Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 review

  • Published On: 3 April 2017
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What new does the first major overhaul for India's largest selling car bring to the table?

The new Alto 800 has much to live up to - its predecessor was one of India’s most popular cars. The company needed to make sure the changes to this car are substantial and, at the same time, they had to be cost-effective as well. So, has Maruti managed to get the formula right again?

On the outside?
The car looks and feels significantly different from the old Alto. Maruti has done a commendable job with the car’s styling - every single body panel is new, but the car is instantly recognisable as an Alto. There’s a slim sporty grille and a large air intake in the bumper along with the high-mounted, petal-shaped headlights. The prominent crease that runs along the flanks and rises towards the rear gives the car a more tipped-forward stance than its predecessor. Passengers at the back might feel a bit claustrophobic because of the rising window line. At the back of the car, details like the large multi-element tail-lights and sharply sculpted bumper spruce up the design. The car’s ground clearance is massive, but it does make the Alto look a bit awkward, especially considering its compact dimensions.

Maruti has clearly played it safe as far as design goes in order to appeal to a wider audience. While it may be completely new on the outside, under the skin, there’s lots that’s carried forward from the outgoing car. The floorpan is similar, the wheelbase is the same and the suspension and brakes are near identical. The engine bay is now more compact, and the firewall and dash have been ‘optimised’ to make sure the cabin utilizes space efficiently. There’s more headroom now, since the roof is now 15 percent higher. The body structure is stiffer, both in the interest of improved ride and handling, and to qualify it for impending crash test norms. The Alto is a very light car - the roof, for example, is made of thinner steel and has corrugations for added rigidity. The heaviest variant only weighs a measly 725kg.

On the inside
The dash is new and there’s new seat fabrics to lift the cabin’s ambience. The dials look upmarket and are easy to read. However, the Alto 800’s cabin still doesn’t have the same air of quality the Eon displays. You are seated low in the Alto and its stance makes getting in and out a bit of a task. The front seat itself is comfortable but lacks enough under-thigh support. Seat bolstering is not the best either.

Although Maruti has used slimmer seats to carve out more kneeroom for rear passengers, it’s still cramped and headroom isn’t the best either. There are a few storage spaces - the big cubby and bottle holder ahead of the gearlever is quite innovative and the shelf above the glovebox is pretty useful too. The boot is decent, for a car this size that is.

For the price, the Alto 800 is pretty well equipped. On the LXi variant, you get standard stuff like CD/MP3 player, air-conditioning, power steering and front power windows. But there are some glaring omissions, especially basics such as central locking, left rear-view mirror and day-night mirror.

Power torque
Under the hood of this car sits the familiar small 796cc, three-cylinder motor, but Maruti has significantly improved this engine for this car. Although increase in power over the earlier engine is marginal, performance is improved and torque is a significant 11 percent better. The first thing you’ll notice when you set off is that this motor is much more free-revving than the older one. The new car feels light and agile to drive in the city. The car responds better to throttle inputs and it pulls well from most engine speeds. This engine is much more flexible now - the Alto feels at home on the highway too. Overtaking is much easier, you only need a shift or two to accelerate quickly.

From beind the wheel
Where the old motor used to feel strained as you went faster, the heavily upgraded one feels relaxed and has an adequate reserve of power. However, the motor feels a little rough after 4000rpm, and has an annoying tendency to jerk when negotiating stop/start traffic as the three-cylinder motor doesn’t run smoothly. Also, at idle, the vibrations make the cabin shudder.

This car is a performer though. Getting to 100kph takes only 16.92sec now, which is a whopping 3.5sec faster than the old engine. Thanks to good top-end performance, it will reach a respectable top speed of 141kph. In-gear acceleration too is much improved. The 20-80kph now takes 13.16sec and 40-100kph takes 22.29sec, which again is much quicker than the old 796cc engine.

Like the engine, Maruti has worked on the car’s ride and handling as well. Low-speed ride quality is great, it absorbs bumps really well at city speeds. Yes, it does thump over bumps, but the suspension does a good job of softening the impact. Over bad roads, the Alto isn’t the best - there’s a fair amount of bouncing owing to its soft suspension setup.

Where this car shines is in the city. Its compact dimensions, coupled with the light steering, are terrific for parking in tight spots and ducking in and out of traffic. All-round visibility is good too. However, the light steering doesn’t quite weight up at higher speeds. The Alto’s brakes offer good feel at the pedal and doesn’t veer much when you brake abruptly.

With its light kerb weight and efficient engine, the new Alto returns 13.3kpl in the city and a decent 17.8kpl out on the highway. This gives the Alto 800 a very respectable range of 540km on a full tank.

Is it worth the money?
Maruti has done justice to its all-time best-seller with this new car. The fresh styling, revamped interiors and rehashed engine go a long way in making this an even more attractive offering than before. The improved motor is more fuel efficient and makes more power. And of course, when it comes to the budget hatchback segment, this car’s killer price tag is something you can’t ignore. This new Alto 800 looks more than capable of taking the baton from its predecessor.

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