Suzuki almost pulled off an engineering coup with its latest
city car. But the company rated as Japan’s leading small car manufacturer found it impossible to cut tailpipe emissions of the Alto model sufficiently to qualify for road tax exemption in Britain.
“Our initial efforts took us down to 109g/km and further work by the team brought us to 103g/km. But getting any more reductions proved to be too much of a challenge,” Suzuki International Europe engineering director Shigeki Suzuki told AM.
“It is unfortunate we were not able to reach the 100g/km threshold, but we are still pleased we have achieved a level of fuel efficiency that is class-leading,” said Suzuki at the Alto’s media launch.
“Reaching the threshold would have given us a key advantage in the marketplace, but a five-door car that returns more than 64mpg remains a strong showroom proposition at a time when transport costs represent a crucial element in family budgets,” added Rob Lake, Suzuki GB product manager.
“We know we have a winner – our dealers are telling us this is the right product at the right time and that customers have already put their names on most of the demonstration stock.
“Alto boasts one of the lowest tailpipe emissions figures for a five-door car in the A-segment and is well on the way to achieving this year’s registrations target of 7,200 units. It is expected to play a key role in taking Suzuki to a 2% share of European car sales by 2012.
We are confident it will become our second best-selling model to the Swift supermini,” he said.
The good news for Lake is that buyers of the seventh-generation Alto will soon be able to enjoy free road tax motoring after all – a stop-start system nearing completion allows the car to deliver 95g/km and is expected to be available from next year.
Thirty years on from the original Alto, the new car is unusual in the segment by offering four-speed automatic transmission as an option.
Available in three trim grades, the lead-in car boasts a good level of equipment as standard, including front and side airbags, ABS braking with brake assist, power and rake-adjust steering, front electric windows, an accessory socket and an MP3-compatible CD tuner.
For an extra £450, the intermediate version adds air conditioning and a pollen filter and the top SZ4 grade gets a split-fold rear seat, driver’s seat height adjustment, fog lamps, alloy wheels and paint-finish door handles and mirrors.
Like every other three-cylinder car, the Alto emits a more raucous sound and is less even on idle than rivals with an extra pot. But as the revs increase, the little motor adopts a smoother and gentler demeanour.
Eager to spin to more than 6,000 revs, the aluminium unit proves to be a relatively lively performer around city streets, where its small turning circle and compact dimensions make easy work of challenging parking spaces.
But with good roadholding characteristics and nicely weighted steering, the Alto loses none of its confidence on the open road where it adopts a surprisingly quiet and relaxed manner in a high top gear.
Interior space packaging is well up to class standards, providing ample room in the front for adults and reasonable space for younger occupants in the rear.
Though it uses hard plastics on the dashboard, the combination looks attractive and appears to be well up to the rigours of school runs and shopping trips.
Built in India, the car is rattle-free over poor surfaces and fun to drive, although the size of the door mirrors needs to be increased – a small glass area means checking traffic flows before joining motorways is best done by a glance over the shoulder.
Strengths: Pricing, low running costs
Weaknesses: Door mirrors too small
Superior styling and efficiency should put the Alto at the top of drivers’ shopping lists, says Suzuki, above rivals Hyundai i10, Citroën C1, Peugeot 107, Toyota Aygo and Kia Picanto.
The consumer view
A car to soothe any troubled conscience as it has the lowest officially measured CO2 output of any proper four-seater car that’s purely powered by petrol.
Budget feel and insipid performance can be forgiven in an entry-level car if it has character, but the slow and distinctly unsporting Alto does not.
It’s unlikely to win any awards for innovation. From the 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine to the shape and interior, the Alto is the definition of simplicity.
Plastics apart, the Alto is a cracking little supermini. Priced from £6,795, it’s in many ways the ideal wheels for drivers looking to tighten their budgets.