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Suzuki Alto SZ-L

Click to view picture gallery“Suzuki’s limited edition Alto SZ-L
  costs just £8,345. For that you get
  5 doors, 4 seats, 64.2mpg economy
  and cheeky looks. Oh, and road
  tax is just £20. Interested? If money
  matters, you should be

WHETHER YOU'RE ALREADY WORTH A MILLION or unlikely to earn that working your fingers to the bone for fifty years, money matters. While Suzuki's SZ-L is unlikely to be a must-have for Fortune 500-listers, there will only be 500 of them made. So if money matters to you, read on…

Along with its attractive purchase price, the Alto has strong 'e' appeal. First, tailpipe emissions are an impressive 103g/km which means under 40p per week for road tax and nothing to pay for the first year. The second big 'e' is its official 64.2mpg combined cycle figure (51.4 in the city and 74.3mpg touring). Even out had-driving testers recorded an impressive 55.1mpg average.

The SZ-L is based on the best-selling SZ-3 spec Alto that sits between the base SZ-2 and top-grade SZ-4. Equipment-wise it means power steering, ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist, electric front windows, front and front side airbags, remote locking, radio/MP3-compatible CD, Isofix child seat anchorage points, folding rear seat, air conditioning with pollen filter, front fog lamps, 'SZ-L' carpet mats and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel.

“It might only have
a single litre under the
bonnet, but the Alto
peppy powerplant
is game and you can belt
along accompanied
by a charismatic three-
cylinder thrum
s reminiscent of
a Scooby’s
Inside its 3.5-metre length there's a surprising amount of room far more than you'd expect from its compact wheel-at-each-corner footprint and the cabin is well put together.

Like Noah's Ark, you go in two-by-two: two adults in front; two in the back. The 'tall' build benefits headroom plus the views out. While front passengers get electric windows, those in the rear must make do with side-hinged, pop-out items but this isn't a problem it saves on cost, saves on weight and, equally welcome, saves on draughts!

Two near six-footers can occupy the rear bench without touching. The rear backrest is set at a comfortable angle, there are built-in outer armrests, soft front seatbacks provide adequate knee room and there's decent room for feet under the front seats. Behind the rear seats is 129 litres for luggage but with only two travelling up front the bench seat can be folded for cargo duty, extending this to a fully-flat load bay with 774 litres.

Smartly trimmed front seats with integral headrests are supportive and the black patterned fabric feels good; visibility, including back over your shoulder through the rear screen, is first rate. Although the steering wheel only adjusts for height, a first class driving position is easily set.

Directly in front of the driver is a hooded single binnacle housing a speedometer graded to 110mph in useful 5mph increments. A small LCD display underneath provides fuel levels and trip information. Fit and finish is good and the A/C is efficient, with easy rotary controls and high-mounted centre and any-which-way outer air vents. Door mirrors need to be manually adjusted but the front windows are power operated. Not that it's an issue, but the driver doesn't have a switch for the front passenger window if it needs opening you have to lean across. What will be an issue for some is the non-dipping rear-view mirror.

A wide, deep pocket on the passenger side where you'd normally find a glovebox provides practical storage plus there's a well-sited shelf at the top of the centre stack with a larger open bin and twin cup-holders at the base. Door pockets are long and ultra-slim. Controls are user-friendly with rotary heater dials and large hi-fi buttons.

Tailpipe emissions
are just 103g/km,
which means
under 40p per week
for road tax
and nothing to pay for
the first year
Fire up and pull away and it doesn't take long to discover that the Alto is entertaining to drive. On the move the Alto's road holding is trustworthy, with plenty of grip. You can zip along and chuck it around and so what if it's not a Subaru Impreza because it's fun.

The ride is smooth enough and takes sleeping policeman (as speed humps used to be called in non-pc days) in its stride while delivering a comfortable ride. In town it's nimble; the narrow body is easy to thread through gaps in the traffic and it can be driven with far more verve than you'd credit. The steering has electric assistance; it's sharp and three-point turns are a breeze. Braking, aided by ventilated discs at the front, is confident and nicely progressive.

It might only have a single litre under the bonnet but the Alto's peppy powerplant is game and you can belt along accompanied by a charismatic three-cylinder thrum that's reminiscent of a Scooby's 'boxer' engine. Okay so you need to use the gears if you want to really motor but flicking through the five-speed manual 'box is no hardship with a slick change and a light action, it's a pleasure to use.

Lightweight body? Yes. Tinny? No. The Alto feels substantial and NVH (Noise, Harshness and Vibration) are noticeable by their absence. In fact, bowling along the motorway it's reassuringly stable, even in windy conditions as well as being refined and relaxing.

The Alto may be small but where it scores is that it does everything with a big heart. It looks good, drives well and it's cheap to run. And it has something that's not guaranteed even if you pay a great deal of money; a 'buddy' character that will bring a smile to your lips on most trips.

Suzuki Alto SZ-L
| £8,345
Maximum speed: 96mph | 0-60mph: 13.5 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 55.1mpg
Power: 67bhp | Torque: 66lb ft | CO2 103g/km