Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this car, one very well-known, oft-repeated fact must be put forth – when it comes to making low-cost small cars, Maruti Suzuki is arguably the best in the business. Still, the task of replacing an all-time best-seller is one that might faze even the might of Maruti, because there’s a very fine line to be walled. A line as thin as a spider’s web that demands a cost-effective but substantial update of the car-seemingly conflicting objectives. The tricks is to not make expensive, radical changes but to alter the formula in a cost-effective manner.
The questions is, has maruti walked the line? On the face of it, it has. The car looks and feels significantly different from the old Alto and it’s priced extremely well too. The base Alto 800 costs Rs 2.44 lakh and the most expensive Alto 800 LXi rings the register at Rs 2.99 lakh. So, does it have what it takes to carry on its extremely successful family tradition?
DESIGN AND ENGINEERING
The first thing you notice about the new Alto 800 is that the design is quite recognisable. However, the fact is that every single body panel is new and there are no carryover parts from the old car. The slim grille looks quite sporty, while the large air intake in the bumper along with the high-mounted, petal-shaped headlights look modern-quite similar to the Ford Figo’s.
The prominent crease that runs along the flanks and rises towards the rear adds to the sporty feel, giving the car a tipped-forward stance. But this stylistic element has eaten into the rear glass area, which might make rear seat passengers feel claustrophobic. At the rear, fresh new details like the large multi-element tail-lights and sharply sculpted bumper add some much needed spice. What makes the car look a bit awkward, however, is the massive ground clearance; it just doesn’t sit well with the car’s compact dimensions.
Maruti has deliberately styled the Alto 800 on the conservative side after market feedback suggested that the extrovert styling of the Hyundai Eon was not to the taste of the traditional budget-car buyers. Maruti has clearly played it safe as far as design goes in order to appeal to a wider audience.
While the Alto 800 may be completely new on the outside, under the skin, there are plenty of bits carried over from the outgoing car. The floorpan is similar, the wheelbase is the same and the suspension and brakes are near identical. Also similar are the load points on the chassis and the ‘H’ points (hip points) of the seats. The engine bay is now more compact, and the firewall and dash have been ‘optimised’ to make the cabin more space efficient. The roof is now 15 percent higher for improved headroom. The body structure has been modified to make it stiffer, both in the interest of improved ride and handling, and to qualify it for impending crash test norms. But this hasn’t added too much to the weight. The roof, for example, is made of thinner steel and has corrugations for added rigidity, and the Alto 800 still remains a flyweight. Even the top-end airbag-equipped version tips the scales at just 725kg.
Once inside, you’ll see that the dashboard is completely new. The curvy design and vibrantly coloured seat fabric are modern and help lift the overall ambience of the cabin massively. The dials look upmarket and are easy to read. But despite these changes, the Alto 800’s cabin still doesn’t give you the same air of quality that the Hyundai Eon displays. You sit pretty low in the Alto and due to the low stance of the car, getting in and out is a bit of a chore. The front seat itself is comfortable but it lacks enough under-thigh support. Seat bolstering is also not the best and you tend to get thrown around on enthusiastic drives.
With the slim front seats, Maruti has tried to carve out more kneeroom for the rear passengers. It helps, but it’s still cramped and you have to keep your legs close together to make use of it, which is not always comfortable. Headroom is poor and a tall person is sure to have his hairstyle messed up. Storage spaces aren’t abundant but 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 compact car though.
For the price, the Alto 800 comes pretty well equipped. On the LXi variant, you get standard stuff like CD/MP3 players, 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 which even the Nano comes with.
ENGINE, GEARBOX & PERFORMANCE
The alto 800 continues to be powered by the small 796cc, three-cylinder primitive F8D motor, but in this latest avatar, it comes with significant improvements. The compression ratio has been bumped up, which also improves performance. There is only a marginal increase in power over the earlier engine, but the torque is a significant 11 percent better. A new plastic inlet manifold not only lowers the engine weight, but also improves gas flow, and hence, volumetric efficiency. The connecting rods and crankshaft have been significantly lightened as well and new, low-friction piston rings have been used, which in turn increases engine life. There’s also a faster 32-bit processor and this engine is future-proof for BS5 norms too.
The first thing you realise when you set off in traffic is that this motor is much more free-revving than the older one. It makes the Alto feel light and agile to drive. The car’s throttle responses have improved drastically and it pulls well from most engine speeds. The engine is much more flexible and thanks to this, the Alto now feels at home on the highway too. Overtaking is much easier and it needs only a shift or two to accelerate with gusto.
Where the old motor used to feel strained in the mid-range, the now heavily upgraded one feels relaxed and has an adequate reserve of power on tap. However, the motor isn’t perfect. It gets thrummy after 4000rpm, and has an annoying tendency to jerk when negotiating stop/start traffic as the three-cylinder motor doesn’t run smoothly. It also has an unsettled idle that makes the cabin shudder.
Performance figures here are quite impressive. A flat-out sprint to 100kph will take a very impressive 16.92sec, which is a whopping 3.5sec faster than the old engine. Thanks to good top-end performance, it well 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.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Like the engine, the ride and handling have also gone a step in the right direction. Low-speed ride quality is another area where this Maruti showed a plushness you wouldn’t really associate with a budget city runabout. Yes, it does thump over bumps, but the suspension does a good job of softening the jolt. Over bad roads, the Alto feels out of its comfort zone and the ride isn’t as flat as we would like. There’s a fair amount of vertical movement owing to its softly sprung setup. Suspension noise is also pretty well-contained, though road noise gets intrusive as you go faster.
Where the Alto shines the most is in the city limits. The Car’s compact dimension, coupled with the light steering, are terrific for parking in tight spots. All-round visibility is good too, making the new Alto an ideal car for our ever-crowded roads. There is a fair bit of body roll when you go fast around a corner, but the car feels safe and in control. However, the light steering doesn’t quite weight up at higher speeds and there’s lots of slack around the straight-ahead position.
In terms of braking, the Alto 800 offers good feel at the pedal and also doesn’t veer much under panic stops.
On the fuel efficiency front, the alto with its light kerb weight and efficient engine was always expected to be great, and the new Alto 800 plays true to form. It gave us 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.
MARUTI ALTO 800
Improved in every area and now even better value for money
An all-new design, fresh interiors and a revamped engine have completely transformed Maruti’s best-seller to make it a much more attractive proposition than before. The improved motor is far better than the older one, offering more power and good fuel efficiency too. The Alto 800 isn’t perfect, though. The cramped cabin space is still a weakness and cabin quality is not a patch on its direct rival, the Hyundai Eon. However, the Alto’s trump card is the sheer affordability it offers. Pegged at a very reasonable Rs 2.99 lakh for the top-of-the-line LXI variant, the new car comes at just Rs 3000 more than the old car. For a negligible price hike, you get an all-new model and that makes it outstanding value for money. At the budget end of the market, you don’t get better bang for your buck.
Front seat quite uncomfortable, rear is cramped.
Performance is strong and the engine feels peppy in town.
Motor a bit vocal when worked hard and a few vibrations at idle.
For a marginal price increase, you get a much better car.
Drivers airbags standard on the LXI variant. Not much else.
Good low speed ride but it gets a bit skittish at speed.
Feels nimble with safe and predictable handling.
BUILD & QUALITY 7/10
Much improved but still feels tinny, and plastic quality not great.