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Suzuki Alto 1.0 SZ4

Click to view picture gallery“Suzukis new Alto has got the 3 Rs:
  Right car; Right size; Right time.
  With CO2 emissions that are the
  lowest for any five-door petrol-
  engined car in the UK, 35 a year
  road tax, 64.2mpg on the combined
  cycle and costing from 6,795,
  no wonder they
re selling fast

GOOD THINGS, SO THE SAYING GOES, COME IN SMALL PACKAGES. And with sales of neatly-packaged, fuel-efficient, low-running cost small cars up by 84% in the '09 new registration plate month of March, good things particularly in Credit-Crunch Britain clearly do come in small packages.

Another new addition to the City/Mini segment, the Suzuki Alto 1.0-litre five-door hatchback is, at 3.5-metres long (and with load space of 129 to 774 litres), one of the largest 'small cars' in that sector. The new Alto also comes with low 1E/2E insurance group ratings, 64.2mpg economy and road tax costing only 35 a year. So, low running costs, big on space and priced from just 6,795 — no wonder over a thousand UK customers snapped up a new Alto in March.

Although younger users are expected to take the majority of sales in the longer term (Suzuki is targeting conquest customers in the 18-30 age group), Suzuki's loyal older generation customers have been some of the first to buy this new Alto.

Low running costs and an attractive purchase price are the two prime reasons for cash-strapped or cash-careful customers to choose one new car over another these days.

And the Alto, with its low insurance costs, low road tax and relatively roomy five-door body design, is undeniably an attractive proposition. Build quality looks good, the panel fit and door closures are good and there's a durable, proper steel-surround tailgate. The interior is also well put together — and bear in mind this is a 'world' car built for some markets much tougher than ours, so you can be sure real-world durability will be good.

The Alto has just the one engine option: a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, Euro-5 compliant petrol unit with a modest 67bhp of power and 66lb ft of torque from 3,400rpm. This throaty sounding unit likes, and needs, to be revved hard to get the best from it in acceleration terms but around town or cruising on motorways it is perfectly capable. Overtaking just takes a little longer but that is no different to other cars in this class. Top speed is 96mph and zero to 62mph takes 13.5 seconds but it's the fuel economy of 64.2mpg that will appeal the most.

The five-speed manual gearbox is light, slick and easy to use. Luckily I also had the chance to try the four-speed automatic gearbox as well. This is a proper auto with a torque converter — no cheap, jerky, clutchless manual or power sapping CVT system. Normally conventional auto boxes are too expensive to put in small cars so the 600 Suzuki is charging is a bargain, and for some will be one of the main reasons to buy the Alto.

There is the choice of three trim and equipment levels: SZ2, the best-selling SZ3 and SZ4. As standard, the Alto SZ2 specification includes ABS braking, power steering, electrically-operated front windows, front and side airbags, remote locking, radio/CD system, Isofix child seat anchorage points and single bench folding rear seat. The SZ3 specification model, priced at 7,245, has air conditioning with pollen filter. My 'choice' model is the SZ4 (costing 7,960 in manual spec or 8,560 as an auto) and this comes with additional equipment including alloy wheels, ESP electronic control stability, rev-counter, curtain airbags, 6 speakers and a 50:50 split folding rear seat. The is a full range of colours but Fortune Rose, a sort of metallic pink, and Healing Green are both worthy of mention.

The new Alto is cost effective to buy and run (low running and insurance costs and 57+mpg) and the 'best on paper' in its sector. It is designed for a European market, it seats two adults up front and two children (adults at a squeeze) in the rear and the rear seats fold so the Alto is useful for carrying 'stuff' as and when — and the five doors allow for maximum flexibility of use.

The ride is compliant, road holding sound, the lightweight construction helps with the fuel economy and the retail price helps with the bank balance. If that doesn't cheer you up then there's always the Alto's cheeky and cheerful styling! — David Miles

Suzuki Alto 1.0 SZ4
| 7,960
Maximum speed: 96mph | 0-62mph: 13.5 seconds | Overall test MPG: 57.1mpg
Power: 67bhp | Torque: 66lb ft | CO2 103g/km | Insurance group 2E