Maruti Alto 800 review, test drive

Autocar India
First Published: 13:01 IST(13/2/2013)
Last Updated: 11:02 IST(5/8/2013)
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Since its launch, the new Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 has been – much like the best-seller it’s replacing – rather well received. Although Maruti’s credentials when it comes to making low-cost small cars are impressive, it is not an easy task to replace an all-time best-seller. While the changes have to be substantial, they have to be cost-effective as well. And the carmaker has seemingly done its job well.
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The car looks and feels significantly different from the old Alto and it’s priced extremely well too. The base Alto 800 costs Rs. 2.44 lakh and the most expensive Alto 800 LXi rings the register at Rs. 2.99 lakh. So, does it have what it takes to carry on its extremely successful family tradition? 

Maruti has done a commendable job with the new Alto 800’s styling. While every single body panel is new, the car is instantly recognisable as an Alto. The slim grille looks quite sporty, while the large air intake in the bumper along with the high-mounted, petal-shaped headlights look modern – quite similar to the Ford Figo’s.

The prominent crease that runs along the flanks and rises towards the rear adds to the sporty feel, giving the car a tipped-forward stance. But this stylistic element has eaten into the rear glass area, which might make rear seat passengers feel claustrophobic. At the rear, fresh new details like the large multi-element tail-lights and sharply sculpted bumper add some much needed spice. What makes the car look a bit awkward, however, is the massive ground clearance; it just doesn’t sit well with the car’s compact dimensions.

Maruti has deliberately styled the Alto 800 on the conservative side after market feedback suggested that the extrovert styling of the Hyundai Eon was not to the taste of the traditional budget-car buyer. Maruti has clearly played it safe as far as design goes in order to appeal to a wider audience.

While the Alto 800 may be completely new on the outside, under the skin, there are plenty of bits carried over from the outgoing car. The floorpan is similar, the wheelbase is the same and the suspension and brakes are near identical. Also similar are the load points on the chassis and the ‘H’ points (hip points) of the seats. The engine bay is now more compact, and the firewall and dash have been ‘optimised’ to make the cabin more space efficient. The roof is now 15 percent higher for improved headroom. The body structure has been modified to make it stiffer, both in the interest of improved ride and handling, and to qualify it for impending crash test norms. But this hasn’t added too much to the weight. The roof, for example, is made of thinner steel and has corrugations for added rigidity, and the Alto 800 still remains a flyweight. Even the top-end airbag-equipped version tips the scales at just 725kg.

On the inside, the dashboard is completely new. The curvy design and vibrantly coloured seat fabric are modern and lift the cabin’s overall ambience. The dials look upmarket and are easy to read. But despite these changes, the Alto 800’s cabin still doesn’t have the same air of quality that the Hyundai Eon displays. You sit pretty low in the Alto and due to the low stance of the car, getting in and out is a bit of a chore. The front seat itself is comfortable but lacks enough under-thigh support. Seat bolstering is also not the best and you tend to get thrown around on enthusiastic drives.

Although Maruti has tried to carve out more kneeroom for rear passengers with slim front seats, it’s still cramped and headroom isn’t good either. Storage spaces aren’t abundant but the big cubby and bottle holder ahead of the gearlever is quite innovative and the shelf above the glovebox is pretty useful too. The boot is decent for a compact car though.

For the price, the Alto 800 comes pretty well equipped. On the LXi variant, you get standard stuff like CD/MP3 player, air-conditioning, power steering and front power windows. But there are some glaring omissions, especially basics such as central locking, left rear-view mirror and day-night mirror which even the Nano comes with. 

The Alto 800 continues to be powered by the small 796cc, three-cylinder primitive F8D motor, but in this latest avatar, it has been significantly improved. The compression ratio has been bumped up, which also improves performance. Although increase in power over the earlier engine is marginal, torque is a significant 11 percent better.

A new plastic inlet manifold not only lowers the engine weight, but also improves gas flow, and hence, volumetric efficiency. The connecting rods and crankshaft have been significantly lightened as well and new, low-friction piston rings have been used, which in turn increases engine life. There’s also a faster 32-bit processor and this engine is future-proof for BS5 norms too.

