Suzuki Alto is the quintessential city runabout: it’s tiny, fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly plus it’s relatively cheap to buy, insure and service. That means it’s also sparsely equipped and not particularly refined or exciting to drive.
A five-door hatch, Alto arrived in mid-2009 in two grades, GL and GLX. On the used market you’ll find twice as many GL models as the higher-spec GLXs, and more four-speed autos than five-speed manuals. It’s fair to say most buyers would approach Alto with no great expectations and could come away pleasantly surprised. The GL has power steering, remote central locking, air-conditioning, CD player, and a relatively substantial safety package. The GLX adds six-speaker audio, remote-controlled tailgate, fog lights, alloy wheels and electronic stability control, which didn’t become mandatory for all cars in Victoria until the following year.
There was also a minor upgrade for Alto in April 2012.
Although Alto comes from India and the budget focus is not completely disguised, it’s manufactured to Suzuki’s high standards and has a good reputation for reliability. The cabin is basic in terms of trim materials and finish, but it is presentable and durable. There’s a rudimentary feel to the controls and the external mirrors are manually operated.
Space and seat comfort up front are adequate for two adults, while the rear is best suited to two children (Alto is only a four-seater) and the luggage compartment is small, but this is augmented by a split-folding rear seat.
Suzuki has a reputation for small, efficient and enduring engines. Performance from this 1.0L three-cylinder all-alloy powerplant is by no means startling but, particularly in manual form, it’s better than some would expect from an engine of this size, provided you keep the engine in its higher rev range. It flows along easily in city traffic and has no trouble cruising at highway speeds, but if left to labour the engine doesn’t have a lot of mid-range pick-up. Being a three cylinder, the engine has a distinct pulse.
Steering is light and it has a small turning circle that is ideal for getting in and out of tight spots. For its size, Alto rides comfortably on a compliant suspension. There is good grip and the handling is crisp enough.
If looking at an Alto, check the service history closely. It is false economy to try to stretch the budget further by skipping services on a car like this. While Alto is generally very reliable, the serious problems we do hear about can usually be traced back to poor maintenance. The engine is a high-revving unit and if regular oil changes are neglected it can lead to major engine damage.
There was a recall in December 2009 due to a potential fuel leak, and on 2009 and early 2010 models a stop light switch problem also prompted a recall in April 2010. Check with a Suzuki dealer that the work has been done.
GL (2009-14) $6800-$10,100
GLX (2009-14) $7100-$10,600
Approximate Glass’s Guide prices
Fuel consumption: As low as 4.8-6.0L/100km, however it does require 95 RON petrol.
Safety: Four-star ANCAP safety rating. Pre-November 2010 GL models didn’t have electronic stability control. All models have front, side and curtain airbags.
Towing: Not recommended
The competition: Holden Barina Spark, Nissan Micra, Hyundai Getz
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