Suzuki Alto

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Suzuki Alto SZ4

Road Test

Suzuki Alto SZ4

Driven April 2009

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If, inexplicably, you're hell-bent on an Indian-built city car, the Tato Nano is not your only option. The Suzuki Alto is designed and built in Delhi by Maruti - and sold on the subcontinent as the A-Star - and lines up against the Aygo/C1/107 triumvirate, as well as the Hyundai i10 and Ford Ka (not to mention the shortly-to-arrive Nissan Pixo, with which the Alto shares just about everything bar a badge) in an increasingly crowded budget market. Unfortunately, to succumb to the inevitable Slumdog metaphor, the Alto is less millionaire and more like the contestant that take the five grand and does a bunk: worthy, sensible, but forgettable.

The Alto's power comes courtesy of a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine, which puts out 67bhp and 66lb ft of torque, near-identical figures to the Toyota-PSA trio. It's an entertaining little engine, if not the most refined: there's a two-stroke-like clatter on start-up and plenty of buzz at high revs. It spins freely and is far less binary in response than most three-pots, dealing well with motorway speeds and feeling slightly quicker than the 14-second 0-60mph time suggests, at least until you load it up with passengers. The ride - tuned for European roads, says Suzuki - is composed, though the Alto isn't as fun to drive as the positively frisky C1 and Aygo.

Surprisingly, given the Alto's cutesy, bug-eyed face, the interior is as welcoming as Woomwood Scrubs. Even on top-spec models, the cabin is a swathe of grey drabness that, despite managing aircon and electric front windows, forgoes such niceties as a glovebox (there's a shoddy angled shelf instead), wind-down rear windows or electric mirrors. It's solid and functional, but it's a fine line between budget and stingy, and Suzuki has fallen the wrong side of it.

It isn't even as if style has been sacrificed for practicality. At 129 litres, the boot is small and awkward to access, while the rear seats are the preserve of those with comically short legs. Or children. Your choice.

The Alto isn't a bad car. It's cheap, economical and, at just 103g/km, boasts the lowest CO2 emissions in its class. Problem is, if it'd sneaked under 100g/km and qualified for free road tax (which a planned stop-start version should do), the Alto would have an edge on the competition. As it is, there are other cars that do the budget city-car thing better and still qualify for Band B road tax: the C1 is more entertaining, the Hyundai i10 more refined, the Ka better looking. More straight-to-DVD than an Oscar-winning hit, then...

Sam Philip

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