigger seller of the two variants, and $14,490 for the GLX version.
The car was fitted with decent engines which required servicing every 15,000km, and though it has small wheels it handles corners well without too much body roll. It is a basic car and it doesn’t have the fastest speed from a standing start – the automatic will take around 17 seconds to reach 100kph – but it does have character and a high quality build.
Though it’s a very small car, Suzuki has packed a lot into the vehicle. It has six air bags as standard, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and seat belt pretensioners. The Alto was given a four-star ANCAP crash test rating, which is impressive given its size. It is also 85% recyclable when it comes to the end of its life.
There’s plenty of room in the front, but the rear seats can be a squeeze for bigger people. The boot is also quite small. Other features include things like remote control door locking, air con and a decent stereo which will play MP3s.
Pick up the GLX variant and you’ll find it comes with electronic stability control, fog lamps, alloy wheels, and a six speaker sound system.
Suzuki realised that it had to win orders from its competitors, not only on price but also on the specifications, so their specs are far superior to many makes and models that costs thousands of dollars more.
The Alto has had a facelift and some spec changes since launch, but it is essentially still the same car – though it’s not Australia’s cheapest anymore (it lost that crown in 2009 when the Chery J1 was launched). However, buyers should note that the Alto has been regularly named as being the most affordable car to own and run by the National Roads and Motorists Association and the RACV.
Given its size and competition at the time it came out, Alto managed to attract attention. It compared favourably with Hyundai’s Getz, which had a larger engine and had been the cheapest car in Australia before Suzuki’s model came out. The Alto has more kit as standard than the Getz and, for that matter, the Nissan Micra. In tests, the Alto was cheaper to run than Peugeot’s 207 XT HDi which is much more expensive and has an engine which has impressed on every continent it has been sold on.
For the price it’s a decent car and though it’s not as stylish as the Mini Cooper D or the Toyota Prius hybrid or even the Fiat 500 1.3 JTD, it does what you expect and it does it well. Perhaps the only real competition for anyone looking to buy the Alto is the slightly bigger Suzuki Swift which has more interior space and a longer track record of sales success.