Cute baby on a bud­get

Europe has given the en­ergy and fuel-ef­fi­cient new Suzuki Alto a big tick, writes NEIL McDON­ALD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

ANEW baby car is scream­ing for at­ten­tion. Suzuki’s new five-door 1.0-litre Alto hatch en­ters the light-car class from $12,490 for the well-equipped five-speed man­ual.

It’s pitch­ing into a new nurs­ery of sub-light mi­cro-cars head­ing our way from South Korea and China over the next 18 months.

But it must also go up against larger-en­gined ri­vals such as the three-door Hyundai Getz, Holden Ba­rina and Toy­ota Yaris, as well as the Kia Rio.

Suzuki Aus­tralia gen­eral man­ager Tony Dev­ers says the pub­lic mood is right for a car like the Alto.

‘‘If economists are cor­rect, we could be pay­ing $1.60 a litre for petrol by Christ­mas so there is an op­por­tu­nity with cars like this,’’ he says.

‘‘The Alto is not only a good propo­si­tion for bud­get buy­ers, but peo­ple with an eye for econ­omy and the en­vi­ron­ment.’’

Dev­ers has high hopes for the five-door hatch, though Suzuki has set mod­est sales tar­gets of just 1000 this year and about 3000 next year.

He says it has the po­ten­tial to help grow a new seg­ment be­fore the ar­rival of the Hyundai i10, Pro­ton Saga and en­trants from China.

‘‘Hyundai is keen to see how this car goes, but we don’t want to give too much away with our ex­pec­ta­tions,’’ Dev­ers says.

Suzuki is do­ing a hard-sell on the car’s Euro­pean styling and en­gi­neer­ing, good fuel econ­omy and low C02 emis­sions, pre­sent­ing it­self as a low-cost ‘‘green’’ car.

The Alto is a hit in Europe and In­dia, where de­mand ex­ceeds sup­ply. Though de­signed in-house, Suzuki turned to Europe for in­spi­ra­tion in the car’s look and driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The small­est mem­ber of Suzuki’s range tips the scales at only 850kg and is 3500mm long and 1600mm wide with a wheel­base of 2360mm. It has a com­pact turn­ing cir­cle of 9m.

The car is only marginally shorter than the Swift, which mea­sures 3755mm long and 1690mm wide.

De­spite its tiny size and light weight, the Alto makes ex­ten­sive use of high-strength steels that have helped de­liver a four-star crash rat­ing. It is pow­ered by a Euro 4-com­pli­ant three-cylin­der en­gine that de­vel­ops 50kW at 6000 revs and 90Nm at 3400 revs. Its com­bined fuel con­sump­tion is a hy­brid-bust­ing 4.8 litres for 100km with CO2 emis­sions of 113g/km. The down­side is that the en­gine must run on more ex­pen­sive pre­mium un­leaded.

Two mod­els are avail­able, the GL and GLX.

In­tro­duc­tory prices start at $12,490 for the GL man­ual, with the GLX man­ual $14,490. A four-speed au­to­matic is an ex­tra $2000.

De­spite its low-cost en­try, the mi­cro-Alto gets stan­dard safety fea­tures rarely seen in the light-car seg­ment. Six airbags, trac­tion con­trol, anti-skid brakes and brake as­sist are stan­dard. The GLX ver­sion adds elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol.

The GL has air­con­di­tion­ing, a CD stereo sys­tem with MP3 aux­il­iary in­put, re­mote cen­tral lock­ing, an­ti­skid brakes and front elec­tric win­dows. The GLX adds 14-inch al­loys, fog­lights, a six-speaker sound sys­tem and tachome­ter. A full-size spare wheel is also stan­dard.

Vis­ually the Alto adopts a dis­tinct Euro look within its com­pact di­men­sions and over­sized head­lights.

In pro­file the car has a wedge shape with a ris­ing shoul­der line along the rear door that gives a con­tem­po­rary look. At the back, the trun­cated rear has a wide open­ing hatch with large high-set tail-lights and bumper.

In­side the cabin uses sturdy but hard plas­tics, in­te­grated CD/stereo and height-ad­justable steer­ing wheel. A mo­tor­cy­cle-in­spired sin­gle speedo has an in­te­grated dig­i­tal fuel gauge.

The front seats re­sem­ble those in the SX4 and Swift and are heigh­tad­justable on the GLX. The back seats split-fold 50/50 with a small amount of boot space. The cabin has plenty of stor­age.

The CD stereo was specif­i­cally de­signed for the car to wrap around the cen­tre con­sole.

Dev­ers ex­pects the Alto to lure those seek­ing a low-cost sec­ond car and two other types.

‘‘There are the over-45 cou­ples or empty-nesters, and then the 18 to 23-year-old sin­gles looking for their first car,’’ he says.

The Alto is built at Suzuki’s Mane­sar plant in In­dia.

So spe­cial: about 10 mil­lion Al­tos have been sold since the first model was launched in 1979.

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