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2009-08-21 08:31

Wilmer Muller

Suzuki is a tried-and-trusted small car manufacturer - especially if you look at the Swift, which was launched successfully in South Africa last year. Now Suzuki is keen to get an even bigger slice of the budget car segment with the local introduction of its Alto city car.

With a starting price of R104 900 for the Alto, Suzuki hopes to capitilise on the depressed car market, and attract cash-strapped consumers seeking fuel-efficient and safe city runabouts. And this is exactly what the Alto is about – a no-frills small hatch, with an acceptable level of standard features and good fuel consumption.

There is nothing complicated about the Alto - it is a hassle-free car that will get you from A to B. But it’s a distinctive-looking small car, thanks to the Alto’s oversized headlights, gaping grille and sculpted flanks.

The tiny Alto, which is slightly smaller than its main rival the Hyundai i10 and feels more on par in size with the Chevrolet Spark, offers decent standard equipment such as power steering, air-con and dual airbags for the two-model line-up. The base GL does without electric windows and an audio system, which are standard on the better-specced GLS. The Alto GLS also gets 14-inch alloy wheels, central locking, a rev counter, front fog lights and ABS with EBD and brake assist.

Though the Alto appears solid, you will notice once you step inside that this little Suzuki has been designed down to a budget with hard grey plastics dominating the interior. The dashboard layout is straight-forward while the comfortable cloth-covered seats appear durable.

Like other cars in its class the Alto isn’t roomy. Though there’s a decent amount of space up front, room for rear passengers is limited, especially with taller front occupants. Boot space is minuscule at 129 litres, but GLS buyers will benefit from a 50:50 split rear seat slightly boosting versatility.

Boot space isn't great but at least the GLS model offers a 50:50 rear split seat.

Both Alto models are powered by a 1.0-litre petrol unit with a power output of 50 kW at 6 000 r/min and 87 Nm of torque at 4 500 r/min. It comes with a five-speed manual transmission. Suzuki claims a combined fuel consumption of 5.7 litres per 100 km and the fuel tank capacity is 35 litres.

Tipping the scale at 895 kg, the three-cylinder engine doesn’t struggle too much but don’t expect fireworks; according to Suzuki you will go from 0-100 km/h in 16 seconds.

With a length of 3.5 metres the Alto is one of the smallest cars you can buy, boosting its credentials as an everyday city car. The driving experience mimics the car’s straightforward character and it is comfortable on the road. Also, the Alto is easy to park, has a nine-metre turning circle and manoeuvres happily through the traffic. Its ride quality is acceptable for its class with suspension via a McPherson-type strut at the front and a three-link axle design at the rear.

Though it’s a pity that pricing doesn’t start below the psychologically-important R100 000 mark, the Alto is another honest contender in the lower segment of the market. Alto buyers are unlikely to be disappointed with their purchase as it is car that will probably offer reliable motoring and a low-cost ownership experience, especially as Suzuki has established itself as a reliable brand since re-entering South Africa in 2008.

Alto GL: R104 900
Alto GLS: R119 900

The Alto comes with a three-year/100 000 km warranty.

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