Cute baby on a budget
Europe has given the energy and fuel-efficient new Suzuki Alto a big tick, writes NEIL McDONALD
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.