In India, Maruti Alto is a legend in its own right. It is a car that would not even deserve a mention were it to be launched in Europe or the US, but Alto cannot be missed if the history of the Indian car market were to be written today. It has been the largest selling car in India for 9 consecutive years and the addition of a 1-litre engine and a K10 variant have only boosted its prospects.
However, in the last two years, the growth story has stalled as new car buyers have stayed away from the market while those replacing their cars are migrating to bigger models.
There has been competition in the entry-level segment with the addition of the Hyundai Eon and Datsun Go, but the Alto has never really been threatened. Yet, it is an apt time for refreshing the K10, not for anything else but to keep the novelty factor going.
DESIGN AND STYLE
There is not an awful lot that has changed as far as design and styling are concerned. While it is marginally shorter, it is wider and taller than the outgoing version. The car now has bigger wraparound headlamps, a dash of chrome on the grille and boxy tail lamps reminiscent of the Alto 800.
It remains better looking of the two Altos and smarter than the existing K10, but is still not a patch on the Eon in terms of overall design. The Hyundai car can also be credited for the significant improvement to the interiors of the new Alto.
The wheelbase is the same as the outgoing version and so is the rear legroom — it isn’t the most spacious small car on the road — but the dashboard layout and design have got a significant upgrade with the uncluttered centre console finished in piano black giving it a touch of class. Also welcome is the improved quality of plastic, though it is not at par with the Eon.
The car is powered by the petrol engine from the previous version though Maruti’s engineers have worked on it to improve economy by over 15% to 24.07 kpl. Performance of the geared version has not seen much of a change and Alto remains strictly a car that is happy in the city. The big change here is the introduction of the automated manual transmission that makes the K10 the only car in India to offer an ungeared variant at below Rs. 4 lakh.
The unsophisticated technology, which basically uses the same 5-speed manual gearbox and replaces your left foot with a lever, works better in the K10 than in the Celerio, which was the first to get it. In this avatar the car does not have a clutch pedal and does away with the need to change gears. Slot the gear lever into D and the car rolls ahead. The gear shift, while not seamless, is efficient. This is a really easy car to drive and the messier the road, the better it gets.
Also, considering the light weight of the car and the torque on offer, it is surprisingly punchy. The thin tyres and bare bone suspension mean that the car is no highway cruiser, but its merits in city traffic are undeniable.
Automatic cars are slowly finding their feet in India and the trend will get a fillip with the K10 AGS (auto gear shift). The car now looks a little bit more contemporary, especially in brighter shades, and the lack of space at the back is more than made up by the additional fuel economy.
For a change, the layman also gets the kind of convenience that was restricted only to cars above Rs. 10 lakh a few years back.
The Eon scores with its looks, Datsun Go with its space but nothing beats Alto K10 on value for money, and at the bottom of the pyramid, that is what counts the most.