Maruti Suzuki Alto K10: First drive!

Maruti's new mini-sizzler is here and it is out to captivate many hearts big time, with its peppy and easy-sipping K10 engine



It is confession time and I have no qualms in stating that I have had a soft spot for the Suzuki Alto ever since the first iteration for India was launched as the 800 way back in the mid-1980s. However, this liking for Suzuki's best known name plate the world over truly ticked into overdrive when the present generation Alto appeared on Indian roads in the year 2000. What began with the 800's engine plus a larger 1.1-litre mill from the Wagon R was later rationalized to just the 800cc engine. After a slow start the Alto leapfrogged all else, even in Maruti Suzuki's line-up to go top of the heap. Understandable this fact, given this was the most modern extension of the 800's theme of providing a no-nonsense, simple and easy to operate small car for the masses. Add in legendary Maruti-Suzuki build quality and a strong service set-up nationwide, the Alto did its job admirably for country and consumer alike.


One of the key things which have happened in India over the last few years has been the hectic action seen in the hatchback category with new models dominating the senses from both existing as well as spanking new manufacturers! The entry level hatchback segment however didn't see much innovation or for that matter any new model action whatsoever and while the more premium larger hatchbacks seemed to grow, the entry level category has seemingly stayed put. No wonder then that the Maruti 800 is virtually on its last hurrah as far as off take is concerned and not much is happening when you take in class rivals from other brands.




It is here that the leader has moved to shape and shake the market in the entry-level segment even when - in the Indian scheme of things - it didn't actually need to. At least not right now. However, it is a given for large successful corporations to be proactive rather than reactive and this is the case with Maruti-Suzuki's new Alto K10. Get it in now as a complementary rather than replacement model to the present Alto F8D and you make the Alto brand even wider ranging in its entry-level appeal while also arming it for the coming years.



What's New:



Referred to as the Alto K10 the latter appendage obviously refers to the brilliant new generation three-cylinder engine which made its debut in the A-Star. While the A-Star is one of the new pillars in Maruti-Suzuki's small car strategy for India, getting the Alto to accept this new slightly wider engine necessitated a few engineering changes. One of the most important of these has seen the Alto's front end being pushed out by about 125mm to accommodate this engine. So while the wheelbase remains the same at 2360mm, the K10 version measures 3620mm in length compared to the present Alto's 3495mm.

Another detail concerns the running gear which now features 13-inch wheels shod with 155/65 R13 tubeless radials compared to the 145/80 R12s on the Alto F8D. Given the Alto K10's enhanced performance capabilities (which we shall get to soon), the brakes and the suspension were also beefed up. Gas filled shock absorbers are employed and the brakes have been enlarged to take advantage of the larger wheels now fitted. Electronically assisted rack and pinion steering gear is standard fitment.




The interiors have been revised a bit with more pleasing upholstery including colour coordinated door pads which match the fabric on the seats. Other details include integrated head rests in the rear seats, a rear parcel shelf and a new three-spoke steering wheel complemented by a stylish new design gear shift knob. The instrument panel encompasses a large speedometer with a new look face flanked on either side by a rev counter and a digital fuel gauge.


K10 engine on the Alto:




To distinguish the Alto K10 from its F8D namesake, there have been cosmetic revisions at the front and rear ends. An all new grille treatment is evident as are, in Maruti-Suzuki parlance, bold eagle-eye headlamps. Both these combine well with the new valanced bonnet plus a new bumper which houses small fog lamps. There is a load of new found appeal on the front end and the same is carried over, to a certain extent to the rear where there is a slightly revised tail gate treatment along with a new tail lamp cluster which merges classily into the bumper. The Alto gets stylish rubbing strips on its flanks and overall the car sits well on its larger wheels to create a more in-tune with the times attitude. The style accents may be minimal but overall they are well executed in time honoured Japanese manner, not to offend but to please.





However it is all about the performance of this car which will get consumers in a heady frame of mind and rivals scurrying to revise their strategy for an automobile which straddles the Altonative or upper A1-lower A2 category. The K10 engine ups the power and torque by nearly 50 per cent over the Alto F8D while the overall weight has gone up by just 35 kg making for a literal buzz bomb on wheels! Seeing things from another perspective is the fact that in the A-Star similar levels of power and torque are on call but the A-Star tips the scales at 880 kilos compared to the 770kg of the Alto K10. Getting to the absolute numbers first, the Alto K10 makes 68PS at 6200rpm and whips up 90Nm of torque at 3500rpm, shades the Alto F8D handsomely which produces 47PS and 62Nm at 6200rpm and 3000rpm respectively. I think just on this count one is able to envisage where this pocket-rocket, in relative entry-level terms, is heading to.


The Drive:


The benefits of the new engine-transmission pack coupled to the strengthened underpinnings show to good effect when out on the road. The car rides very assuredly and there is none of the hip-hop associated with the rear end dancing on slightly rough surfaces on a light car with rudimentary suspension. What we have here is one sorted out package which delivers miles and smiles with gusto. The punchy manner in which the car drives out of corners and over hilly roads is a delight and the sensory delights from the cable actuated transmission system (the Alto F8D employs a link-type shift actuator) are a bonus. For the record, the transmission is from the same family as employed in the A-Star but with obviously revised ratios of course for duty in the Alto K10. The torque is just right at the correct shift points and makes for a car which provides brisk progress whenever you want it and whatever be your style of motoring. In many an occasion this sort of performance made me think about the original Suzuki Zen which was just as perky and fun to drive.




Ah, the fun to drive term is a much abused one but the Alto K10 gives true meaning to this phrase in its class. While it wasn't possible to strap on our Racelogic test data acquisition gear on to it when on the first drive out of Bangalore to Nandi Hills and back, the thrust and the easy manner in which the speedo needle would climb clearly did indicate that this would be a real fleet mover. While its maker didn't make any claims for top speed, it did state that the Alto K10 could sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 13.3 seconds, a time which is genuinely good for the A2 segment per se. Given its free breathing performance and also the superbly matched shift points to make use of the added torque, driveability in all situations is rewarding, especially when you get thinking in today's unrestricted fuel pricing era. Again we will wait for the car to be subjected to our road test regime but the ARAI has already certified a 20.2kmpl fuel economy for the Alto K10. I surely do think that it is not small engines which deliver mighty fuel efficiency but the correct sized motors which are easy to handle propel bulk at lower throttle openings which deliver not just fuel efficiency but also enhance the fun to drive factor all round.



The Alto K10 mirrors this line of thought and is without an iota of doubt a very perky all round vehicle which entry level buyers would absolutely fall head over heels for. I also have a sneaking feeling that many who long for the slightly upmarket high profile A2 cars would also consider this package making Maruti-Suzuki's K10 effort truly mesmerizing. Another large smile inducer thanks to the use of the 1.0-litre engine is that the air con system is also very efficient, cooling the interiors quicker and more effectively. One area though did strike me particularly given the Alto K10's very impressive NVH capability. When I was driving on NH7 and giving the car some prolonged heavy right foot treatment, with the speedo needle hovering above the 145 km/h mark I could sense the rushing air beating the lower floor panels massively causing some sheet metal to flutter and pulse. Maybe this was the only negative which came to mind and hopefully this would be looked at and cured.






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