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Suzuki Alto 2009 Road Test

Fri, 13 Mar 2009

Visiting the Paris Motor Show in October 2008, I was surprised to see what looked like a facelifted Citroen C1 on the Nissan stand. Time for some re-education. It turned out that what I was looking at was the Nissan Pixo version of the new Suzuki Alto, a car I was first alerted to by the boss of Hyundai as a serious competitor to his excellent i10.

So I went to have a look at the new Alto on the Suzuki stand.

Compared to the Nissan Pixo it’s definitely the better looking of these almost identical twins. And it differs from the C1, 107 and Aygo by having a two-piece hatchback instead of one made entirely of glass. However it does share weight and cost-saving features of the Citroen C1 clones, like pop-open rather than wind-down rear door windows, rear seats that fold back onto the squabs instead of folding flat, no a/c in the SZ2 base model and only two rear seatbelts, making the air-conditioned, 5 year warranted, similarly priced Hyundai i10 1.2 Classic seem luxurious in comparison.

At least, emitting just 103g/km, your company can buy you a manual Alto and offset 100% against a single year’s tax. And when cars under 110g/km finally come down to £20pa VED, private drivers will make a useful saving there.

The Suzuki Alto SZ2 and SZ23 are also Group 1 insurance, like the Citroen C1 clones, and that can mean quite a big reduction on insurance for your drivers.

Now on to driving impressions.

As is usual on launches there was no chance of trying a base model. And, on this occasion, we could have any colour we wanted as long as it was Nail Polish Pink. Not only that, the car was brand new with only 600 kilometres on the clock, so was tight as a new pair of shoes. The new 996cc 3 cylinder 12 valve engine is supposed to develop 68 horsepower and I have no doubt our car’s would once it was run in, but the stable door hadn’t opened yet.

Yet the new Suzuki Alto acquitted itself surprisingly well on the autostrada, cruising at 120kmh at around 3,500rpm without any fuss and surprisingly low wind and road noise.
When we got to some twisty bits between Arrica and Neri the Alto became more fun, revving to 6,000 rather raucously, as 3 cylinder engines do, but game for a laugh and handling as well as could be expected on its tiddly 155/65 R15 tyres. It didn’t seem to develop the sort of low-down torque that a Hyundai i10 1.2 does, and that could affect its real world economy. Though head to head against a Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 or Toyota Aygo it’s as near as dammit identical.

Because I’m bound to be asked, I also drove the new Suzuki Alto 4-speed torque converter automatic. This is, of course, a lot slower, but it’s adequate for anyone who needs a proper small automatic. Usefully, it can be held in 3rd for overtaking if necessary, or 2nd or even 1st for tricky ascents and descents. And at £8,560 it’s only £600 more than the manual for a proper automatic rather than an automated clutch manual.

There seems to be considerably more luggage space in the back of the Suzuki Alto than in a Citroen C1, and, though the seats only fold on top of themselves, they leave a flatter load deck. There’s adequate legroom in the back and enough headroom for me to wear my hat without squashing it on the ceiling. And, after our three-hour test drive in the area around Rome, neither of us suffered any aches or pains from the seats.

The near future will bring a Suzuki Alto with Stop-Start, that pulls the manual down to 95g/km CO2, making it even more economical and UK VED exempt. Stop-Start should also bring the automatic down to around 114g/km and firmly into Band B, which, unless things change again in the March 2009 Budget, should mean £20 VED for 2010/11.

It would be less than honest to claim the new Suzuki Alto (and its Nissan Pixo counterpart) are anything less than extremely direct competitors to the Citroen C1 triplets. But that’s no bad thing. This is now the hottest sector of the UK car market. Lowest tax. Highest mpg. And lowest depreciation in terms of £££s.

Suzuki won’t have any trouble selling all 7,000 Altos it aims to import over the rest of 2008.

For prices, specifications, engines, transmissions, dimensions and performance figures, please click the tabs.

More at www.suzuki4.co.uk

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