Maruti Suzuki Alto 800: First drive

  • Oct 14, 2012

I know you guys must be waiting to know more about Maruti Suzuki's latest offering. The reason why every Maruti Suzuki product gets a warm reception once launched is for their reputation of being good value. Of course, same can't be said about the premium products, but in the mass segment, especially the entry-level small car segment, Maruti Suzuki still rules the roost. The brand Alto has taken over from the humble M800 of the past. So, does the new Alto 800 live up to its predecessor's legacy? Well, lets find out, shall we?

Normally at this point, I like to tell you about the exterior and what I feel about the overall design of the car. That said, it is of course my personal opinion which can vary from person to person. To be frank, I don't like the design of the new Alto 800, however if you look at it from a different perspective, it won't take long for you to notice the raised height, improved interior space, better quality interiors and a taller profile. The large headlamps upfront and the wide lower grille does seem a bit loud for my taste. That said, the looks of the new Alto 800 seem pretty contemporary.

The tail lamp cluster, although looks like it's been borrowed from another hatchback, it does not look out of place. But, overall the car looks more grown-up, more mature and in-tune with its time. According to Maruti Suzuki, the blend of concave and convex surfaces apparently lends a positive aura to the car and the new headlamps and chiseled contours add a premium look to the vehicle. Inside, the dashboard layout is all new with a bolder center console and basic instrument cluster which houses the speed-o-meter in the center. The three-spoke steering wheel is also all-new and now gets some silver bits on its spokes.

The raised roof line and thinner front seats do help liberate a bit of space inside which is very much noticeable. The cabin of the new Alto 800 feels more roomier no doubt, as a result. The front seats of the car are of the uni-body type with the headrest integrated into the seat itself. The switches for the power windows have been moved to the center console which takes a bit of getting used to, though. Having said that, visibility is good and the new dashboard is nothing short of functional. The air-con vents on either sides of the dashboard close completely while the one in center don't.

Pop-open the hood and the tiny 800 cc motor reveals itself. The engine has been re-engineered so that frictional loses are minimized. The F8D motor produces 11 percent better torque as well. The torque curve peaks out @ 3500 rpm clocking 69 Nm while 48 PS of power is produced @ 6000 rpm. As far as the tweaks that make up the engine are concerned, the compression ratio of the engine has been changed along with lightweight pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft. All these changes might not be noticeable, however these amount to an increased fuel efficiency. The new engine delivers a staggering 22.7 kmpl!

The gearbox has also been improved with an addition of Diagonal Shift Assist (DSA) which allows for a smooth transition from 5th gear to 4th gear. The 'Cable Type Shift Mechanism' further improves the gear shift feel. Apparently, the gear ratios have been reworked as well for better drive-ability in the city. If you ask me, the new Alto 800 feels like a Maruti Suzuki should. Despite being pretty basic when it comes to equipment level, the Alto is a nice place to be. Good visibility, improved gearshifts and satisfactory power delivery complement the car's high power-to-weight ratio.

Despite the puny 12 inch wheels shod with 145/80 R12  rubber, the Alto 800 isn't bad around tight corners. There is a hint of body roll as you'd expect from a car in this price segment, but that does not spoil the party. The "Torsion Roll Control Device" on the front axle along with gas filled McPherson struts seem to work pretty well on the twisty sections. That said, the steering is a bit heavy for my tastes. The brakes are sufficiently responsive thanks to a solid disc upfront and a drum setup at the rear end. Now, the Alto 800 will be available in three variants with the LXi being the top-spec. Buyers do get the option of an Airbag on this variant. On the other hand, the base variant is very much stripped out. No air-con, no power steering on this one.

So, should you buy one? Well, I don't think my opinion should matter the people of this country. It's a 'Maruti' after all. We've seen how eager the people of this country are and that was evident on the crowded streets of New Delhi. The Alto 800 did turn a couple of heads around. The most exciting bit of our drive was at a set of traffic lights where a group of elderly people were travelling in a trusty Maruti Omni. You could read the happiness on the gentleman's face when we pulled over alongside him. He made sure we rolled-down the windows only to ask us- "Naya Alto hai na?"


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