The little Suzuki signalled a big change of motoring mindset
The quest to reduce fuel consumption was always going to throw up a car like the Suzuki Alto, a tiny hatch with a minuscule engine that could provide an answer for anyone looking to slash their fuel bills.
As much as many tried to laugh it off, the Indian-built midget was no joke; it was a serious little car that really did ask the question of those serious about cutting their running costs.
When launched it was presented as the first of a new generation of micro models that were expected to land here from the likes of China, Korea and India. That hasn’t yet eventuated, leaving Suzuki alone to seed the market.
The Alto measured a mere 3.5 metres long and 1.6 metres wide and weighed just 850kg but that didn’t mean it was compromised when it came to safety. Using high-strength steels and a power of electronics, Suzuki achieved a creditable four-star safety rating from ANCAP.
At launch, the base model GL didn’t have electronic stability control. To get that you had to go up-spec to the GLX. That was rectified in 2010 when ESP was added to the entry model.
Power came from a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine that generated 50kW at 6000rpm and 90Nm at 3400rpm.
That meant it had to be revved to get the most out of it, which was something new to owners who were used to larger engines with enough torque to pull from lower revs. The fuel economy— 4.8L/100 km with the manual box— was admirable but it lost a little of its gloss when it was realised that it required the more expensive premium unleaded. The transmissions options were a five-speed manual, which delivered more frugal fuel consumption, and a four-speed auto.
Despite its small size the Alto had reasonably comfortable accommodation, at least for some. Front passengers had good head and leg room, those in the back were a little cramped and the boot was small.
The equipment level was quite good given its modest price. The GL had airconditioning, CD sound, MP3 connectivity, remote central locking and power front windows. The GLX had all of that plus alloy wheels, foglights, six speakers and tachometer. Most of those who complain have stepped out of a larger car with a bigger engine that doesn’t need to be revved the way the Alto’s does to extract its zip. Most people also go for the auto transmission, which dulls performance.
There have been a couple of recalls of the GF Alto. The first was in 2009 and related to a wiring problem that could cause the stoplight to cease functioning. The second, in 2010, related to a potential fuel leak during refuelling.
The trade gives the Alto a big tick of approval but it comes with a warning about servicing. It’s vital that the oil is changed as recommended; skipping oil changes is a recipe for an expensive engine meltdown.
Cheaper cars tend to be the most neglected when it comes to maintenance, so check the service record to make sure everything is up to scratch.