Less than a month after the new Suzuki Alto and Nissan Pixo twins were unveiled at the 2008 Paris motor show, CAR Online has been to Delhi to drive the Suzuki version. Why Delhi? This is where they’ll be built. Suzuki’s Indian subsidiary Maruti is easily the country’s biggest car maker, building more than 750,000 cars here each year and targeting a million by 2010.
Almost all are currently for India’s booming domestic market, but successfully exporting this car to Europe is a big part of the growth plan. The big question is whether the quality of the new Suzuki Alto is up to European expectations.
Why shouldn’t the Suzuki Alto be up to scratch? Aren’t you just being snobbish about Indian cars?
Absolutely not: the Maruti bosses themselves say they fully expect to have to earn the trust of European buyers, in exactly the same way as the Japanese and Korean car makers did when they first started exporting.
Unlike some of the Chinese makers, who offer hilarious, appalling-quality clones of Western cars in some European markets, the Alto is a properly designed and engineered city car with some impressive stats.
They’ve done it once before, selling the Indian-made, last-generation Alto in Europe, but in very small numbers. And this car will be sold alongside Suzukis and Nissans built in Japan and Europe; there should be no perceptible difference in quality.
Click 'Next' below to read more of our Suzuki Alto first drive
So is there a perceptible difference in quality?
Yes, but not because it’s made in India. The Alto has been built to meet tough targets on weight and price, so although the build quality is good, with a decent standard of panel fit and finish in the cabin, some of the plastics used are cheap, hard and shiny. By the standards of the cars it’s aimed at, like the Hyundai i10, it’s acceptable if not class-leading.
It’s clear where money has been saved; there are pop-out rear windows, rather than winders, and the doors feel flimsy. And although it’s very compact at just 3565mm, it’s no packaging masterpiece. You’ll get four grown adults in, but rear head and legroom are cramped and the boot is tiny at just 129 litres; the i10 manages to hold 100 more. Everyone gets a big cupholder though, and the instruments and controls are clear and logically laid out.
How does the new Suzuki Alto drive?
Sadly, it’s not a patch on the excellent Swift, but it’s aimed at young, often new drivers in urban areas for whom limit handling isn’t much of an issue. We suspect the elderly will like it too. The engaging three-pot petrol pulls harder than its 14-second 60mph time and 96mph top end suggest; there’s enough oomph for urban driving, even with three big blokes aboard.
There isn’t much pleasure in the spongy pedals, lumpy gearchange or elastic steering and there’s lots of lean through bends, but the ride is reasonably fluid and that’s likely to be of more concern to the target market.
And what about those figures?
How does 62.7mpg and 103g/km grab you? It’s a pity Suzuki couldn’t have squeezed the Alto under 100g/km for free road tax in the UK after the first year, but it admits it’s had to work very hard to get it that low. And – hey – a gramme less than a Toyota Prius is still very impressive and class-competitive.
So why should you buy a Suzuki Alto? It looks fresher and cheekier than its rather corporate Nissan twin. It’s going to be very affordable to buy – almost certainly undercutting the five-door Aygo and siblings – and downright cheap to run.
And while it might not set your strides alight with its dynamics, you can feel smug for acquiring one of the first of the new wave of Indian-made cars. Because believe us, with the cost benefits of building here and the world economy the way it is, there are going to be a lot more coming.
Would you buy a Suzuki Alto over a Toyota Aygo? Click 'Add your comment' below and let us know