Can one beat the fact that the country’s best-selling car, the Suzuki Alto is finally being refurbished and replaced with a spanking new model? Sounds incredible but with Hyundai having upped the stakes in the entry level segment of the car business with the stylishly put together and very competent Eon 800, the market leader had no option but to respond. And respond it has done but unlike its South Korean rival having taken a novel revolutionary approach to stock up the entry level weaponry in its arsenal, Maruti Suzuki has taken the evolutionary approach and come up with the new for 2012 Alto 800 to see it through the coming years.
The new car has a lot riding on it and with the venerable 800 from the very third year of Maruti Suzuki’s existence in the country still accounting for 2000 plus units per month to add to the over 20,000 plus units per month present-gen Alto, the onus was to make a super smooth transition so that the new generation Alto could not only hit the tarmac running but also keep the numbers rolling in. No wonder then the evolutionary angle of attack and the new Alto has that edge not just of striking the design lineage of its predecessor but also having the modernity without losing the essence of simplicity about it at all, this latter being a key factor behind its overall sales success in the country.
The new Alto 800, for that is how it has been designated, has been an all-Indian development and as such has been made specifically for emerging markets rather than the developed markets where Maruti exports its latest and most modern Altos to. In case you are flummoxed at this statement, look no further than the A-star which is indeed the most modern day Alto in existence, made in India and sold the world over. The new Alto 800, in contrast, would be a made in India for India only (and maybe a few mofussil markets like ours) offering. Nothing wrong in that, given the fact that it is basic motoring for the masses which this automobile caters to, and, as purveyors of this class of motoring, no one can match Maruti Suzuki at this game of horses-for-very-small-courses.
The very evolutionary nature of the new car shows that the Maruti Suzuki design and engineering team has made the transition from the present generation offering to the new one in a very easy and simple manner. The base floorpan remains the common shared ingredient between the outgoing and the incoming Alto but from there on there is a load of change. The floorpan has been stiffened appreciably to enhance the torsional rigidity of the overall monocoque.
Throw in completely recalibrated suspension (MacPherson struts up front and a three-link rigid axle set-up with isolated trailing arm at the rear) borrowed from the outgoing car but now with gas-charged dampers wrought into the package, the entire ride and handling has been taken to an all-new high in the entry level segment. As is the case with present day thought and also with the fact that this is very much an entry level price-sensitive offering for developing markets, the car manages to meet the side intrusion and head-on crash test norms for India while yet tipping the scales (kerb weight) at just 695kg for the base model and going up to 720kg for the top-of-the-line LXi version.
One of the key factors behind the success of the out-going Alto was its power-to-weight equation which delivered massively in the rupee-to-kilometre operational cost. The new Alto should deliver just as well on this count as its outgoing predecessor which was rated at 19.73kmpl (ARAI figures) and while we will have answers on this count once we subject the new baby to the rigours of our road test, the ARAI claimed figures are an improvement over the older car – 22.7kmpl!
In an absolutely delightful manner the Maruti Suzuki boffins have done some nifty tweaks to not just engine but also weight savings across the board to help move the fuel efficiency figure to a more user-relevant higher level. Given that the car now looks a bit grown up visually and larger, the smart moves to try and pare off as much weight as possible has paid dividends while yet maintaining a new enhanced level of body stiffness. This new Alto borrows the same thought for the ribbed roof panel as that seen on the Tata Nano to save weight without compromising on structural stiffness while the ample use of plastic for the wraparound front bumper cum grille treatment also plays its own role in keeping weight down to the bare minimum.
Stylistically, the new Alto seems to extend the design language of its predecessor while differing in the detail treatment. The new styled valanced bonnet adorned with the petal-shaped headlamps with black accents to set off the main beam and the turn signal indicators characterises the front end along with the new two-part grille which incorporates the Suzuki ‘S’ logo and a chrome-plated flanking strip on either side. It is different yet retains that very Alto-esque appeal and this same thought pervades all across the rest of the car’s exterior.
The pronounced cab-forward design harks back to a very raked A-pillar with a roof line which is tall and swoops back in a sporty manner to the tail end of the car which is familiar but has been stylised with welcome character lines breaking up the dull monotony of the near flat tailgate. The large tail lights are chunky yet so in proportion to the overall mass of the vehicle, making them stand out crystal-like on the rear end. And when the new Alto appears in profile, the pronounced character streak running from front to rear at the belt line and the delicately styled slash from the rear wheel arch projecting forward plus the slightly pumped up wheel wells do impart more than a modicum of refreshment to the what was earlier a very bland side surface.
The entire vista works very well given that the car yet rides on 12-inch steel wheels shod with 145/80-R12 Apollo Amazer tubeless tyres while making do with the very same 2360mm wheelbase which it shares with the outgoing model. Given the overall proportions it is interesting to note that the new Alto is a snip shorter in overall length than the one it replaces, 3395mm instead of 3495mm but is wider (1490mm against 1475mm) and taller (1475mm against 1460mm) than its predecessor. The ground clearance of 160mm is the same as on the Alto which is being put to pasture but the new model does have a very pronounced hitched up stance when viewed from certain angles, not ungainly but certainly different and which will take some getting used to.
The biggest changes however are under the bonnet and in the interior and let’s start with what makes the car tick and should help purr its way to continuing the legacy of its predecessor. Mind you, this is not the modern K10 engine which yet continues in the Alto K10 model (carries on unchanged in familiar guise) and also the A-star but given its sharp focus on costs, simplicity, return on fuel efficiency and what have you, the product planners have stayed faithful with the same F8D engine as in the outgoing Alto but this has now been subjected to a major revision. Friction busting was one of the main aims behind making the small 796cc three-pot 12-valve engine stay compatible with legislation yet without being dumbed down on performance, driveability or fuel efficiency.
For starters, the compression ratio has been bumped up, the induction system has longer and angled intakes for more ram effect, and reciprocating masses have been lightened with short skirt pistons with new type low tension piston rings. Lightened connecting rods and crankshaft lobes are other key details in the revised F8D triple. Helping cut the frictional losses further has seen the adoption of narrow width crankshaft bearings coupled with a micro-groove to operate in.
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