WITH both eyes on the road and the occasional glance at the rev counter, the Suzuki Alto can be fun to drive. The rev counter, mounted on a stubby stalk above the dashboard instrument panel, eyeballs you as you drive.
And this car being a Suzuki — the Japanese carmaker has famously made some fabulous motorcycles over the years — you know the Alto’s engine is perfectly capable of high revs.
But 8,500 revs max through the gears? I don’t think so! At that point I imagine that the engine is not so much singing as screaming. But maximum revs on the Alto’s eyeball rev counter, which reminded me of that great little one-eyed character Mike Wazowski in the Disney film Monsters Inc, stand at 8,500 revs.
Of course I did not take the car to the max (besides, any standard production engine usually “pops” in protest before you reach maximum revs). And the fact is the Alto is a competent and desirable (price-wise) small car and I am no longer a boy racer but a sensible mature driver. Or so I like to think. But with the rev counter so beautifully placed, and the accent on driving the car a bit hard if you want some performance, I found that during this week’s drive of the Alto, rev counter and driver became inseparable.
In fact, for a comfortable return on some thoughtful driving technique, the car was at its best in the 3,000 to 5,000 rev zone.
So I have to confess I did on occasion give it, as they say, some welly. This is all relative, for the Alto is no Ferrari. But it is a plucky little performer and when driven with determination, offers a degree of fun, the engine purring its delight.
The car I was driving — the Alto SZ4 — had a rasping little 1.0 litre, three-cylinder, 12-valve petrol engine that delivered improved combined fuel consumption of 65.7mpg (with manual transmission). A distinct advantage of owning the Alto is that this car produced 99g/km of CO2 emissions, which meant it was road tax exempt and inexpensive to buy at just £8,398 on the road (a special offer price until the end of March). The Alto has a top speed of 96mph and accelerates from 0 to 62mph in 13.5 seconds.
So not much to complain about for a small car buy. I would not claim that the Alto has the panache and charm of its stablemate, the Suzuki Swift, which you should try if you are contemplating buying a car in this popular segment. But the Alto does deliver on many fronts, not least its value for money: equipment includes power steering, manual air conditioning, MP3/WMA CD tuner with two speakers, 14in alloy wheels and green tinted glass. Incidentally, my customary discerning passengers also reported it was not half bad travelling in the back.
The minor changes for the new Alto are a new interior and a Glistening Grey exterior colour. Actually, the so-called Silky Silver Metallic colour of the test car added to its smart and convincing appearance. This would cost you an extra £399 but I think it would be a worthwhile additional expense.
The small car A-segment inhabited by the Alto is one of the most popular in a fiercely competitive market place. I would like to see Suzuki capitalising on the improvements it has achieved over the past few years throughout its model range.
Innovation in this segment is paramount and to my mind Suzuki would be wise to continue refining its models and exploring new possibilities in the small car market.
In the meantime, with the kind of appeal to the pocket that the Alto has in abundance, if you are buying a small car, it is worth a test drive.
The Alto is available in five door only and three specification grades — SZ, SZ3 and SZ4
SZ3 specification includes air conditioning with in-built pollen filter
SZ4 additions include: ESP, side and curtain shield airbags
14in alloy wheels
Front fog lamps
The Alto is offered with a standard five-speed manual gearbox as well as an optional four-speed transmission
Performance and economy — Urban mpg: 54.3; Extra urban mpg: 74.3; Combined mpg: 65.7; Max speed: 96mph; Acceleration 0 to 62mph: 13.5 secs
Airbags: side, driver and front passenger, front and rear curtain
The SZ-L is based on the 1.2-litre SZ3, but with additional equipment and features designed to enhance the sporty and fun to drive character of Swift.
All Swift SZ3 models already come well equipped with seven airbags, ESP, air conditioning, USB port and Bluetooth as standard. Outside, the SZ-L adds a rear upper spoiler, rear privacy glass, unique 16-inch alloy wheels and free metallic paint in a choice of four colours. Moving inside, red accent stitching is added to the steering wheel and gearshift surround as seen on Swift Sport, as well as cruise control.
Crucially, the Swift SZ-L offers value for money in terms of running costs and purchase price; the 1.2-litre Dual VVT 94PS engine is one of the most powerful in its class, but offers low emissions of just 116g/km CO2 costing £30 in annual VED after the first year and returns a frugal 56.5mpg on the combined cycle.