The first thing you realise when you set off in traffic is that this motor is much more free-revving than the older one. It makes the Alto feel light and agile to drive. The car’s throttle responses have improved drastically and it pulls well from most engine speeds. The engine is much more flexible and thanks to this, the Alto now feels at home on the highway too. Overtaking is much easier and it needs only a shift or two to accelerate with gusto.

Where the old motor used to feel strained in the mid-range, the now heavily upgraded one feels relaxed and has an adequate reserve of power on tap. However, the motor isn’t perfect. It gets thrummy after 4000rpm, and has an annoying tendency to jerk when negotiating stop/start traffic as the three-cylinder motor doesn’t run smoothly. It also has an unsettled idle that makes the cabin shudder.

Performance figures here are quite impressive. A flat-out sprint to 100kph will take a very impressive 16.92sec, which is a whopping 3.5sec faster than the old engine. Thanks to good top-end performance, it will reach a respectable top speed of 141kph. In-gear acceleration too is much improved. The 20-80kph now takes 13.16sec and 40-100kph takes 22.29sec, which again is much quicker than the old 796cc engine.

Like the engine, the ride and handling have also gone a step in the right direction. Low-speed ride quality is another area where this Maruti showed a plushness you wouldn’t really associate with a budget city runabout. Yes, it does thump over bumps, but the suspension does a good job of softening the jolt. Over bad roads, the Alto feels out of its comfort zone and the ride isn’t as flat as we would like. There’s a fair amount of vertical movement owing to its softly sprung setup. Suspension noise is also pretty well-contained, though road noise gets intrusive as you go faster.

Where the Alto shines the most is in city limits. The car’s compact dimensions, coupled with the light steering, are terrific for parking in tight spots. All-round visibility is good too, making the new Alto an ideal car for our ever-crowded roads. There is a fair bit of body roll when you go fast around a corner, but the car feels safe and in control. However, the light steering doesn’t quite weight up at higher speeds and there’s lots of slack around the straight-ahead position.

In terms of braking, the Alto 800 offers good feel at the pedal and also doesn’t veer much under panic stops.

On the fuel efficiency front, the Alto with its light kerb weight and efficient engine was always expected to be great, and the new Alto 800 plays true to form. It gave us 13.3kpl in the city and a decent 17.8kpl out on the highway. This gives the Alto 800 a very respectable range of 540km on a full tank.

With the new Alto, Maruti has done justice to its all-time best-seller. The fresh styling, revamped interiors and rehashed engine go towards making it an even more attractive offering than before. The motor has been improved for better fuel efficiency and power. Of course, it has its failings. The cabin is still quite cramped and the quality still fails to match up to rivals like the Hyundai Eon. However, where Maruti has played the masterstroke is with the pricing. At Rs. 2.99 lakh for the top-of-the-line LXi variant, the new car is priced at just Rs. 3,000 over the older one. And of course, when it comes to the budget hatchback segment, nothing spells popularity like an affordable price tag.

Fact File
What it costs
Ex-showroom (Delhi)  Rs. 2.99 lakh
Warranty                    24months / 40,000km
Engine
Fuel                            Petrol
Installation                  Front, transverse
Type                          796cc, 3 cyl, in-line
Bore/stroke                68.5/72 mm
Compression ratio      10.3:1
Valve gear                 3 valves per cyl
Power                       47bhp at 6000rpm
Torque                      7.03kgm at 3500rpm
Power to weight        64.82bhp per tonne
Torque to weight       9.69 kgm per tonne
Transmission
Type                        front wheel drive
Gearbox                   5-speed manual
Dimensions
Length                       3395mm
Width                        1490mm
Height                       1475mm
Wheel base               2360mm
Boot volume                177 litres
Chassis & Body
Construction            five door monocoque
Weight                    725kg
Tyres                     145/80R12
Spare                    Full size
Suspension
Front                      independent, McPherson struts, coil springs
Rear                      non-independent, torsion beam, coil springs
Steering
Type                            rack and pinion
Type of power assist    electric
Turning circle                9.2m
Brakes
Front                            215mm solid discs
Rear                             170mm drums
Anti-lock                          NO
Performance
0-20     1.27
0-40     3.26
0-60     6.13
0-80     10.40
0-100   16.92
0-120   29.40
Economy
City         13.3kpl
Highway 17.8kpl
Tank size  35 litres


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