This is the new Alto K10, and it’s newness springs form a couple of important points.
First, quite obviously, the K10 engine now sits in the thoroughly revised Alto platform, identical to the Alto 800. Sure, while it may not match the Alto 800 in sales, the new Alto promises to be more exciting without really pinching the car buyer on a tight budget. The second big update for the K10 is that it will be offered with an optional automatic gearbox (yes, an AMT) making it the world’s cheapest automatic car when it goes on sale soon.
What sets the K10 apart from the Alto 800 is that it gets the significantly powerful 1.0-litre, 67bhp K10 engine. And since its body tips the scales at under 750kg, the new car boasts of a power-to-weight ratio that’s almost identical to the Swift’s. So, as you can imagine, it’s quite an entertaining little car to drive.Apart from the drivetrain, the K10 gets brand new interiors and altered exterior styling as well.
On the face of it
Maruti has given this new car an all-new face, and this ensures some differentiation from the 800cc version, especially when viewed head-on. The bumper, larger swept-back headlamps, grille and bonnet are all new, and the mild creases on the panels make the car look more muscular than the Alto 800. However, in profile, the resemblance can be easily seen and, save for the larger wing mirrors (that improve rear visibility too), and an extended character line, the differences are quite subtle. At the rear, the new tailgate is flatter — this works as a visual trick to make the car look a bit wider than the Alto 800. Additionally, the shapely new tail lamps aid in injecting a dose of freshness too.
What’s more impressive, however, is the all-new interior. Maruti has given this new K10 a bespoke dual-tone dashboard design that, combined with the light fabrics, looks airy and fairly upmarket for the price point, though it still can’t match the fit and finish of the Hyundai Eon.
There’s a new steering wheel (slightly Swift-inspired), new instruments, and the audio system (which supports CD, USB and Aux) sports a piano-black finish. Additionally, bits of silver accents on the dash announce sporty intent.
As for convenience, the manual variant gets cupholders and a cubbyhole in front of the gear lever; however, the AMT’s larger transmission housing means the cupholders have been deleted, which is ironic. Because it’s only in an automatic that your hand is free to sip a hot capuccino on the move. A clever little bit, carried over from before, is a small folding hook next to the glove box, which can be used to hang small bags.
The front seats are reasonably comfortable, and have enough travel to accommodate fairly tall people. Knee and head room at the rear has improved too. No, the wheelbase is the same as the Alto 800’s, but Maruti has scooped out the front seat’s backrest to add about an inch-and-a-half of more space for your knees. On the flipside, the thinner cushioning here means passengers up front can feel the rear person’s knee when it comes in contact with the seat. Not quite the back massage a driver would want!
On our route from Chandigarh to Parwanoo, it was the K10 automatic I sampled first. Here, thecar was subjected to a good mix of stop-and-go traffic, highways and twisty ghat roads. The K10 AMT felt reasonably peppy, easy to drive and the gear shifts felt a bit smoother and more sorted than they do in the Celerio AMT. Maruti seems to have tweaked the AMT’s electronics to iron out some of the jerkiness. I also noticed that this car ‘creeps’ forward (like a conventional auto) reasonably well when you take your foot off the accelerator, making it easier to drive in slow-moving traffic and parking speeds. That said, I found myself slotting the ’box in manual mode on the highways — since gear changes are more predictable here, you can select a lower ratio before engaging in an overtaking manoeuvre.
The engine is the same unit as in the outgoing car, but the now electronically-controlled throttle positioning has been tuned for better lower speed response. Throttle response is crisp and acceleration just gets stronger as the revs rise. Maruti claims that the drive-by-wire tech, combined with lower friction engine oils, has improved fuel economy by a good 15 percent. Also, the three-cylinder engine feels more refined, and unless you push it above 3,500rpm, is reasonably quiet.
Where this motor really comes alive is when it’s paired to the slick-shifting manual gearbox.
Acceleration is strong in the first three gears, and this little Alto can easily keep up with and leave some hatchbacks from even two segments higher, in its dust. We didn’t strap our testing gear onto this car but from the seat of my pants, it does feel a bit quicker than the older K10. However, I wish Maruti had given it slightly bigger shoes to make better use of the power on twisty roads; the 155/55 R13 tyres aren’t particularly grippy. Also, despite the improved ride, it does get a bit choppy over undulations, and the steering feels a bit vague because it doesn’t self-centre very well.
That said, it’s easily the most fun-to-drive car in its segment, and the automatic variant (though not as peppy) is claimed to be as fuel efficient as the manual. And more importantly, it makes easy work of urban traffic. It may not top its segment in appeal, but it is more welcoming than the outgoing car. Sure, it still isn’t pretty, but the smoother exterior design make it easier on the eyes. Not only are interior aesthetics a big step up over the outgoing car, Maruti’s extra efforts mark the K10 as a clear cut above the Alto 800 too. The car’s case though is built on its combination of practicality, peppy performance and the incredible convenience of an automatic at what should be a very competitive price tag.