The way Maruti leads the hatchback segment even after the entry of other Japanese rivals and the new challenges thrown by Hyundai, is indeed praiseworthy. And Alto has a big role to play in this game. In a country where hatchbacks rule, this small car keeps winning thousands of buyers each month. Alto 800 surprised everyone including the folks at Maruti with its burgeoning sales. But they decided to introduce a bigger and more powerful 1.0 litre engine in the economy hatchback. This was probably because Maruti wanted to play it safe and be prepared for stronger competition that could be posed by Hyundai i10 and Chevrolet Beat. So while retaining the Alto 800 to take it up against likes of Eon and Nano, the Japanese carmaker also introduced an Alto K10 in 2010.
Powering this little hatch is the 998 cc 3 cylinder engine that is tuned for 67 bhp and 9.1 kgm of torque. This is substantial when put against the 47 bhp yielded by the smaller motor of Alto 800. The K Series engine is mated to 5 speed manual gearbox. Available in two variants, the LXi and VXi, this Alto is 225 mm longer and 40 kg heavier than its sibling. It was also revamped with fresh looks for a new identity.
Does the Alto K10 match the older hatch with regards to crucial parameters like practicality and performance or does it supersede here? Ecardlr test drives this bigger Alto to give you a comprehensive review of its features and value as a frequently used car:
The design changes that Maruti brought for the Alto in 2010 reflect only in the K10 model and these help to make it look different from the 800. So there is a bigger front grille with a chrome slat on the upper edge. It has a larger bonnet to take in the 1 litre engine. Angular headlamps give it a more aggressive look. The air dam is widely spread across the body-coloured bumper and is flanked by round fog lamps on the upper end VXi trim.
There are black side mouldings on the lower part of door panels, and these blend well with the design. Alto K10 has 13 inch wheels with covers and uses 155/65 R13 tubeless tyres. The rear look is also different in comparison to the Alto 800 – the number plate has been moved from the bumper to the hatch door and the combination tail lamps look trendy and in-line with the rest of the design. There is a high mount lamp on the inner side of the rear windscreen.
Alto K10 measures 3620 mm and has a wheelbase of 2360 mm. It is 1460 mm tall and sits 160 mm above the ground.
What makes this car practical for daily commuting is of course the much loved K-series engine. This light-weight unit is aluminium based and is known to deliver good fuel economy.
The Cabin Feel
Changes are also observed in K10’s cabin. The most obvious of these is the steering wheel design – the three spoke unit is chunkier, looks better and provides a good grip. There is an updated instrument panel that gets new tachometer (tachometer is only on VXi) and an MID keeping you informed on fuel consumption and the distance travelled by the car (digital odometer). The dials also look premium and are easier to read. Not much differences in the dashboard and centre console design. The quality of grey plastics is also the same as in smaller hatch and could have been more refined. A minor but good feature is that the ORVMs are now internally adjustable.
The light blue seat upholstery and door inserts in the same colour make the otherwise grey cabin pleasant. These seats are on the lower side and ingress /egress may be tad tricky for taller drivers. But the front seats are adequately comfortable and at par with other budget hatchbacks in this segment. Headrests are integrated as in the A-Star. Front windows are powered for the VXi variant and it also has manual central locking convenience. Manual air conditioner with heater is standard for both the variants. Music system is not provided and you need to get it fitted at an extra cost.
In front of the gear lever there are two cup holders and there is a recess on dashboard, above the glovebox. Front doors also have pockets to slide in a newspaper or magazine.
Alto K10 has the same wheelbase as the 800 but it feels little more spacious (in terms of knee room) at the rear because of the recessed backs of the front seats. There is 117 litres of space in the boot and a rear parcel shelf is provided.
Getting behind the wheel
The most important factor that will encourage a buyer to upgrade from 800 to this entry-level hatch is the K series engine and its 67 bhp of power as against 47 bhp from the 796 cc engine. If you factor in the kerb weight of Alto K10, the power to weight ratio is 88 bhp per tonne – this is ample!
At idling the engine is refined and it is not much audible anywhere below 4000 rpm. But some vibrations are clearly felt in the cabin when you turn it on. Alto K10 is eager to move and feels nimble in city traffic. The free revving 998 cc motor encourages you to move on and the car is easy and light to drive. Throttle responses are much better than what we have in the Alto 800 and even in A Star, as it pulls nicely from any speed. You can accelerate in any gear and wont find a turbo lag. But there is little jerkiness in stop and go traffic which is anyways expected from a three cylinder unit.
This car is also pleasing to drive on the highways and reaches 0-100 km/our in 15.87 seconds which is 4.51 seconds faster than its smaller sibling the 800. And it can happily cruise on the highways at that speed. Overtaking may call for a downshift but the K10 does not feel strained in the effort. In-gear acceleration is also better. For 20 to 80 km/hour it takes 15.13 sec and 40-100 km/hour is done in 22.47 sec. The engine that is very silent in the normal rev range does get noisy over 4000 rpm although it is not intrusive.
One thing which we did not like about the Alto K10 is the gearshift quality. It is very vague and rubbery. While Maruti claims that shifting to cable operated shifts has brought an improvement, it was not quite felt in our test. Particularly, the third gear is very clumsy to get into and it can affect your high speed runs on the expressways. What then makes this car a good all rounder? It is the even spread of that huge power and torque across the five gears.
Ride and Handling
To factor in the extra weight, Alto K10’s suspension has been retuned. The ride is pliant at low speeds and minor bumps are soaked up without giving jerks to the cabin occupants. But the stiffness of suspension is evident while cruising on clearer roads. Although there is some body roll around corners, it is not to the point of causing nervousness and the K10 stays in control.
A thing that disappoints in handling is the light steering wheel. Of course it is a boon to use in the city and the little hatch can take U turns and move in parking areas very smoothly. But at speeds it does not weigh up and you will want to slow down while taking sharp turns. Also, there is lot of understeer at higher speeds – this is probably because of the heavier engine and greater front overhang.
Even though Maruti has used upsized 155/65 R13 tyres for the K10, it still feels under- tyred and this is more evident while braking or when you reach a bend in the road. The car slides a little with sudden braking. ABS is not even an option. The sense of stability is better than in Alto 800 but the small footprint of tyres does not inspire much confidence at speeds. An upgrade to bigger, fatter rubber will help in improving things.
This is actually the heart of the matter for Maruti Alto K10.The ARAI certified fuel economy is 20.2 km/litre. In our test we obtained 14.2 km/litre in the city and 17 km/litre on the highway. This adds to its appeal as an everyday use budget car.
As an offering in the economy hatchback segment, the Alto K10 is a well rounded product by Maruti. It has a more powerful and mature 1 litre engine. It also delivers good fuel efficiency and there is not a very big price gap between it and its little sibling (the 800).
Priced between Rs 3.15 lakhs and 3.32 lakhs (as per choice of variant and metallic/non metallic body colour), the K10 is a nice value-for-money proposition if you are looking for a decent city commuter. The revamped looks have also made it tad more attractive than before. Maruti’s wide spread dealer and service network is another plus.
Value for Money: 4/5