Suzuki Alto: car review
A frugal little run-around that basically does what it says on the tin
What is it?
The low-emission Suzuki Alto is a frugal and fun city car, and not bad on the motorway.
Would it help me stay safe?
It claims good safety, with ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) as part of the SZ4 package.
Who should buy it and how much does it cost?
The Alto owner will like the space inside and easy-to-park driving.
Our review: Good Motoring, Winter 2012
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
Suzuki’s 996 cc engine is a 3-cylinder unit that is really quite versatile. Most of the time, the lack of a fourth cylinder will be of no consequence to the average owner. At tick-over, the engine can hardly be heard; only a very gentle vibration is discernible. However, when the engine is well warmed up, after a long motorway drive, or a few miles in heavy, slow-moving traffic, the fan cuts in rather noisily at every stop.
The Alto will perform happily on all but steeper gradients, when it runs out of puff and a change down from top (fifth) gear becomes necessary. Otherwise, it is reasonably flexible, pulling away from around 1200rpm in fourth or fifth without too much fuss. Fortunately, the gearchange is really nice, quick and light. Braking is fine; in fact, in a car that feels so light, anything more than a gentle prod on the pedal leads to an abrupt slowing down that can have passengers lurching forward into their seatbelts. You get used to it, at which point your companions can relax.
Cruising the motorway at 70mph is reasonably relaxed; the engine is at around 3,000rpm and the noise is the standard mix of wind, tyre and engine – noticeable, but not too intrusive. Steering is positive and the handling is fine, while the all-important ride copes satisfactorily with all but the bumpiest roads. The turning circle is pretty good, too, and overall the Alto is very easy to drive, with good all-round visibility.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
The Alto is a city car. Its design is typical of the breed, with a short exterior, yet space inside for four adults in reasonable comfort. The boot is small, of course, but the rear bench seat is very easy to fold down, 60/40, extending the carrying capacity in the usual way. Although this is a budget car, the carpeting extends throughout the luggage area. A space-saver spare wheel lies under the boot floor.
The Alto has five doors, so getting into and out of the back is very easy – particularly handy for young families, or parents with babies or toddlers to strap into their various cots or seats. The doors, particularly the rear side-doors, are light and easy to hold open. There are handy remote levers in the driver’s footwell that open the petrol filler cover and the tailgate.
The Alto is available in three trims: SZ, SZ3 and, as in the test car, SZ4. For the brakes, ABS and EBD and Brake Assist are standard Alto items; SZ4’s main safety attribute over and above these is the electronic stability programme (ESP).
I wrote at some length about ESP in Good Motoring a few years ago, and have frequently suggested that it should be a standard feature on all cars, no matter what price. ESP is simply an electronic device that, up to a point dictated by the laws of physics, helps prevent the car from skidding. Given that this car is perhaps going to be used especially by less experienced drivers, they (and everyone else, for that matter) should benefit from the prevention-is-better-than-cure principle.
Suzuki claims that the Alto’s crushable structures that absorb impact and frame members that disperse impact energy away from the car’s occupants add to this car’s safety features. The SZ4 model adds front side and curtain-shield airbags to the standard equipment already in SZ and SZ3 versions.
Why no grab-handles? Or a courtesy mirror on the passenger’s sun-visor? The SZ4 is the range-topper and such little things, costing a few pence, are worth pointing out. But the equipment level otherwise is pretty good, and competitive against rival cheap cars. Front fog-lamps and 14-inch alloy wheels distinguish the SZ4 on the outside, along with the rear SZ4 lettering. It also has body-coloured mirrors; the interior operation of these mirrors is via waggling little levers on the doors, that on the passenger side being just within the driver’s outstretched hand (well, it saves money not to have a remote electrical system, doesn’t it?)!
On the dashboard, you see at first only the large main instrument, the speedometer, with a tiny petrol gauge. Then you notice the rev-counter pod sitting on top of the dashboard. It makes you wonder if a rev-counter is at all necessary in the first place. At night, the display is in red numbering and needle set in black, which I found to be not quite as easy-to-read as, say, a gentler orange might have been. Storage of smaller, loose items is well catered-for.
No annual Vehicle Excise Duty – a nice feeling (although of course the car still has to be registered). And, for drivers heading into central London, no congestion charge. (Again, just register.) Suzuki points out that not having to pay the London congestion charge saves a daily commuter £2,600 a year. As to fuel consumption, I got 46mpg on a brim-to-brim fill-up. My mileage was a combination of around 25% town driving, 25% cross-country and gentler driving, and 50% motorway. Insurance is cheap and there’s 24-hour UK and Europe roadside assistance
The Alto does what it says on the tin.
AT A GLANCE:
Performance: 0-62mph in 13.5 seconds
Economy: 65.7 mpg
Tax: Band A (£0)
Model tested was SZ4