What's good? Cheap. Good engine.
If you're in the market for a city car, you are probably most tempted by the Volkswagen Up!, Skoda Citigo, Seat Mii, Peugeot 108, and the Toyota Aygo. But for motorists who want something a bit different, the likes of the Ford Ka and Suzuki Alto await. While the Ford Ka is a miserable motor compared to its German rivals, though, the Alto promises to be something a whole lot better.
So what's this plucky little car like? Here, we're taking a look at the Suzuki Alto SZ4, which costs £9,595 - the range topper. The other specs, SZ and SZ3, come in at a competitive £7,199 and £8,399 respectively.
The Suzuki Alto is a good-looking city car that's immediately recognisable with its big open grille which resembles a happy catfish and its rounded, slightly bulbous headlights. The shape of the car is actually more squared than one might expect from its face, which can be observed from the rear, where the rear bumper is squared off in line with the body work just before the extended wheel arches.
The car sits fairly high, but it's on 14-inch alloy wheels, so it's not tractor-like. The car is 3500mm long which makes it around half a metre shorter than a super mini, and a direct rival for the Up!. It lacks the premium looks of the Up!, though, favouring a cheaper - but equally appealing - exterior design.
One thing I did notice immediately with the Alto is the unusually high read loading area. Essentially, it's the window and a tiny section of metal that's lifted to access the boot.
The Suzuki Alto is only available with one engine - a 1.0-litre petrol unit. In any other car, this engine would feel underpowered... in the Alto, it performs just fine. The car comes with a 5-speed manual gearbox as standard (a four-speed automatic is an option), which has short gearing and is fairly slick to use, if a little stiff. The clutch is light though, and the bite point is low.
For performance junkies the Alto will disappoint. The engine develops 67 horsepower and 66 lb /ft, which gets the Alto from 0 - 62 mph in 13.5 seconds. But because the throttle response is sharp and this car is so light, it buzzes along just fine, and can easily keep up with the flow of traffic. It struggles on the motorway of course, but it's not dangerously underpowered for high-speed driving.
The Alto is certainly light on its feet then and this translates to good road holding and a sharp turning circle, too. You get a sense that Suzuki wanted to create a small and light car designed perfectly for the city in the Alto and they've definitely achieved that.
The Suzuki Alto SZ4 offers no surprises as far as interior quality is concerned - it's as good as it can get for under £10k, rivalling Dacia for plastic choice. That's not an insult, by the way... the Alto is comfortable and has a well laid out interior and surprisingly well weighted switchgear. You sit high in the driver's seat and the inside is dominated by a sort of grey/silver fascia which extends from the front half of the doors to the bottom of the centre console.
Unique to the SZ4 range-topper is a separate dash-top pod for the tachometer.
As far as practicality is concerned, the Alto is just fine. There's enough room in the back for passengers and the rear back seat has a 50:50 split in the SZ4. There's 129-litres of boot space which transforms into 774-litres when you fold the rear seats. As I noted above in the design section, the boot has an unusually high load area, so it may not be ideal for elderly drivers with heavy shopping bags.
The Suzuki Alto SZ4 will return 65.7 miles per gallon combined with a CO2 rating of 99 g/km, which translates to free annual car tax. These figures are just about on par with the competition. This version of the Alto sits in insurance group 4 and it is expected to retain 41% of its value over three years.
All versions of the Suzuki Alto share the same running costs and economy figures.
Trim and equipment
The Alto is available in three trims, SZ, SZ3, and SZ4. SZ-spec cars get very little in way of luxury, with not even air conditioning to keep you cool in the summer. SZ3 adds air conditioning. SZ4 benefits from air-con, electric front windows, seat height adjustment, steering wheel adjustment (reach), alloy wheels, front fog lights, a 50:50 split/fold rear seats, and separate tachometer on the dashboard.
All versions of the Alto get a passenger and driver's airbag, ABS, immobiliser, and remote central locking.
The Suzuki Alto's 1.0-litre engine delivers enough performance for the city and low running costs which translate to free annual car tax and 65.7 miles per gallon. The SZ4 model is competitively priced with a decent level of standard equipment. But ultimately, it's not a car I'd recommend above the ever-so-slightly more expensive Ford Fiesta, which is more spacious and practical.
If you're buying new, there's also the Skoda Citigo to consider, which has way, way more quality and a far superior build quality in every department.
The Alto is a good car then, just not a car recommended in 2014. When the Alto gets updated, it can keep the same engine and gearbox and outward design, but a fresher interior with more equipment - the 108 now has a touchscreen as standard - will be needed to keep the Alto within reach of its nearest competition. Some LED daytime running lights will help in the showroom, too.