If you do a simple random sampling of a group of Indians who know how to drive, chances are a majority of them would have learnt driving on an Alto. Ever since Maruti Suzuki first launched it in September 2000, as many as 30 lakh units of this entry-level hatchback have been cumulatively sold in the country. The car’s unique selling points have been its remarkable fuel efficiency, peppy engine, attractive price and low maintenance. Add to that Maruti’s countrywide sales network—you can practically buy an Alto even if you live in the remotest town in India!
Yet another reason for its success is that the Alto has been evolving to reflect the changing India. Over the years, Maruti has been arming it with just the right features a buyer looks for in an entry-level car, and subtle but timely design updates; these have been appealing to customers.
In October 2015, Renault launched its radically-styled car, the Kwid. It’s clocking average monthly sales of 8,000 units. Last week, Renault’s alliance partner Nissan launched an Alto 800 rival under its Datsun sub-brand—the car is called the redi-GO and it undercuts the Alto 800 by about Rs 6,300 for the entry-level model. In the face of competition, Maruti has developed the new Alto 800. We drive it.
Maruti calls it the Aero Edge design. The front bumper and grille have been reworked in such a way that the car’s length has been increased by 35mm. For a small car, even 35mm matters. The lower grille has been made wider, and the addition of newly designed headlamps and provision of front fog lamps in the bumper enhance its looks. The protruding headlights with turn indicators at the top have been levelled. From the sides and the rear, there are no changes. The two new colours—Mojito Green and Cerulean Blue—are trendy.
(However, this delicate facelift, though pleasing, still doesn’t make the car stand out.)
It gets a contemporary dark grey interior colour theme; silver inserts look chic. The new seat and door trim fabric adds a classic appeal to the car. Outside rear-view mirrors (ORVMs) can be adjusted from inside. An improved rear seat with integrated headrests makes the ride comfortable for passengers. There are a lot of cubbyholes (utility spaces) in the cabin, including a rear bottle holder and co-driver side map pocket.
The top-end variant gets features such as remote keyless entry, integrated stereo with USB, AUX and radio, rear parcel tray, two front speakers with speaker grille, accessory socket, among others.
There is extra head and shoulder room in the front, and the legroom at the rear seat is marginally more than in the outgoing version. In addition, Maruti says that intelligently packaged slim doors maximise interior passenger space.
(Changes inside the cabin are noteworthy, but the car is not as roomy as its competitors.)
The 796cc three-cylinder petrol engine is a proven performer. It produces a peak power of 47.34bhp@6000rpm and a peak torque of 69Nm@3500rpm. The company has enhanced its fuel-efficiency by 9% and it now returns a claimed mileage of 24.77kpl. (The Kwid and redi-GO share their engine—799cc—which has a claimed mileage of 25.17kpl.)
The engine has an efficient combustion system and provides excellent torque at low RPM, enabling less frequent gear changes. And when you have to change gears, the cable-type gear-shift mechanism makes it smooth and the Detent Pin Technology makes the shifts precise. In addition, the company’s Diagonal Shift Assist ensures effortless shifting from 5th to 4th gear.
Watch the Maruti Suzuki Alto 880 review:
A specially coated piston and ring set reduces frictional losses and increases engine life and efficiency. The drive-by-wire technology not only makes the engine responsive but also enhances driving experience. As compared to both the Kwid and redi-GO, the Alto’s engine is quieter.
The car has also been launched in a CNG version which, the company claims, returns a mileage of 33.44 km per kg—an improvement of 10%.
(Maruti makes the best small petrol engines in the world and this 796cc motor proves that.)
Driver airbag is available as an option from the base variant onwards. It is priced only Rs 6,000. The passenger side ORVM is now a standard feature. On higher trims, the new Alto 800 comes with a rear door child lock that makes travelling with children safer. The good thing is that important safety features such as high-mounted stop lamp, collapsible steering column and tubeless tyres are standard across all variants.
(Maruti has made the car safer, but there is no option of an anti-lock braking system (ABS).)
The car which has successfully and convincingly beat competition over the years—including Tata Nano and Hyundai Eon—has now run into far younger and tougher rivals. In some areas, such as engine performance and ride quality, the new Alto 800 enjoys an edge. In others, such as design and cabin space, it loses out. Prices start from Rs 2.45 lakh for the STD variant and go up to Rs 3.30 lakh for top-end VXi (O). The car is available in CNG (only LXi trim) from Rs 3.66 lakh to Rs 3.72 lakh.
(Prices are ex-showroom, Delhi; metallic colours cost Rs 3,761 extra)